Michigan is back in the poll, climbing to No. 25 after an
impressive win over Purdue, and heads into Saturday’s game favored
to beat Illinois by more than two touchdowns.
The Wolverines (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) in theory could be looking
ahead to next week’s game against rival Michigan State.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” coach Brady Hoke said
Hoke seems to deliver a message each week that keeps his players
thinking and talking about the next game – not the big picture.
“I’m going to tell you the exact same thing coach Hoke tell us
every day, `Every week is a championship week,”’ defensive tackle
Will Campbell said. “Every week we’re going to be playing for a Big
The Wolverines are coming off a 44-13 victory against the
Boilermakers and have steadily improved since opening with a
lopsided loss to Alabama. Illinois (2-4, 0-2) has lost three
straight games by a combined score of 118-45 and four games this
year by an average of 26 points.
The Wolverines insist they’re taking the Illini seriously
because they’re one of the teams to beat in their quest to end a
conference championship drought that dates to 2004.
“If you overlook any game in the Big Ten, you’re going to lose
that game,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.
If Michigan can’t figure out a way to run the ball without
Denard Robinson doing it, it might have a hard time ending a
four-game losing streak to the Spartans on Oct. 20 at the Big
House. On nearly 20 carries in the last two losses to Michigan
State, Robinson is averaging just 3.3 yards per rushing attempt for
128 yards combined.
Robinson, as he often has when the Wolverines win, was
spectacular on the ground at Purdue.
The speedy senior ran for 235 yards at Purdue and became the Big
Ten’s all-time leading rushing quarterback with 3,905 yards. He was
named the conference’s co-player of the week on offense for a ninth
time, tying the record total set by Wisconsin running back Ron
There were plenty of records set the last time the Illini
visited the Big House. Robinson threw for 305 yards and three
touchdowns before leaving with an injury after three quarters in
Michigan’s 67-65, three-overtime win over Illinois on Nov. 6, 2010
– the highest-scoring game in Big Ten history.
Though the Wolverines are coming off another excellent offensive
performance, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was held to 19 yards
rushing on 17 carries in the win at Purdue. He has just 169 yards
rushing – 3.2 yards per carry – in four games this year after
averaging 5.6 yards per attempt for a total of 1,091 yards last
Is Hoke concerned with the lack of production the team is
getting from its running backs?
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he acknowledged.
Thomas Rawls has made the most of limited opportunities. Rawls
ran for 33 yards on just four carries against Purdue and is
averaging 5-plus yards on 16 attempts that have been spread
sparingly out over three games.
After Hoke vowed that he’s going to stick with Toussaint at
tailback, the second-year coach was asked if he thought about
playing Rawls earlier in games?
“No, not really,” Hoke said.
Hoke explained that Toussaint hasn’t proven that he can’t do the
job, saying he simply ran against a defense that was designed to
stop him last Saturday.
“A year ago, I think Fitz ran for 170 yards against Purdue –
they weren’t going to let him did that,” Hoke said. “They were
very concerned with taking that part of our offense away. Denard
rushed for 235, so something has got to give.”