Illinois-Michigan Preview

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

sternly Monday.

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

Ten championship.”

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

Dayne.

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

season.

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.”