Michigan-Illinois Preview

BY foxsports • November 8, 2011

Denard Robinson and Nathan Scheelhaase are perhaps two of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks, a claim each staked in last season's record-setting thriller in Ann Arbor.

Neither 22nd-ranked Michigan nor Illinois has forgotten that classic matchup, though both programs are more focused on turning around their recent struggles when they meet again Saturday in Champaign.

Scheelhaase (265.4 yards per game) and Robinson (264.2) are Nos. 1 and 2 in total yards in Big Ten games while moving their respective offenses both through the air and on the ground.

Each played a large role in the teams combining for a conference-record 1,237 total yards in Michigan's 67-65, triple-overtime victory Nov. 6, 2010.

The 132 combined points were the most in Big Ten history. By comparison, Michigan and Illinois haven't combined for that many points the last five times the schools have met on the basketball court.

Robinson threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns while adding 62 yards rushing. Scheelhaase had 211 yards and three passing TDs while running for 101 yards and another score.

While the high-scoring contest is something Scheelhaase will always remember, he hopes to put it in the back of his mind by kickoff Saturday.

"Anytime you have a battle like that, it's tough to come out on the wrong end of things," Scheelhaase said. "It'll be fun to look back on it in 20 years, but not so much just a year later.

"You want to do everything you can to not feel that way again."

Victories have been tough to come by for both teams since each began the season 6-0. A 24-16 defeat last week at Iowa was the second in three games for Michigan (7-2, 3-2).

Illinois (6-3, 2-3) lost three straight prior to its bye last week, most recently falling 10-7 at then-No. 21 Penn State on Oct. 29.

The Fighting Illini won the last meeting in Champaign 38-13 on Oct. 31, 2009, and they'll look to beat the Wolverines in back-to-back matchups at home for the first time since 1955 and 1957.

That might be a possibility given Michigan's struggles on the road.

The Wolverines, in a three-way tie with No. 19 Nebraska and Iowa for second place in the Legends Division - one game behind No. 13 Michigan State - have lost two of their three road games and are 5-12 away from home since 2008.

Robinson has been held in check in Michigan's last three games overall. He's thrown for less than 200 yards and run for no more than 63 yards in each contest, combining for five total TDs and three interceptions during that span.

He failed to get the Wolverines into the end zone on four tries from the 3-yard line in the final 16 seconds in the loss to Iowa. Still, first-year coach Brady Hoke said Michigan isn't giving up hope of playing in the Big Ten's inaugural championship game.

"I don't think anybody can tell you what's going to happen a minute from now, let alone four weeks from now," Hoke said. "There is a lot of football still to be played, and we're guaranteed a certain number of opportunities."

The first presents the challenge of containing Scheelhaase, who ran for 89 yards but only passed for 63 in the loss to Penn State. He did throw a touchdown pass, giving him 12 TDs to five interceptions.

Robinson, meanwhile, has 13 touchdowns and 12 picks - the fourth-most in the nation.

Illinois' 19 total turnovers are the most in the Big Ten, three more than Michigan's 16. The Wolverines survived five turnovers - including two interceptions by Robinson - in last year's meeting.

"Everyone remembers the game last year. Unbelievable game," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "They have one of the most exciting offensive players in the game. I know, our players know, we have to get our offense going.

"It's a big game, it's a sold-out game, and we're looking forward to getting back onto the field and playing."

Illinois has the nation's sixth-ranked defense, allowing 280.1 yards per game. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus leads the nation with 11 1/2 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Michigan has won the last six meetings when ranked in the Top 25. The Illini last beat a ranked Wolverines team Oct. 23, 1999, upsetting then-No. 9 Michigan 35-29.


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