Michigan has one final game to work out any kinks before Ohio State next weekend. That game was shaping up to be an interesting, possibly top-15 match up. But then Illinois came back to earth and have lost their last two games.
The Fighting Illini (7-3, 4-3) were the No. 16th ranked team in the country when their two game losing streak started at home to Michigan State. They fell to Purdue the next week at home, 31-24.
A game that was hopefully going to give Michigan (10-0, 7-0) some credibility is now viewed as a walkthrough for the real test next week.
I’m sure some people will label this as a trap game for the Wolverines. The Easter Bunny could also be real.
The only factor that should make Michigan fans a tad worrisome is the fact that Illinois should be just as motivated as them to win this game. The Illini are in a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West. Granted, those four programs are jockeying to be a punching bag in Indianapolis in a few weeks but nonetheless, making it to the conference title game is a big deal.
It’s Like the Spiderman Meme
If you’re colorblind, you might have a hard time distinguishing which team is which. Illinois plays a very similar brand of football as Michigan.
In every major defensive statistic – yards, points, rushing and passing – Michigan is ranked first in the Big Ten and Illinois is second. The Illini won’t let Michigan running back Blake Corum waltz through them like he has to other opponents. Corum will have to earn every yard.
Illinois also has three players with four or more sacks on the year. Which should provide a good test for the Wolverines offensive line before they take on an improved Ohio State defense.
The similarities continue on the offensive side of the ball too. Illinois is a run first team led by junior Chase Brown. He actually has more yards than Corum this year with 1,442. Brown averages 5.2 yards per carry and will make Michigan’s defense load up the box on early downs.
Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito has been very efficient since transferring from Syracuse. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes and has a 15-3 touchdown to interception ratio. Does that sound familiar?
It should because Wolverine quarterback J.J. McCarthy has a 69 percent completion rate, nice, and boasts a 14-2 touchdown to interception ratio.
Another noteworthy comparison is neither team has an alpha receiver. Ronnie Bell leads all Michigan receivers with 597 yards, best for 11th in the conference. Bell is good don’t get me wrong, but we all know McCarthy spreads the ball around between he, Luke Schoonmaker, Cornelius Johnson and others.
The Illini have a similar situation going on. Isaiah Williams leads their team with 553 receiving yards, but Brian Hightower and Pat Bryant are also heavily involved in the passing game.
Not the Right Test
Illinois isn’t a push-over, but Michigan is at home and favored by 17.5 points. It’s like taking a test that maybe isn’t your best, but it’s open book. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
The problem though is Illinois doesn’t run a similar offensive scheme as Ohio State. The Buckeyes like to throw the ball around to super talented receivers. Michigan’s defensive backs haven’t seen an offense remotely close to what the Buckeyes will show.
Even if it came against a weaker opponent, it would be better to have Michigan play a team that spreads it out and takes shots down field as opposed to Illinois who plays just like the Wolverines.
The positive side to playing a team like Illinois is it’ll be a physical test for the Wolverines, especially in the trenches. It’ll be good for Michigan to get the juices flowing and hit some people prior to an emotional rivalry game.
Michigan 24 Illinois 14
Photo Credit:Detroit Free Press