Last weekend was a huge boost for the Michigan football program. The general sentiment has swung toward optimism, for both this season and future seasons, as Rich Rodriguez lead this Michigan football team towards a stunning upset victory over the number 9 ranked team.
Big hats off to the Michigan defense, who, despite 5 turnovers, consistently bad field positions and anemic play by the offense (and special teams) in the first half held Wisconsin to only 19 points. The second half was even more impressive with continued pressure, sacks and a John Thompson interception for a TD. Always great when your defense can put points on the board (the Bears have survived on that for years). Kudos to Brandon Graham, Tim Jamison and John Thompson who turned out spectacular performances. Keep an eye out for freshman DT Mike Martin, as he's been making some major contributions in his limited playing time. He's going to be good.
Thanks to an inexperienced QB, dropped balls by receivers and a lack of any semblance of a passing game by UW, Michigan's pass defense actually looked good. I believe that Michigan's defense's greatest weakness is the intermediate and deep passing game. Utah's Brian Johnson took advantage of poor drops into coverage by our linebackers and picked apart our intermediate coverage. ND's Jimmah Clausen had no trouble exploiting our deep coverage early for several large gains and two big touchdowns.
Thanks to some advice from coach Eroc and BT Wolverine at gobluemichiganwolverine, here are some key things to look for from our defense against Illinois.
UI Offensive Summary: Though RB Dufrene isn't Rashard Mendenhall, he is still an excellent rusher and can hurt you right up the gut. Arrelious Benn is a dangerous wide receiver who they'll often rush as well either out of the backfield or in motion. The rest of their receivers are meh. Juice Williams is a much improved passer from last year, and he is still a very dangerous runner.
1) Expect Juice to test our unproven pass defense and shoddy linebacker coverage early by showering the Michigan D with short and intermediate passes. Expect him to go deep a few times early as well and throughout the game. Our ability to cover the short and deep pass will likely be the key to this game.
2) The performance from the secondary depends largely on the pressure our D-line can get on Juice. When Juice doesn't have time to sit back and throw, this is when he's at his most inconsistent. Illinois's O-line is rumored to be worse than Wisconsin's, and our D-line looked very good last week, so this should be an interesting matchup. The D-line needs to live up to their 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing defense (behind Penn State, 14th nationally!), and keep stopping the run as well.
3) Lastly, CONTAIN CONTAIN CONTAIN. This is huge. The D-ends need to keep outside leverage and turn all running plays to the inside. This was a weakness of ours early on, but we looked improved in this area against Wisconsin. If we can't contain Juice or Dufrene, it's going to be a long day. Look for Brandon Graham to have another big game, as he'll be critical to our success in containing the rush.
Those are your things to look for against Illinois. If our offense can come out firing (and minimize turnovers, damnit!), I think we have a decent shot to win. This is our biggest test yet. Go Blue!!
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