ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Saturday is Senior Day at The Big House as the Michigan Wolverines will host the Illinois Fighting Illini in what was supposed to be a battle of ranked opponents.
But, the Illini didn’t hold up their end of the bargain as they’ve dropped their second game in a row coming into the matchup.
On the other hand, the Wolverines continued to do what they’ve done all season, and that’s stayed unblemished in the loss column with their first 10-0 start since 2006.
Read: Michigan football boat races Nebraska, improve to 10-0 for first time since 2006
The men in maize have owned the matchup between the two teams as they have a 71-23-2 record, which includes a five-game winning streak that was extended in 2019 thanks in part to Shea Patterson tossing three touchdowns and Hassan Haskins rushing for 125 yards on 12 carries with one score.
CHAMPAIGN, IL – OCTOBER 12: Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the ball during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) (2019 Michael Hickey)
Before Michigan fans start licking their chops at the matchup, Illinois, although on a bit of a downward slide, still has one of the best run defenses in the country.
They’ve gone through every test that they could have imagined through 10 games, so it’s safe to say the Fighting Illini will be the Wolverines’ toughest matchup in the 2022 season.
For instance, Illinois has long-ranging corners that like to get aggressive with the wideouts, which is something Michigan may not be accustomed to.
Like the Wolverines, Illinois has a top-notch defense that can stop the run. They haven’t allowed a team to rush for 150 yards since the Wyoming Cowboys ran for 182 back in week one.
They also have maybe the best cornerback in all of college football with NFL-ready defensive back Devon Witherspoon, who, on 34 targets, has allowed seven catches and zero touchdowns with an allowed passer rating of 27.3.
Ronnie Bell should be lock-in that battle throughout most of the day as Illinois plays aggressive man-to-man defense. But here’s the caveat, that type of play has its downfalls depending on what type of referees are calling the game. Will they allow them to play hands-on down the field, or will Saturday’s (Nov.19) game be riddled with yellow laundry?
STATE COLLEGE, PA – OCTOBER 23: Devon Witherspoon #31 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrates after sacking Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half at Beaver Stadium on October 23, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) (2021 Getty Images)
The Illini rush defense is seventh in the FBS, allowing 85.8 yards per game. So it’s safe to say that Saturday’s game will be won in the trenches.
They’re holding teams to under four rushing yards per play, so it could be necessary to connect on some of those downfield passes Michigan fans have been calling for since the early part of the season.
Their front seven against the Wolverines’ offensive line will be a battle among men, so it would be challenging to see which side prevails.
If JJ McCarthy is diming receivers early and often, that means Heisman hopeful Blake Corum could continue to eat while making his claim for the prestigious award.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 15: Fans are seen with letters spelling out “BC (Blake Corum) 4 Heisman” on their chest during the second half of a college football game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Wolverines won the game 41-17 over the Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Aaron J Thornton/Getty Images) (2022 Aaron J Thornton)
Corum, through 10 games, is third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards with 1,349 yards rushing on 227 attempts. He is tied for second in touchdowns with 17.
Illinois running back Chase Brown leads the FBS in rushing yards with 1,442, but he is coming off of an injury ahead of the matchup. He may not be as explosive, but he, like Courm, is touching the rock 28-plus times a game.
1️⃣ Total Defence
1️⃣ Scoring Defense
1️⃣ Rushing Defense
2️⃣ Pass Efficiency Defense
4️⃣ Passing Defense pic.twitter.com/6FN0cdyG66
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) November 15, 2022
Both teams are mirror images of each other as they are run first teams with great defenses. Michigan has the No. 1 defense in the FBS, allowing just 72.2 yards per game. In their last five matchups, the men in maize have outscored their opponents 117-3 in the second half.
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That said, the men in maize are 18-point favorites, so the oddsmakers believe they’re the better team. We all know what’s ahead on Nov 26.
Suppose the Wolverines want to go into Columbus in a potential undefeated matchup for all the marbles. In that case, they will need to get past their toughest matchup of the season against a formidable opponent.
What are your thoughts on the matchup?
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