Illinois Preview

The Fighting Illini come to The Big House with a 5-3 record with their only losses to BCS ranked teams, #12 Missouri, #11 Ohio State and #14 Michigan State. Illinois' 2010 strength of schedule is the toughest in the nation. It is hard to believe that oddsmakers have made Michigan is a 1 point favorite. Illinois has defeated Michigan in each of the previous two seasons, 38-13 and 45-20, do Ron Zook is 2-0 against Rich Rodriquez. In 2008, our defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, stated on an ESPN interview that we were outcoached in the Illinois game. Rich Rodriquez was livid, and never forgave him; he dismissed him at the end of the season and required him to resign with a no derogatory statement clause while labeling him as the scapegoat in the Michigan football demise. In the 2009 episode, Michigan led at halftime 13-7 and came out on the first drive of the second half with a long passing play to the Illinois 1 yard line, and threatened to take a two score lead. The Fighting Illini mounted a goal line stand, and the Wolverines failed to score; then, the Illini put up 31 unanswered points in the blowout. To say that Illinois will come to the Big House with confidence is an understatement. They will come to Ann Arbor expecting and having every intention to win, and win big.

Offensively, Illinois has a solid running game. Their rushing offense is ranked #24 nationally and #4 in the Big Ten. Junior H-Back Mikel LeShoure is ranked #25 nationally with a 98 yard per game average, and 6 TDs. Junior Jason Ford is his backup. Both backs are 235 lbs. and bruisers; they will be hard to tackle. Freshman Fullback Ray Prosch will be a lead blocker in many running situations. Redshirt Freshman Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase runs for 56 yards per game. Scheelhaause has improved a great deal this year, and has thrown for 10 TDs with 7 interceptions with a 61.4% completion percentage. The Fighting Illini are ranked only #9 in 3rd down conversions, but should improve this week against a weak Michigan defense. Illinois has the most efficient red zone offense in the Big Ten scoring on 29 of 30 chances, 17 TDs and 12 field goals. Their wide receivers are Junior A.J. Jenkins, Senior Jarred Fayson and Senior Eddie McGee. Jenkins has 31 receptions and 4 TDs this year; Jenkins and Fayson average 4 receptions per game. Their Tight End is Freshman Evan Wilson. Their offensive line is anchored by Senior Right Tackle Ryan Palmer and Senior Right Guard Randall Hunt. The Center is Sophomore Graham Pocic, Left Guard is Sophomore Hugh Thornton and Left Tackle is Junior Jeff Allen. They are big, mobile and are playing well as a unit. They will definitely have a game plan offensively to pound us just like Penn State did. I don't have any confidence that we can stop them. They pulverized Penn State's tough defense putting up 33 points, and they put up 44 on Purdue and 43 on Indiana. They could only manage 13 points on Missouri and Ohio State, and 6 points on Michigan State, but two of those three games were on the road and their offense has improved.

The Fighting Illini have built a solid defense under Ron Zook's leadership. Illinois is ranked 12th nationally in points scored, 15th in total defense and 19th in pass defense under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. They have only allowed 9 touchdowns in 27 opponent trips to their red zone so they are only ranked behind Alabama and Missouri as the #3 red zone defense nationally. Illinois has only allowed 4 rushing TDs all season, and only 9 TDs in the red zone; that is the least in the Big Ten in both categories. They will present many problems for our offense, and our offense will have many challenges with this group on November 6th. They are led by Junior MIKE Linebacker Martez Wilson; he is ranked #5 in the Big Ten in tackles averaging 9 per game. Their other defensive catalyst is Junior Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget; he leads the team in sacks, tackles for loss and has 9 quarterback hits in 8 games. Redshirt Freshman Akeem Spence is the other Defensive Tackle. Senior Clay Nurse is one Defensive End and Bandit Defensive End is Sophomore Michael Buchanon. They are a quick, mobile unit that is playing exceptionally well together. Their WILL Linebacker is Junior Ian Thomas and SAM Linebacker is Senior Nate Bussey; Sophomore Justin Staples and Senior Aaron Gress also may see action at Linebacker. In the defensive backfield, Senior Cornerback Travon Bellamy is their leader; he and Sophomore Justin Green are the cornerbacks. Junior Strong Safety Tavon Wilson and Junior Free Safety Trulon Henry complete a solid backfield. Sophomore Cornerback Ashante Williams may see action in Nickel packages.

Illinois special teams are led by their punter, Senior Anthony Santella; he is ranked #7 nationally in punting and they are ranked #9 nationally and #1 in the Big Ten in net punting. He averages 46 yards per boot, and he has 13 of 40 punts over 50 yards with 11 nailed inside the 20. Junior Derek Dimke is the nation's #6 field goal kicker, and has 15 of 17 field goals go through this year; his longest is 52 yards. The Illinois kickoff team is ranked #2 in the Big Ten. Junior Troy Pollard and Freshman Darius Millines return kickoffs and Sophomore Backup Wide Receiver Jack Ramsey is their punt returner. Not to worry on returns, they are as bad as we are. They are ranked last in the Big Ten in punt returns, and #8 in kickoff returns.

Illinois will be bowl eligible with a win, and probably land in the Alamo, Gator or Insight bowls. Take Illinois and the point! Michigan goes to 5-4 and heads to Purdue with their final chance to become bowl eligible with Wisconsin and Ohio State lurking.

Michigan 14 ILLINOIS 38