No. 3 Michigan seeks another dominating effort

Third-ranked Michigan often looks unstoppable on offense while averaging 50 points per game.

Third-ranked Michigan often looks unstoppable on offense while averaging 50 points per game.

And that side of the ball isn't even the Wolverines' most impressive unit.

The run stuffers, pass rushers and ball hawks have been superb through the first half of the campaign and Michigan looks to improve to 7-0 when it hosts Illinois in a Big Ten contest Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network).

The Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten) lead the nation in scoring defense (10.3 points per game), total defense (212.8 yards per game) and passing defense (113.7). They also rank ninth in rushing defense (99.2) and have held five opponents to 14 or fewer points.

The unit has been exceptional on third-down defense, allowing 10 of 82 opportunities (a national-low 12.2 percent) to be converted. Rutgers was 0 for 17 in such situations in Michigan's last contest -- a 78-0 victory Oct. 8.

Senior defensive end Taco Charlton said the players are aware of the superb statistical tidbits.

"We definitely care because it shows the hard work does pay off," Charlton told reporters. "It shows in the rankings and in the games we're a great defense and we've been able to prove that and we're proving out there we are that great defense we always talked about, that coaches talked us being."

Star outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers (10 tackles for losses) is the marquee player on the unit but he is far from the lone standout.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown has been the mastermind of the success. But even better is that nobody is satisfied -- even with all those stellar stats midway through the season.

"It's about not getting complacent and trying to perfect your craft every day, and I think we're doing a good job of that," senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow said. "We have a more mature team that's not going to let this go to their head, but we'll see in the second half of the season. We still have a ways to go."

Illinois coach Lovie Smith is well aware of the impressive nuggets -- both defensively and offensively and knows his squad is facing a formidable foe.

"We realize who we have this week," Smith said at a press conference. "They're one of the best teams in the country. We look forward to that challenge."

Making the task of springing an upset tougher is this fact: The Fighting Illini (2-4, 1-2) have dropped 14 consecutive games against ranked foes and 23 of their past 24.

Smith, the former NFL coach of the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, recorded his first Big Ten victory when Illinois defeated Rutgers 24-7 last week. The victory halted a four-game skid.

Sophomore quarterback Chayce Crouch could be in for line for his second consecutive start. Senior starter Wes Lunt missed the Rutgers' game with a back injury and Smith hasn't indicated whether Lunt will return against the Wolverines.

Crouch replaced Lunt in the Oct. 8 loss to Purdue and was 6-of-14 passing for 92 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his start against the Scarlet Knights.

"Chayce Crouch was just gutting it out, playing good football again like he did the previous week," Smith said. "We would have liked that interception back, but just liked the energy he's brought to our football team."

Slowing down the Wolverines' offense figures to be a challenge for a team that allowed an average of 36.8 points during its four-game losing streak.

However, Illinois does a feature a trio of solid defenders in senior middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr. (58 tackles, two interceptions), and senior defensive ends Carroll Phillips (11 tackles for losses, including four sacks) and Dawuane Smoot (eight tackles for losses).

Michigan's rushing attack rolled up 481 yards and tied a school record of nine touchdowns in the rout of Rutgers. Freshman Chris Evans had a season-best 153 yards and leads the team with 400 yards.

Sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has passed for 1,194 yards and 11 touchdowns but coach Jim Harbaugh is most impressed with the fact he has been intercepted only twice in 159 passes. Senior receiver Amara Darboh has team-best outputs of 25 receptions, 400 yards and five touchdowns.

The Wolverines continue to incorporate Peppers into the offense and he is averaging 19.6 yards on five rushes.

"He's just got really great instincts with the ball in his hands," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said. "He kind of knows to feel something and it's second nature to him. He's got a special thing about him. You don't find guys like that."

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