FACTS & STATS: Site: Michigan Stadium (109,901) -- Ann Arbor, Michigan. Television:ESPN. Home Record: Illinois 4-1, Michigan 3-2. Away Record: Illinois 1-1, Michigan 2-1. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-1, Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 3-2, Michigan 1-3. Series Record: Michigan leads, 66-23-2.
GAME NOTES: The Michigan Wolverines will try to put a stop to their downward spiral this weekend, as they host the Illinois Fighting Illini in Big Ten play at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
For the third straight game, the Wolverines were denied bowl eligibility, as they dropped a 41-31 decision at Penn State. Michigan, which has yet to earn a postseason berth in coach Rich Rodriguez's three-year tenure, has suffered three losses in a row since a 5-0 start catapulted the program into the Top 25.
As for the Illini, they are back on the grid following consecutive down campaigns. Illinois too needs just one more triumph to earn bowl eligibility after improving to 5-3 with a 44-10 spanking of Purdue last weekend. It was the second win in a row for the Illini, who trounced Indiana 43-13 the prior week.
This is the 92nd meeting between Michigan and Illinois on the gridiron, with the Wolverines holding a 66-23-2 advantage, including a 28-10-1 edge at the Big House.
The Illini turned in a balanced performance in their win over Purdue this past weekend, as they ran for 187 yards and threw for 204 more in the 44-10 decision. The ground attack is the strength of the this offense, averaging 194.4 ypg, and Mikel Leshoure leads the way with 780 yards and six TDs. Leshoure was limited to just 23 yards on 15 carries last weekend, but he did score three total TDs to make his presence felt. QB Nathan Scheelhaase, however, stole the show, as he completed 16-of-20 pass attempts for 195 yards and four TDs, in addition to rushing for 118 yards on 21 carries. It was a remarkable effort from Scheelhaase, who had passed for just six TDs going into the weekend. The dual-threat QB continues to be effective with his legs though and ranks second on the team with 451 rushing yards for the season.
Defensively, Illinois has been surprisingly good this season and has held three of its last four opponents to 13 points or less. Overall, the unit is giving up a mere 16.8 ppg on the year, while keeping foes to 301.4 total ypg. The Illini were terrific on defense last weekend, as they held Purdue to just 205 total yards and only nine first downs. Illinois surrendered just 52 yards through the air, while limiting Purdue to a dismal 2-of-14 effort on third downs. Martez Wilson played his part with four tackles and a fumble recovery and he tops the roster with 68 stops for the season.
Despite the loss to Penn State last weekend, QB Denard Robinson was once again spectacular, totaling 381 yards of offense and four TDs. The sophomore gunslinger was most effective with his legs, as he rushed for 191 yards and three scores. A remarkable athlete, Robinson has already established a new Big Ten rushing record for a QB with 1,287 yards and he has scored 12 times on the ground as well. He is by no means one-dimensional either, as Robinson has completed 65.1 percent of his tosses for another 10 TDs. Thanks to Robinson, the Wolverines are churning out 275.5 ypg on the ground and will certainly lean on their strength this weekend.
The big issue for Michigan has been its defense, which is giving up 440.2 total ypg. The Wolverines have surrendered 149.8 ypg and 18 TDs on the ground, but have been worse versus the pass, yielding 290.5 ypg. Despite playing without its starting QB, Penn State threw for 250 yards on 17-of-28 attempts in last weekend's win over Michigan. Another 185 yards came on the ground from the Penn State offense, which kept the Michigan defense on the field for over 37 minutes by going 10-of-16 on third downs. The defense also failed to come up with a single turnover and that has been an issue for Michigan, which has just nine takeaways to its credit. Jonas Mouton has done his part for the defense and he posted 12 tackles and a sack in last weekend's defeat. He now has a team-high 75 stops, to go with a pair of sacks and INTs for the season.
The Wolverines are back at home and should benefit from a big crowd expecting to see their program earn a crucial sixth win. Robinson should put on show for the home fans and carry the Wolverines to a much needed victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 38, Illinois 28
Saturday, November 6th, 12:00 p.m. (et)