Team 137’s Week Eight Game Preview: Illinois is in Town for Homecoming

Jim Harbaugh and Love Smith have faced each other before but it was on a bigger stage: the NFL. Harbaugh’s 49ers defeated Smith’s Bears 32-7. This result could be similar as Illinois comes in a 35-point underdog

Michigan Rushing offense against Illinois

Michigan currently has four running backs with 250-plus rushing yards. That’s not counting the fullback that leads the team with seven touchdowns.  Dare they add another back to the mix? Rumors are swirling that Drake Johnson may make his return this weekend after suffering an injury during the offseason. Could it be too late to make a change to the rotation? Probably not. If Harbaugh feels like Johnson can contribute in a positive fashion, you better believe he will make an appearance.

Cal transfer Hardy Nickerson, Jr. is anchoring the defense for the Fighting Illini. Nickerson, Jr.’s father is former NFL pro bowler Hardy Nickerson, Sr., who holds the title of defensive coordinator of the Illini. Nickerson, Jr. left Cal to get a chance to be coached by a defense led by his dad. It’s going well so far as he leads the B1G in tackles with 58.

Senior defensive ends Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot have been living in their opponent’s backfield. Phillips is having no problem making his was through opposing offensive lines, averaging two tackles for loss per game- good for first in the B1G. Smoot has forced two fumbles.

  • Advantage: Michigan

Yes, Lovie Smith is a defensive brain but Illinois doesn’t have the type of athlete Smith would like to employ. Illinois has given up 14 rushing touchdowns while giving up 185 yards per game on the ground.

Michigan Passing offense against Illinois

Wilton Speight continues to protect the football and make good decisions. He’s doing the things he’s asked to do while limiting turnovers and running the offense. Speight has 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions at this point in the season while allowing the game to come to him.

The Fighting Illini has had some success on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve given up 30 or more points in four of their six games but do have some pieces that could make life hard for an opponent. With pressure from Smoot and Phillips, quarterbacks have to make quick decisions with the ball.

Illinois has six interceptions, led by Nickerson, Jr. and cornerback Darius Mosely. Mosely is pretty good if he gets his hands on the ball, returning his only interception for a 78 yard score. He also returns punts.

  • Advantage: Michigan

We all know Michigan’s game plan by now. Run to set up the pass. Speight will continue to manage games for the Wolverines by not trying to do too much and taking what the defensive gives him.

Michigan Rushing defense against Illinois

Illinois has a stable of running backs themselves, led by junior Kendrick Foster. Foster and three other backs have over 150 yards each through six games. The Fighting Illini rank in the top half of the B1G with 190 yards rushing per game. Last years leading rusher Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Reggie Corbin are also viable options.

Most expected Vaughn to come in and return to his starting position but Foster has been a pleasant surprise to the program.

The number one defense in the country is allowing only 99 yards per game on the ground. Expect Don Brown to load the box and make the Fighting Illini beat them through the air. It’s going to be a long afternoon for this Illinois offense, starting with shutting down the run.

  • Advantage: Michigan

Illinois runs the ball better than anything else they do- but it’s not a good time to be one-dimensional. Did you see what this defense did to Rutgers? It might be a very similar outcome with Michigan tuning up for Michigan State.

Michigan Passing defense against Illinois

Who will start at quarterback? Wes Lunt could be out with a back injury. Chayce Crouch started last week against Rutgers and finished 6-for-14 for 92 yards. Problem is, it was against Rutgers. Rutgers is atrocious and that’s not something Crouch should hang his hat on. It will only get tougher for the Illinois quarterbacks while facing the top defense in the country.

The only real option at receiver is Malik Turner. You can expect him to be covered by Jourdan Lewis, and this should shut down the whole Illinois operation through the air. Turner does have 31 catches for 384 yards and five touchdowns but he has yet to be covered by a player like Lewis.

  • Advantage: Michigan

No quarterback… No wide receivers… Against the number one defense in the country…. Smells likes disaster

Prediction: Michigan 55 – Illinois 7

Michigan won’t destroy Illinois like they did Rutgers because they don’t want to. Harbaugh doesn’t have any bad blood with Illinois yet so he’ll be nice and keep it in the 50’s.

What’s your score prediction for Michigan vs. Illinois? Let us know in the comment section below! 

Photo Credit: Steven Branscombe/Getty Images