The Michigan Wolverines (3-2, 1-0) are heavy favorites as they prepare to host the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4, 0-2) at the Big House Saturday afternoon.
Michigan’s BCS aspirations may have gone out the window with early losses to Alabama and Notre Dame, but the Wolverines have honed their focus and are eyeing the Big Ten championship as a consolation.
On the other side of the ball, the Fighting Illini have struggled mightily under new coach Tim Beckman. Big losses to Louisiana Tech, Arizona State and Penn State haven’t helped the first-year coach’s transition.
I know what you’re thinking, how can Illinois possibly matchup against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor? It seems like a total walk in the park for the 25th-ranked Wolverines.
Even so, there are no sure things in college football. If not for a poor performance in the fourth quarter a week ago, the Illini looked poised to possibly upset Wisconsin.
Here’s what would need to go down for Illinois to shock Michigan at the Big House.
Catch Michigan Looking Ahead
Michigan has in-state rival Michigan State next up as its quest for a Big Ten championship will continue.
The Wolverines are the last team that should be looking past another team after a rocky start to the season. However, they may do just that after a huge win over Purdue and the looming date in Ann Arbor with the Spartans awaiting them next weekend.
It wouldn’t be too farfetched to see this happen because of the cloud Michigan is currently riding on after that 44-13 shellacking of the Boilermakers. Then there’s Illinois’ terrible 2-4 start to the season.
The Illini are in a perfect position to surprise a lot of people in this one.
Force Denard Robinson to Throw
I know, easier said than done, right?
However, success against Robinson and Michigan is something the Fighting Illini have enjoyed over Michigan over the past three seasons. Well, success is relative, right?
If Illinois can force Robinson to throw, he's susceptible to making mistakes in the passing game. He's thrown eight interceptions this season, including four against Notre Dame.
Last week against Purdue, Robinson didn't have to throw much as he took his old form and exploded for 235 yards on the ground.
Robinson has been bottled up, for the most part, by the Illini during his four-year college career. He’s run for just 86 yards on 33 carries during those previous three meetings.
Overall, Robinson is 2-1 against Illinois.
Keep Nathan Scheelhaase Upright
Scheelhaase is finally returning from injury and will be ready to use his legs to help spark the struggling Illini offense. The key won’t be his legs and ability to improvise, though.
He’ll need to be able to trust his offensive line to keep the pressure off of him long enough to make some plays downfield. If he’s constantly being flushed, or thinks he’s being heavily pressured and chooses to tuck and run, the Wolverines may declare open season on the mobile quarterback.
Scheelhaase is coming off of a good game against Wisconsin and could be a problem for the Wolverines defense if he is able to make plays with both his arm and feet.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.
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