I hate to even do this, but before I hit the keys for Saturday, it’s time to look back at last week’s game:
- Get pressure on Darryl Clark — Michigan recorded two sacks against Clark, and the defense actually did a solid job of getting in his face most of the afternoon. The breakdowns in pass defense don’t fall on the shoulders of the defensive line, just the linebackers and secondary (and possibly the coaches as well).
- Make a big play in the return game — Didn’t happen. Even with Carlos Brown returning kickoffs, the team couldn’t muster a return longer than 26 yards on a day when the offense desperately needed the good field position.
- Punch it in — Two scores (one TD, one FG) in four red zone chances is simply not going to cut it against a team as good as Penn State.
- Slow down the pass rush — Penn State sacked Forcier five times, and Michigan got nothing going in the screen game.
- Get off the field — Michigan didn’t do terribly on third down, limiting Penn State to 5 conversions on 15 chances, but it wasn’t exactly a stellar effort, either. The Wolverines put forth a strong effort early, giving the offense several chances to make it a game, but fell apart late. The first touchdown of the second half came on a 3rd and 9 from the 11-yard line, and Penn State converted three third-downs on their last drive to really milk the clock before hitting a field goal.
Well, that was ugly — at best, Michigan gets a 2/5 on the day. Let’s move on to Illinois:
- Run, run, run — Michigan still has the 9th best rush offense in the country, and Illinois’ run defense gives up over 185 yards per game (101st nationally). The Wolverines need to get back to doing what they do best on offense — running the zone read successfully and basing everything else on that success. I expect to see a lot of touches for Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, and expect a 100-yard day out of at least one of them.
- Keep the Illini off the board early — I’m sure Illinois will be very geared up for an opportunity to knock off Michigan for their first FBS victory of the season, especially at home in a late afternoon game on Halloween. Michigan couldn’t stop their offense last year, so if Illinois scores early, it may just give them the confidence to play far above their level of play so far this year. If the Wolverines can stop the Illini early, and maybe force them to switch up quarterbacks a couple times, it’s likely that Illinois will play like the 113th-best scoring offense in the country.
- Show me something, safeties — Michigan has spent the last several weeks unsuccessfully trying to mask the weakness at safety, even going so far as to essentially turn Donovan Warren into a deep cover guy last week while subbing Boubacar Cissoko in for Mike Williams (and moving Troy Woolfolk back to safety) on third downs. With Cissoko gone, Michigan doesn’t have that option anymore, so Williams and Jordan Kovacs will have to show a better ability to keep the play in front of them and play their assignment. If the safeties can’t improve from their disastrous performance last weekend, it could be a long day for Michigan’s defense.
- Get the outside receivers involved — No Michigan outside receiver has more than 15 catches (Greg Mathews, and seven of those came last week), and both Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum have essentially disappeared as the season has wore on. Hemingway practiced this week and should be good to go after that scary collision with Warren last week. Tate needs to get the ball to these guys — the whole point of the spread offense is to spread the field vertically and horizontally (duh). Without any threat from the outside guys, the vertical threat becomes moot, and the offense bogs down. I’d like to see at least five catches out of one of the outside receivers, and for all three to get involved in the offense.
- Just go for it — This game is a must-win for Rich Rodriguez and his staff at this point. Illinois is so bad that a loss would be catastrophic for his public perception, and a sign that the 4-0 start was a whole lot of luck. I’d like to see the coaching staff pulling no punches on this one — empty the bag of tricks, go for it on fourth down, fake a punt, slip an onsides kick in there somewhere, whatever it takes to give this team a spark. If the team loses while sitting back, I’ll go bananas. Please don’t make me go bananas.
It’s about time for a victory, and if Michigan doesn’t get one here, I don’t know where they’re going to find one. Michigan 34, Illinois 17.