Week 8 Preview: #3 Michigan Wolverines vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Michigan is coming off a bye week after decimating the Rutgers in week six. They come back home after the first road game as it is homecoming in Ann Arbor and Illinois is the guest. The Wolverines were able to blank the Rutgers and show dominance in New Jersey. Along with that, last week the Clemson Tigers were barely able to escape the NC State Wolfpack last week, bumping Michigan to the three seed and Clemson knocked down to the four spot.
Illinois is coming into the Wolverines home with a 2-4 record and a rough start for the Lovie Smith head coaching era, as their only wins were against Murray State and Rutgers. They lost to Nebraska, North Carolina, Western Michigan and even Purdue (who just fired their head coach). Michigan can’t overlook Illinois though and start thinking about Michigan State, this is one of two trap games for the Wolverines and they can’t afford to lose before playing Michigan State.
What to Expect Against Illinois
Wilton Speight should have another easy game in the air, possibly getting benched in the second half to rest and let John O’Korn and Shane Morris take over to finish the game. Illinois defense will be beaten and battered by the Wolverines and part of it will be dealt by Wilton Speight.
The rushing attack gained some power this week as Jim Harbaugh said Drake Johnson is close to 100 percent, which could mean he returns to the field this week against Illinois. Now, Johnson isn’t really needed this week, so resting him for Michigan State would be the preferred option, but this can be an easy game to get him back in the grove. The defensive end Carroll Phillips will be a factor in stopping the run, as the man has 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and 26 total tackles. Michigan will have to contain him if the run game wants some life on Saturday.
Receivers might have another easy week. If Michigan goes up big early, expect less passing plays and more groundwork. Jehu Chesson might get matched up against Darius Mosely, who leads the defensivebacks on the team with two interceptions. Jake Butt will have a good matchup too against linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who leads the team in tackles with 58, but also has two interceptions. Jake Butt may not be the main target again this week with Nickerson in coverage.
The offensive line should be all set. Juwann Bushell-Beatty missed a little bit of the game against Rutgers, but would return and stay throughout the game. He is your left tackle and has done a fine job at it. The only challenge the line will have is with Carroll Phillips, so eliminate him and your problems are gone.
The Fighting Illini average 25 points on offense, they will be lucky to get three points against this Wolverine defense. They will have to rely heavily on the rushing attack, lead by Kendrick Foster who has 384 yards on 62 carries for five touchdowns. Michigan has one of the best defensive lines in the country though, so Illinois may end up in the backfield more than they planned on it. Taco Charlton still isn’t 100 percent, but he can still deal out some good hits and make key stops.
If the rushing attack fails, then the passing game will need to create a spark. Nobody knows who is starting for Illinois, but either quarterback has impressed so far. Wes Lunt has thrown for 840 yards for six touchdowns and one interception and backup Chayce Crouch has thrown for 249 yards, a touchdown and an interception. While Lunt hasn’t been horrible, Speight has thrown for 354 more yards with majority of the games played he was pulled in the second half. Lunt did miss last week, but the comparison is still fair. Jourdan Lewis will have to deal with the star receiver in Malik Turner who has 31 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns.
Overall Michigan will be too much for Illinois. The defense the Wolverines have will show its stuff to intimidate the Spartans for week nine. Wilton Speight should have another good game with a rushing attack that can keep the defense guessing on what the next play call is. Illinois will get lucky and get some points on the board, but expect Michigan to steamroll the Fighting Illini and get ready to take on little brother Michigan State.
Prediction: #3 Michigan 56 – Illinois 3