Friday, October 30, 2009

On Paper (or in HTML) This One Is Over

I'd liken the season Illinois is putting together to Brandon Minor's chronic gimpy ankle, but that would be an insult to Minor's persistent limping.

Illinois is not just limping into this game, they are barely crawling in. The Fighting Illini are 1-6, winless in the Big Ten and generally give a bad name to all other teams described as being in "disarray."

Remember how they went to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago? Remember how Ron Zook was the Big Ten renaissance man and his teams were only going to get better given his SEC-mentality and recruiting roots? Ah, time really does fly.

How in the world did Juice Williams and Eddie McGee become the least potent 1-2 quarterback punch in the conference since Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan? And let's keep in mind that Williams and McGee were supposed to be stars, Threet and Sheridan were supposed to not die.

There are so many questions to ponder with this Illinois team and at this point in the season the most worrisome is to wonder if they can beat Michigan this Saturday?

They shouldn't and here's why: Illinois simply encourages teams to run on them. They are giving up 227 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play. Michigan will likely be without Brandon Minor and center David Molk is gone for the year, but the Wolverines should still increase that rushing average. With its stable of running backs (Carlos Brown is expected to play a lot on Saturday), Michigan could run for 250 - 300 yards against Illinois. Given that Michigan is playing only its third road game, expect them to run a lot to put Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson back into a comfort zone after a dreadful game against Penn State.

I know Michigan had fumble-itis last week against Penn State and did have trouble moving the football for about 30 minutes in the middle of the game, but the Fighting Illini will basically be inviting the Wolverines to run. Don't turn them down.

Offensively Illinois is a mess - they are only scoring 16 points a game. Considering Michigan scores more than 30 a game (yes I understand the Delaware State game skewed the average), the averages are on Michigan's side. Despite the Fighting Illini's inept offense, you've got to worry that its dormant weapons could catch fire against a weak Michigan secondary. Hopefully Brandon Graham will get to whichever QB Illinois trots out there before he can throw.

The big question is how Michigan will handle the road. It's shocking and a bit troubling that on October 31 Michigan is only playing it's THIRD road game. This goes to scheduling and Michigan's unwillingess to go on the road for non-conference games, and I think it does a disservice to the team.

But Michigan really has been in both of its road games (both losses) when it played Michigan State and Iowa - both which would be on the "greater than" side of a mathematical equation involving Illinois. This leads me to believe Michigan will finally put things together on the road against the hapless Juice & Co. and win their first road game.

By Saturday night Michigan will be bowl-eligible, will be 1-2 on the road and you'll be buzzing from either Halloween candy or Halloween booze.

Final score: Michigan 33, Illinois 21

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