“Good luck at the Big House this weekend, Reilly,” I said when I saw Reilly O’Toole at Chiptole Mexican Grill yesterday. I said this to O’Toole because I genuinely believe they’re going to need it. The Illini will need nothing short of a miracle to win tomorrow’s game against college football’s No. 25 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Michigan’s quarterback Denard Robinson is coming off his best game of the season where he rushed for 235 yards in a big win over Purdue. In that game he broke Antwaan Randle El‘s Big Ten quarterback career rushing record with 3,905 yards.
The Illini will have to contain the beast in order to stop the dynamic dual threat in Robinson. Michael Buchanan may be the game’s x-factor as he tries to establish the edge on Illinois defensive line. Buchanan is an NFL-caliber talent who leverages speed and strength to rush the quarterback at the defensive end position.
Michigan runs a spread offense, an approach that has made the Illini seem slow and unprepared this season. This week in practice, they have used freshmen wide receiver Justin Hardee and running back LaKeith Walls to emulate Robinson. The defense knows that neither of these two guys (even if combined) could resemble the Michigan QB.
“Unless we’re chasing around (quarterback Nate Scheelhaase), we don’t have a player that is the caliber of Denard Robinson, just from an athletic standpoint,” said Buchanan. “It’s really about being disciplined, studying a lot of film on him, seeing where he likes to escape.”
Buchanan has just 2.5 sacks on the season and the team has combined for just nine. That’s just 1.5 sacks per game and with a guy like Robinson calling the plays and adjusting on the fly, they will have a much tougher time bringing him down behind the line.
Linebacker Jonathon Brown leads the team with 6.5 tackles for a loss and will need to use his specialty (side to side speed) in order to hunt Michigan’s star. Guys like Ashante Williams, Brown, and sometimes Buchanan may be used to spy Robinson. Forcing him to go to the air will be one of the ways that the Illini can notch an upset at one of CFB’s toughest venues.
“One thing Denard does do is he puts the ball up in the air, and he gives you a chance to make plays on it,” Buchanan said. “Their running backs, they run hard, but sometimes I think that hurts them. It gives defensive guys an opportunity to get the ball back and try to strip them. That’s something we’re going to go into this game doing, trying to get the ball back to the offense.”
Watching him give the ball up five times against the Notre Dame defense gives weight to Buchanan’s claim. If the Illini can force five turnovers in this game (that’s just seven less than they’ve forced all year) they may actually have a chance.
Prediction: Michigan 35 Illinois 13
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