Knowing that the passing game of Illinois is its offense”s strength, Michigan forced the Fighting Illini”s hand by making it one-dimensional just as it did against Western Michigan.
Illinois gained just 25 yards rushing by far its worst rushing production of the season.
“When you can make it difficult to run the football, (the opposing team is) going to have a hard time scoring lot of points,” coach Lloyd Carr said.
Linebackers Larry Foote and Victor Hobson have played a huge part in the Wolverines allowing just 59 yards per game on the ground. Foote and Hobson lead the team in tackles for loss with 11 and five, respectively.
The defense has made a total of 22 tackles for loss, excluding sacks.
The credit can”t be completely given to the linebackers as the defensive line has also played much better than it did a year ago. It is putting pressure on the quarterback as well as creating holes for the rushing linebackers.
The defensive line “is putting bodies on offensive lineman and giving me gaps to shoot,” Foote said.
Last year the line suffered tremendous injuries, but this year has yet to sustain a major season ending injury. The return of Jake Frysinger and the improved play of Shantee Orr and Dan Rumishek have been factors in the much-improved line play.
Crossed out: Senior running back Walter Cross was part of Michigan”s the highly-rated recruiting class that included Drew Henson, David Terrell and Marquise Walker. He was potentially one of the next great running backs for the Wolverines.
But Cross has been stuck on the depth chart behind Anthony Thomas for his first three years and now behind B.J. Askew and Chris Perry. All the while, Cross hasn”t complained.
“I can”t say enough about Walter,” Carr said. “Here is a kid that is a senior and he hasn”t moped or pouted when things haven”t gone his way and that”s what a football team is all about.”
Against Illinois, Cross showed his versatility as well as his running ability. Cross threw a touchdown pass to Marquise Walker and also ran for a touchdown late in the game. He ended the game with 10 carries for 50 yards his best game since he ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse his freshman year.
“He stepped up today and I”m proud of him,” Carr said.
Mr. Reverse: In the fury of trick plays on Saturday, Michigan also pulled out something that has become almost common-place this year a reverse to sophomore wide receiver Calvin Bell.
Bell scored his second rushing touchdown of the year on a 28-yard scamper late in the second quarter.
“Calvin is a guy that runs very, very well very instinctively,” Carr said. “Speed alone isn”t enough on (the reverse) and we got some good blocks and Calvin find his way to the endzone.”
The run was Bell”s fourth reverse of the season and he has found success on nearly every one. The lone exception was a one yard loss against Western Michigan. The remaining three have averaged over 21 yards per attempt.