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Michigan got its ground game going in a big way against Purdue. In what was supposed to be a pretty even matchup, this Michigan rushing attack tore up a solid Purdue front seven, rushing for 304 yards and averaging five and a half yards a carry.
This was against one of the best D-lines in the conference, a line that includes Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, who form one of the better tackle duos around.
Denard Robinson didn't have any trouble with the Purdue front, but Fitz Toussaint sure did. He only rushed for 19 yards, and once again was completely nonexistent. The focus against Illinois will be once again to try and get him going.
It feels like fans have been saying that for weeks now, though. It has to happen before Michigan hits the meat of their Big Ten schedule, and this is the perfect week to do it.
What was supposed to be a great Illini run defense coming into the year has been less than impressive so far.
It ranks 39th nationally, which isn't terrible, but is a far cry from last year's final ranking of 26th. The expectations for this rush defense were high because most of the front seven returned intact.
However, the coaching change and the loss of Vic Koenning must have hurt more than expected. The results under new D-coordinator Tim Banks just haven't been what was anticipated.
However, there is still plenty of NFL talent in Illinois' front seven, so the potential is certainly there. Michael Buchanan is an absolute freak athletically off the edge, standing 6'6" and weighing 250 pounds. He was a monster last year, and many were surprised he returned for his senior season.
Buchanan's numbers aren't as impressive as last year's so far, but he does have 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. He is, without a doubt, the player up front Michigan will have to focus on shutting down the most.
Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster form the Illini's tackle duo, with Tim Kynard at the other end spot. They are a formidable group, but nothing that Michigan has to be too concerned with. Illinois doesn't rotate in too many other linemen, so it will be primarily those four.
At linebacker, there is no question who the leader and best player of this group is: Jonathan Brown. This kid was an absolute monster last season as only a sophomore. In fact, he finished second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 19.5, behind only teammate Whitney Mercilus.
Brown is up to his usual ways this season, as he currently ranks fifth in the conference with 6.5 tackles for loss. He also has 2.5 sacks, which is tied for the team lead with Buchanan. Honestly, I'd be very surprised if Brown returns to Champaign next season.
Next to Brown is senior Ashante Williams, and a very surprising starter, true freshman Mason Monheim. Monheim has played well beyond his years so far, and looks like he could be a real force in the future.
Illinois will also run out another true freshman at linebacker at times, Mike Svetina, and Houston Bates may see time as well.
With Michigan's seemingly revived ground game, this Illinois front seven doesn't scare me. Michael Buchanan and Jonathan Brown jump out at you, but nobody else really does. If Toussaint is able to finally get into a rhythm, it would allow Robinson's carries to be limited.
This Illini defense does lead the Big Ten in third down defense and in fumbles forced, but I expect Michigan to have its way with them, just as it did with Purdue last week.