Friday, October 11, 2019

Green’s five things to watch for in Saturday’s Michigan/Illinois game

Photo Credit: Ryan McNeill- Athletes Unfiltered

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Saturday morning’s contest between the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines (4-1, 2-1 Big Ten East) and the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten West) should provide some much-needed answers as both sides hit the halfway mark of the season by games’ end. Here are my five things to watch for CSO.

1) Michigan’s lethargic offense:

Despite defeating Iowa, 10-3 on Oct. 5, Michigan’s defense provided the spark with four takeaways and eight turnovers, while the offense sputtered for the majority of the game. With Dylan McCaffrey’s status still up in the air (concussion), the Wolverines will likely have to ride the shoulders of Shea Patterson for at least another full game.

The chemistry with Patterson and first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has yet to click and with heavyweights Penn State, Notre Dame and Ohio State left on the schedule, tangible progress must be made in terms of reads, checkdowns and accuracy at Illinois or else an 8-4 or even a 7-5 finish could be the reality for Michigan, even if McCaffrey returns.

2) Michigan’s recent dominance of Illinois:

After allowing an average of 39 points per game in three consecutive losses to Eastern Michigan, Nebraska and Minnesota, Illinois will have the difficult task of snapping a four-game losing streak in the series against Michigan.

While the teams’ have met less frequently because of two different phases of divisional realignment in the Big Ten this decade, the Wolverines have dominated in the series with the most memorable game being a 67-65 win over the Fighting Illini on Nov. 6, 2010 in Ann Arbor. The combined 132 points was the highest scoring game in Big Ten conference history and also put together 1,237 total yards of offense. The win proved to be bittersweet for Michigan as coach Rich Rodriguez would be fired after the season.

3) Illinois’ quarterback situation up in the air:

In what was supposed to be touted as the Brandon Peters bowl, might not come to fruition as the quarterback, who played for Michigan from 2016-18, left last Saturday’s game at Minnesota with an upper-body injury and will be a game-time decision for Illinois.

In the event Peters is unable to suit up, the Fighting Illini will go with Matt Robinson as the starter. Robinson went 15-of-29 passing for 125 yards in the 40-17 loss to the Golden Gophers. As long as the Wolverines’ defense can play anywhere close to the level last week against the Hawkeyes, then it could be a moot point in terms of which quarterback will start for the Fighting Illini.

4) Michigan’s rotating field goal crew:

The Wolverines have decided to use Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin for field goal situations, which have produced mixed results this season. Moody has been the better of the duo, going 5-of-6 on attempts, while Nordin has missed both field goals from 55 and 58 yards. 

With the heart of Big Ten play in full swing, Michigan’s field goal team will be relied on more and must be able to deliver in clutch situations, especially if the offense fails to find an identity.

5) Illini’s dominant defense:

One of the few bright spots for Illinois has been its defensive unit with a conference-best nine forced fumbles, with eight recoveries. While the offense no-showed last week at Minnesota, Illinois’ defense provided the only touchdowns in the 23-point loss. 

USC graduate transfer Oluwole Betiku Jr. leads the unit with seven sacks, which puts the defensive end on pace for the most in a season since the days of Simeon Rice. 

Jake Hansen and Dele Harding highlights the Illinois linebacker group. Hansen leads the FBS in forced fumbles (four) and fumbles recovered (three), while Harding leads the Big Ten with 11.2 tackles per game this season. 

Despite, coming in as a 22.5-point underdog according to SportsLine, the elements are there for Illinois’ defense to get penetration on a very lackluster Michigan offense, which should make for a much more interesting game than anticipated.