Michigan Has Chance to Turn Corner Against Illini

Jason BarczyCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2008

Illinois Fighting Illini (2-2, 0-1) at Michigan Wolverines (2-2, 1-0)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EDT at Michigan Stadium

Line: Michigan -3.5

It's homecoming at Michigan Stadium and you know what that means. Some mediocre Big Ten team is coming to town.

Minnesota and Illinois are the two most common opponents during homecoming weekend and this will be the Illini's 14th appearance in which they are 4-9 against Michigan on homecoming.

The Wolverines have dominated Illinois over the years which might lead some to believe that the Fighting Illini are due for a win. They haven't won at the Big House since a 35-29 win in 1999.

Michigan is 9-1 against Illinois in the last 10 meetings and hold a 66-21-2 advantage in the all-time series including a 28-9-1 record at Michigan Stadium.

Last time these two met in the Big House, Illinois was handed a 56-14 whoopin in 2003 by John Navarre, Chris Perry and Braylon Edwards who all had big days.

Of course, things are different nowadays, much different in fact, and Illinois has better athletes than in years past.

Enough with the history and on with the preview.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Illinois Pass Defense

Steven Threet's confidence is growing by the minute and after the Wisconsin game who could blame him. Sure he was awful for two and half quarters but he really turned it on in the fourth.

He's a much different quarterback than what we saw in week one and barring major injury I don't ever expect to see the "Human White Flag" that is Nick Sheridan.

He still needs to get better with his timing and accuracy (95.06 efficiency rating and 48.8 completion percentage) but that just shows there's a lot of room for improvement for the freshman quarterback. A lot of people seem to forget that he is still just a freshman, even if he is a redshirt a freshman is a freshman on the field.

Good news this week though, he is facing one of the worst defenses in the country. Illinois is ranked 62nd in passing defense giving up 201.5 yards per game through the air.

Hopefully that bodes well for Michigan's 104th pass offense and will boost the numbers a bit. We'll see.

Michigan wide receivers Martavious Odoms and Greg Matthews are Threet's best options right now. Darryl Stonum just isn't there yet and I don't know what his problem is.

Junior Hemingway is out, again. He has freakin mono, are you kidding me? I'm now chalking that guy up as a complete loss and waste of time.

Carson Butler doesn't figure into the teams plans anymore and will most likely not be on the team next season. Looks like Kevin Koger is going to step in, especially after that touchdown grab he had last week.

Pass protection has been surprisingly good. Michigan has given up just three sacks this season with Steve Schilling looking terrific. Illinois has gotten to the quarterback just nine times in four games with Martez Wilson and Will Davis looking like their best pass rushers.

Advantage: Michigan

Michigan Rush Offense vs. Illinois Rush Defense

Illinois's rush defense is worse than their pass defense coming in at 94th in the country giving up 182 yards per game and nearly five yards per carry (4.8).

Sam McGuffie might have a field day like he did against Notre Lame. Michael Shaw is also expected to return to the field and Brandon Minor has been great as a situational rusher.

While McGuffie has been great, it would be nice to see him have better stats through four games. He has just 249 yards total and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.

Carlos Brown is out with another injury, this time he has a sprained foot. Like Hemingway, this guy is lost to me and will never live up the potential he once carried.

The zone stretch plays seem to be more and more effective every week which will just open things up more for Threet.

Mark Moundros has been great in the I-formation as a fullback and blocker. I'd love to see Rich Rodriguez use him more often but we'll see.

Michigan is 82nd in the country averaging 136.25 yards a game and have to watch out for Brit Miller in Illinois's linebacking corps. He has 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Advantage: Michigan

Illinois Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

With Juice Williams improving every day as a better passer this facet of the game is going to be critical for Illinois to win the game.

Williams stats go like this so far: 905 yards, 226.2 yards per game, nine touchdowns, six interceptions, 58.6 completion percentage and a 139.4 efficiency rating.

Oh yeah and he's also rushed for 283 yards and two touchdowns.

Williams is one of those spread/running quarterbacks that Michigan fans cringe at facing knowing what they've done to the Wolverines in the past. Remember the Texas game? How about the Oregon game? Sorry, I didn't want to bring it up, but that's what we're facing again this week.

Michigan's pass defense has been mediocre at best most weeks with Charles Stewart and Stevie Brown usually getting murdered downfield.

Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren have been solid but it's simply not enough and it won't be enough this week against Williams favorite target Arrelious Benn who is averaging 13.7 yards per catch.

Illinois also was Will Judson who is averaging more than 20 yards per catch along with Chris Duvalt averaging 15.3.

These guys are downfield threats that potentially can and probably will burn Michigan safeties.

Advantage: Illinois

Illinois Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense

This is the heavyweight fight right here. Both units rank 16th in the country with Illinois putting up 215.75 yards on the ground each week and Michigan giving up just 88.5 rushing yards each week.

Daniel Dufrene has rushed for 396 yards and is getting 6.7 per carry on 59 carries.

Will Johnson, Terrence Taylor, Tim Jamison and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Brandon Graham have their work cut out for them having to slow down Dufrene and Williams on the ground.

Michigan is going to have to put seven in the box consistently while adding an eighth once in a while which will just open up things more for the Illinois passing game.

Michigan wins this game if they slow down the Illinois rushing attack just like they did against Wisconsin.

Obi Ezeh and John Thompson are going to have to step it up even more this week in stuffing the run.

I'm confident that Michigan will stand up to this challenge though. I doubted them going into the Wisconsin game but no more.

Advantage: Michigan (slightly)

Special Teams

Both kicking games are solid with Illinois kicker Matt Eller making 5-of-7 including one from 51 yards.

Illinois has given up two touchdowns on kick returns but with Michigan's inability to actually return a kickoff or punt I don't think Illinois should worry too much about it.

Seriously, can someone please hold onto the ball in any type of return?

Advantage: Even

Final Thoughts

I thought Wisconsin was due to win at the Big House for the first time in a while and look how that turned out.

Michigan should be brimming with confidence after that win and hopefully it carries over against Illinois.

It's time Michigan turned the corner and put itself back in the conversation for a Big Ten title.

The Wolverines have outscored its opponents 39-13 in the fourth quarter and if the defense can keep it close again Michigan should win.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Illinois 20


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