Two weeks ago at Rutgers, the Michigan football team laid it on fast. By halftime, the Wolverines were up 43-0, and most fans probably changed the channel before the game was over.
Saturday, No. 3 Michigan will play another low-ranked Big Ten opponent, but this time it will be at Michigan Stadium. The Fighting Illini (1-2 Big Ten, 2-4 overall) will look to extend their win streak to two after coming off a 24-7 win over the Scarlet Knights.
Here are some reasons to stay tuned into this game, even if things get out of hand like they did two weeks ago:
1. Will Allen or Nordin be kicking field goals?
Fifth-year senior Kenny Allen missed two field goals against Wisconsin, and he hasn’t attempted another one since. Sophomore walk-on Ryan Tice was given a chance later in that game, but he missed his lone attempt, creating panic among the Michigan fan base.
At the time, freshman Quinn Nordin wasn’t even dressed on the sideline, but he was dressed and warming up at Rutgers the following week. In the Wolverines’ 78-0 blowout of the Scarlet Knights, no field goals were attempted. But after the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Allen would have been given the opportunity if the field-goal unit was needed.
The competition is raging on this week in practice, and Wednesday, linebackers and special teams coach Chris Partridge restated the difficulty of handling all three kicking duties at once. He complimented both Allen and Nordin, but wouldn’t name a starter.
2. Will Peppers throw for a touchdown?
Tuesday, redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers told reporters that he can throw the ball 65 yards on a good day. He’s listed as a linebacker, but he plays three ways and can apparently do even more than what he’s shown six games into the season.
Against Rutgers, he lined up at wildcat quarterback and cut through defenders for two touchdowns. After the game, it was revealed that he was supposed to throw the ball on two of the plays, but instead saw open space and ran it in.
He hasn’t disclosed whether the Wolverines will try it again this season, but most football fans wouldn’t mind seeing Peppers do even more on offense.
3. Does Bushell-Beatty look more comfortable?
Wednesday, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno got choked up as he discussed sophomore Grant Newsome’s horrific, season-ending knee injury. Losing Newsome left a big hole to fill at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Juwann Bushell-Beatty was the next player up.
Bushell-Beatty notched his first career start at Rutgers, but was hit hard on the second play of the game. He was slow to get up and needed to be helped off the field, but came back into the game a few plays later. Junior Mason Cole moved over to left tackle in his place, but Drevno said Wednesday that Cole is still considered a center.
Drevno stated that he’s comfortable with keeping Bushell-Beatty at left tackle, and all Bushell-Beatty needs to do to keep his spot is continue to improve at the position as he has been doing.
4. Will veteran running back Drake Johnson get a chance to play?
Not that Michigan needed another running back to add to its four-man rotation of Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac, but fifth-year senior Drake Johnson may finally be healthy enough to play this week.
Last spring, Johnson was run over by a forklift while working out. The extent of his injury was never revealed, but he hasn’t yet seen game action this season. Harbaugh said on this week’s Big Ten coaches teleconference that Johnson has been “chomping at the bit” and that he may finally be ready to go against Illinois.
Last season, Johnson recorded six touchdowns — two of which were receiving — while averaging five yards per attempt. Despite his impact last season, he’ll have to compete with the others for carries now that he’s healthy. True freshman Evans leads the pack with 400 rushing yards, but Smith, Isaac and Higdon all have over 250 as well.