Preview: Illinois 2010 Comment Count

Brian November 5th, 2010 at 2:21 PM


WHAT Michigan vs Illinois
WHERE Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN Noon Eastern, November 6th 2010
THE LINE Michigan –3(?!?!?)
WEATHER Clear, around 40
Negligible wind

Run Offense vs Illinois

Illinois appears to have a for-real defense this year after bringing in Vic Koenning, an established collegiate defensive coordinator with a recent history of success at Clemson and Kansas State. The three years before his hire, Koenning's Ds were 9th, 18th, and 39th in total defense, with that last stop a one-off year at Kansas State where he took the Wildcat D up from 117th. Ahem.

martez-wilson Illinois has been shutting down guys on the strength of a good defensive line (one that features MGoSouldongmate Corey Liuget) and the emergence of Martez Wilson (right) into something resembling the uber-hyped recruit he was. Wilson's by far Illinois's leading tackler with 68; he's second to Liuget in TFLs and sacks. Against the Big Ten:

Opponent Carries Yards TDs YPC
OSU 39 230 1 5.9
PSU 24 83 0 3.5
MSU 30 100 1 3.3
Indiana 33 114 0 3.5
Purdue 33 160 0 4.8

That is pretty impressive, with the MSU game standing out as intimidating. The saving grace for Michigan are the numbers against Purdue and OSU, both teams that feature running quarterbacks. (Purdue actually featured two—they started off with fingerless Rob Henry until it was obvious he couldn't throw, then brought in Sean Robinson, using Henry as a tailback in their version of the inverted veer. It was freaky.) Pryor broke off a 66-yard run en route to 121 yards on just eight carries, but blew up his quad in the third quarter and did little but hand off when he returned, or Ohio State may have gotten some distance from the Illini. Unfortunately, Purdue's respectable YPC was on the back of a single 57-yard run from Al-Terek McBurse; the Purdue quarterbacks combined for 31 yards. Dan Dierking did average 5 YPC on 10 carries, FWIW.

Neither OSU, which tends to regard the spread option as a backup plan and had a Navarre-level statue for most of the second half, or an injury-decimated Purdue team is a particularly good comparison for Michigan. Neither are the rushing games of MSU and PSU (pro style) or Indiana (both injury ravaged and pistol-based). So we don't know much about this specific matchup.

Illinois has proven throughout the year that they'll be tough sledding, though, with Liuget a constant threat to penetrate and Wilson capable of running down Denard wherever he ends up. Getting a good release on him and chopping him to the ground will be important.

Key Matchup: Denard's Reads versus His Desire To Not Be Shattered. I'm pretty sure at this point that Michigan's read option plays are really just handoffs that attempt to get the opponent to respect the idea of a pull. Denard's already running so much that he invariably hands off even when it seems like he's got the edge like whoah. In a critical, critical (yes, another) game I'd like to see him take advantage of those opportunities.

091810_SPT_Umich vs UMass_MRM Pass Offense vs Illinois

Michigan had an off week against Penn State, with Denard making a number of poor throws and/or poor decisions. When the receivers had an opportunity to rectify some of those mistakes they did not take them, and Robinson had his worst completion percentage of the year by a healthy margin. Penn State got no pressure, at least, and Denard's one-man play action continued to be very effective.

Meanwhile, Illinois is 25th in pass efficiency defense. They intercepted Ben Chappell three times, held him to just over 50% completions, and generally blew him up. Kirk Cousins was just over 50% himself but put up a good YPA thanks to some deep balls to BJ Cunningham; Illinois destroyed Robert Bolden. They got a pass against OSU since the wind and Pryor's injury limited the Buckeyes to 18 attempts, two of which were from the backup. They've got a good track record.

They've done this despite losing Terry Hawthorne to a stress fracture and Supo Sanni to something or other. Illinois moved a cornerback to safety and dropped two new starters in at corner, one of them a converted tailback. The difference between Justin Green and the guys Michigan is rolling out is one of experience—he's a sophomore—and talent, as he was a top 100 recruit who made a strange switch from Ohio State to Illinois. Still, he's a position switch starter and the team isn't suffering from it. A dollar to that position coach. Hawthorne's working his way back to health, which means that Illinois has three more competent cornerbacks than Michigan and now this is just getting depressive.

Anyway: Michigan should have success in the same vein they did against Penn State, where the threat of the run opens up passing plays that eat up big chunks of yards but third and long is almost futile. Michigan's success here will be dependent on Denard's accuracy and the situation Michigan finds themselves in.

Key Matchup: Denard and His Receivers MAKE PLAYS. Illinois, having seen Michigan's jagged passing success, will probably play it cool, giving Denard some opportunities to hit guys and those guys opportunities to bring balls in.

Run Defense vs Illinois

Last week's bold prediction was stupid indeed—encouraged by a not-awful performance against Iowa and anticipating that Penn State's offensive line would be a far less serious challenge, I suggested Michigan would hold Penn State under four yards a carry. Close! Except not close: PSU averaged 4.7 as Michigan switched from a four-man front to a debacle of a 3-3-5. Like the 2008 Purdue game, rumors are flying that Michigan is scrapping their bye week spectacular for something else, and with Craig Roh seemingly ready to put his lost year behind him and get his hand on the ground that will be more of a conventional 4-3 look, I'm guessing.

If the Iowa game is any evidence, that could be not awful against a conventional rushing attack even minus Mike Martin. Unfortunately for Michigan, their array of freshmen, position converts, freshman position converts, and LSD-tripping ferrets is going up against a shotgun triple option attack. Michigan doesn't even know where they're supposed to be on an inside zone. Illinois has used the option, a healthy dose of zone reads of all varieties, and some Nathan Scheelhaase scrambling to do this against relevant opponents:

Opponent Carries Yards TDs YPC
OSU 34 136 1 4.0
PSU 54 282 0 5.2
MSU 38 137 0 3.6
Indiana 31 173 1 5.6
Purdue 45 203 2 4.5

Unfortunately, the "relevant" bit of the Big Ten numbers is definitely more Indiana-Purdue-PSU than OSU-MSU.

As mentioned in the scouting post from the bye week, expect to see a lot of this:


Illinois runs a lot of triple option. Against Purdue they were content to run basic zone reads since the backside DE was crashing down all day, but Michigan's guys should be experienced at dealing with that. The triple option not so much. With Martin on the injury list he figures to be limited, leaving Mouton, Demens, Spur Of The Week, and Kovacs to play the proverbial assignment football and tackle in space. Kovacs seems suited for this, and Demens may be—still too early to tell—but I'm worried about Mouton and the other guy, whoever it is. Also I'm worried about…

Key matchup: Freshman cornerbacks and safeties [Ed-M: and ferrets] tackling on the edge on the option. The option puts a lot of pressure on your safeties to come up and fill ably, which apparently means we're going to have the privilege of watching Ray Vinopal try to tackle guys fifty pounds heavier than him.

Pass Defense vs Illinois

Two weeks ago I would have said this will be a sidelight on third and long and Scheelhaase will do well not to turn it over, but then Michigan played Penn State and Scheelhaase averaged 9.7 YPA with 4 TDs against Purdue. His long was again a pass to his tailback and no receiver brought in anything longer than 17 yards, but even if Illinois's passing game is an all-dink affair Scheelhaase is getting comfortable with it. He was 16 of 20 against Purdue, 13 of 21 against Indiana, and 15 of 19 against Penn State, all in grindingly effective games for the Illinois offense. His only bad day in the past moth was against Michigan State. That was a very bad day (3 INTs), but we can't expect something like that to recur, especially against this secondary.

I'm not sure Courtney Avery could have been worse than JT Floyd against Penn State but "secondary just as good as it was against Penn State" is a recipe for disaster. Moving the safeties around worked about as well as it did last year, and the year before. James Rogers was out for most of the PSU game in favor of Talbott so we may see our long-held dream finally come to fruition: a secondary made up of nothing but true freshmen without a fourth star to any of their names.


Key matchup: Demens and Mouton getting their zone responsibilities right. I mentioned this in passing but to reiterate: I now think it was Demens screwing up against Iowa since in the PSU game the guy lined up over the slot receiver carried him all the way several times, leaving the linebackers to deal with problems underneath. Illinois gets a large chunk of their passing yards after the catch, so dealing with mesh and whatnot will be important against a passing attack that looks short almost without exception.

Special Teams

For the first time in a while it looks like the opponent's return game is about as bad as Michigan's. The Illini are 118th(!) in punt return average at just over two yards a pop and have had a Michigan 2008-level epidemic of muffed punts. Two of those gave Penn State its (sigh) only points outside of an eighty-yard touchdown strike. Kick returns aren't much better at 89th.

Illinois has the usual massive advantage at kicker (15 of 17 on the year). Their punting has also been outstanding; they're sixth nationally.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Martin's ankle prevents him from doing anything useful.
  • Michigan doesn't look like they know what they're doing against the option.
  • The secondary.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • We get some sort of bizarre Minnesota-2008-like turnaround as the coaches finally realize they should be doing something basic with all these noobs.
  • Denard's hitting his passes more accurately and Illinois can't deal.
  • Pryor's success running presages success.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for What The Hell Was That?, +1 for If James Rogers Really Got Beat Out By Talbott Last Week The Secondary Is Literally Three True Freshmen and Kovacs, +1 for And Then We're Throwing a Freshman Spur Out There Against The Option, +1 for Assuming That Martin Is Not Useful Until He Is Again, –1 for Denard, –1 for Denard Plus Bonus Ninja Tricks, +1 for FFFFFFUUUUUU.)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for God, A Win, Any Win, +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Denard Career Flight Path Maintenance, +1 for Seriously That A Win, Any Win Bit, +1 for A Brief Respite From The Enduring Misery Of Life Is Needed In These Dark Times, Oh Lord, I Beseech Thee, Hear My Call And Respond To Your Good And Faithful Servant, Or At Least, You Know, Your Middling And Somewhat Forgetful Guy Who Resents The Idea Of Servitude, Oh Lord, Lord.)

Loss will cause me to... drink.

Win will cause me to... open one eye and look around in case the falling building didn't actually hit me.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

WTF, Vegas? Michigan being favored here seems insane after last week on both ends. I foresee Illinois's offense tearing through Michigan's like it's almost not there on both air and ground, with some rough spots from Scheelhaase ending a drive here and there and Michigan's return to a somewhat sane defense making the going slightly tougher this week. The Illini won't score on 7 of 9 drives. More like 5 of 9.

Michigan's offense, meanwhile, will have the same promising-but-not-quite-there style they've had since the Big Ten sledding got tough, exploding for a couple of long touchdowns and putting together a number of long drives that get Michigan into the high twenties but sputter out in missed fourth downs, missed field goals, and penalties.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Michigan goes back to a 4-3 under look and it seems like an improvement.
  • Mike Martin does not play effectively.
  • Courtney Avery has a less bad day than JT Floyd did against Penn State.
  • Illinois, 37-30.


Michigan Shirt

November 5th, 2010 at 2:40 PM ^

Is anybody else hoping that maybe the defense will play a little better  because they will see an offense that is somewhat similar to ours, meaning they have been practicing against it for awhile now. At this point I am looking for any ray of hope to get me through the rest of the day.


November 5th, 2010 at 2:46 PM ^

Exactly what in the hell are we supposed to think at that point? After three years of seeing it in practice, we damn sure well better be able to defend it. Oh wait, nevermind....

Jeffy Fresh

November 5th, 2010 at 2:47 PM ^

Brian picked Illinois to win.  He is more of a mush than me.  Now I am sure we will win this one without any difficulty.  Also, can someone explain to me the "opportunities for me to look stupid on Sunday"?  I never get why if any of those things occur Brian would look stupid. Is he saying that he thinks that none of those things will possibly occur?  I say we win the next two and get a little positivity back.  This is not last year, this is not last year, this is not last year. 


November 5th, 2010 at 2:49 PM ^

He's making predictions.  Predictions are, in his eyes (and most), opportunities to look stupid because predictions are so often wrong.

I feel sad that I saw the predicted score and thought, "no way we make it that close."  ZOOK!


November 5th, 2010 at 2:56 PM ^

I think we'll make it a 7-point ballgame, but only because we'll score a touchdown with less than 2 minutes left and then fail to convert an onside kick.  I fear this will be the 4th game in a row where we fall hopelessly behind and scramble to make a too little, too late comeback attempt.

I really, really, really hope I'm wrong.


November 5th, 2010 at 2:53 PM ^

Brian I think you need to work on matching the tone of your previews to match the prediction.   Last week I was convinced we were going to win by 40 after seeing your preview and you only predicted a slight win.

Now this week it appears we are playing the 1985 Bears and I thought you were going to predict 75-39.   Only lose by 7 after reading that whole depressing write up?  I feel good I guess.

How much does this team/fans/coach need this win?.   A lot of wives are going to run for cover if we win on Sat night.  Everyone connected with this school is going to be in need of a full release after this month of frustration.


November 5th, 2010 at 2:53 PM ^

with a completely new, as in they broomed everyone on both sides of the ball, coaching staff that working with a RS freshman quarterback at the helm. One would think that this would be the year we got off the schnide to avoid going 0-3 against Zook. I actually can't imagine Ron Zook has even beat any team three years in a row, let's not be the first. Come on guys, let's get a win in front of the home fans.

Crime Reporter

November 5th, 2010 at 2:58 PM ^

41-21 Illinois.

We fall behind early yet again and have to fight back yet again. Illinois is tough, but maybe they have a hiccup on the road. Maybe the defense will get more than two stops. And maybe we will cause some turnovers.

One can hope. Glad I will be away from the Tv tomorrow. Picnic with the future former wife.


November 5th, 2010 at 7:06 PM ^

The only reason I will miss the game is because I'm schedule to work!  I wish I could watch the game.

You need to have that picnic of yours on a recliner right in front of the flat screen. Sorry Hun but this is my life September through December!  The remainder of the year is yours!

What the heck, may be our defense will surprise us and we will actually get some turnovers.

UM 42 IL 33


November 5th, 2010 at 3:01 PM ^

I can't decide if the Intangibles cat is super adorable or beyond scary looking.  As in "I will murder you in your sleep" scary.  I think it's a little bit of both.


That's how I feel going into this game.  The team might just win, somehow, or maybe I will feel like I wish the scary evil looking cat murdered me in my sleep.  Or maybe I'll just leave the game feeling meh and just go back to tailgate and drink some more.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:02 PM ^

With the way the team performed last weekend, I was almost surprised to see that there was even a preview or a prediction for this game.

It's almost not worth it coz we can preview the game all we want, but you just never know with this team. Last week's preview said we'd put pressure on McGloin and we'd be gunslinging, and we had a 3 and down on our first possession.

At this point, I'm just hoping that if we are on the 1-yard line, we won't  have a repeat of last year's heartbreaker. But then again, we do like using Smith for these short yardage plays.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:03 PM ^

On the one hand, we know that

  • Michigan has had a major weight of "uncertainty" lifted from its shoulders this week. 
  • It's Military Appreciation Day at Michigan Stadium and Michigan is 1-0 this season when it wears the adidas Stars and Stripes apparel. 
  • David Molk is currently running with the focused intensity of a high energy laser.
  • Denard is still Denard.

On the other hand:

Zoook!! and mean

Sorry, I think we're going to get Zooked.  I do hope I'm wrong.

(*-Yes, I know that the latter is no longer playing for the Illini, the image is burned in my head.)

los barcos

November 5th, 2010 at 3:11 PM ^

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Illinois, 37-30.


if, at the start of this debacle, someone would have told me we would potentially be 0-3 against this guy i would have punched them in the face.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:11 PM ^

What are the odds that this Illinois team is real and not just a flavor of the day (see Michigan weeks 1 to 5)?  They didn't really put up much of a fight against any of the good teams they played so far.   Granted, neither did our defense.

The key to this game is the first possession.  We need points on the board immediately.  I feel like a 3 and out on the first possession like against PSU will just destroy us.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

Huh?  Their losses to Mizzou, OSU and MSU were all close games going into the fourth quarter, and they destroyed PSU.

The fact that they have a freshman QB - and Zook as coach - gives me some hope.  But I think Illinois is definitely a pretty good team.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:29 PM ^

Against Mizzou they were winning going into the 4th Quarter and only down by 1 score until :26 left in the game.

Against OSU they were down by 7 and decided to kick FG on 4th and 7 with 4:36 left in the game. OSU drove down the field and scored to make it 2 scores with less than 2 minutes left.

Against MSU They led at the half and were down 10 going into the 4th quarter.

All of these teams only have 1 loss. The have won by at least 20 in their other 3 Big10 games. How is this not a good team?


November 5th, 2010 at 3:11 PM ^

Michigan doesn't look like they know what they're doing against the option.

IIRC, Michigan has not (in my lifetime) looked like they know what they're doing defending the option.  Never mind the triple chuck 'n' duck.  I'm fully prepared to spend most of the game in perpetual *facepalm* gesture as ILL players toss the ball to a teammate right before getting lit up by UM defenders.

Illini by 10. 


November 5th, 2010 at 3:12 PM ^

downloadable from, are in file fbl-weekly-110110.pdf. I've been downloading these for over a decade, and this is the first time a date consisting of only ones and zeroes has made an appearance. Binary 110110 == decimal 54; so the number 54 will play an important role in Saturday's game. Either team might score 54 pts to win. Number 54 Richard Ash (or Number 54 Jareth Glanda) might play a pivotal role. Or, the result could be the same as 1954, a 14-7 win by the homestanding Wolverines.
Okay, that last one is not too likely. Michigan, 54-53.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:15 PM ^

Sigghhhh...i'm going to watch with the lowest expectations possible.  This way, my emotional floor will be set at "whatever".

When we win, I'm probably going to lose my shit and destroy the condo while my girlfriend is out shopping.


November 5th, 2010 at 3:20 PM ^

Brian's game preview has nothing whatsoever to do with the "FIRE RR" topic that has largely dominated discussion on this board.  If you are interested in posting a generic "I like RR's offense and hope that Brandon doesn't fire him, even if we lose this game and even if we lose every game" post, then why not post it on any of the 100 threads related to the FIRE RR topic.  There are plenty. 

Also, I will assume that since you know the score, you will not be watching the game.  I find it hysterical that people are looking at next year when we still have 4 games to go. 


November 5th, 2010 at 3:57 PM ^

Look I think we will win this game. its not a lost cause and we will definitely go bowling.The pessism needs to stop.

I've been a die hard fan of Michigan for a very long time. Obviously that means I'm completely out numbered over here in Lafayette, LA. Theres a bunch of LSU fans around here even though that's blasphemy since this is Ragin Cajuns' Country (Second Love).. I get a lot of crap from these tiger fans because of my UM football team...I've flown to Ann Arbor for the first time to see the MSU-UM game. Yes, I was completely devastated... I'm sick of them losing, and I take UM losing very seriously. My GF and family know not to talk to me after a UM loss. Richrod has never been given a fare shot. He came to UM with a depleted team. Carr's team wasn't the best ensembled team except for a couple of players... Graham, Mallet, and a few others. Most of them left and he was left with a D-AA team. As you know, you can't take a power run team and turn them into a No-Huddle Spread Triple Option team. Soon after the first season, he was slammed by disgruntled players who came all the way to UM but couldn't cut it or didn't fit in his system. So they run to the press and cause all of this NCAA Investigation. Which led to all of this negative recruiting. It was a perfect storm... Losing season plus NCAA allegations. Negative recruiting. Richrod haters fail to realize all of this and are just adding fuel to the fire by whining and complaining. Why would they shoot themselves in the foot, if they truly love UM? I'm sorry if I sound like I'm drinking Richrod's kool-aid, but know this... This man has a first year starting QB destroying and imploding the NCAA & Big Ten record books. Injuries have plagued this season. Yes, the defense is terrible. We can't only get better on defense. Yes, the losing has to stop next year. I tell you this... I'm really excited for this year and the years to come if Richrod can get past all of these obstacles. I really can't wait to see what this offense can do for the remainder of the year...Also with an extra year under his system. A second and third year Denard R. will blow the doors off of the Big Ten defenses, sprinkled with a Tate Forcier back-up if Denard gets hurt. They will just need a team that can stop an offense every now and then in a game. To give good field position and some momentum for the offense. I can bet the purists in this conference know this and are actually nervous about Richrod's ability to implement an offense. Does all of this seem farfetched and wishful thinking? What do you think?Note: Sorry for the long diatribe, but I wanted to give you a sense of how I feel about this whole situation....