Michigan will have no fumbles. The Wolverines had 11 fumbles in their last two games, but no player besides redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet has more than one. But Illinois’s defense has been underwhelming, so Threet shouldn’t be under too much pressure.
Redshirt freshman Avery Horn will emerge as the main kick returner. Running backs coach Fred Jackson called Horn the fastest tailback he has ever coached. That speed will get him to the wedge quicker, which has been a problem with other returners. And he hasn’t fumbled yet.
Michigan will win 31-30. Both teams are better than their records right now. They’re pretty evenly matched, but the Wolverines get the edge because they’re playing at home.
The Wolverines will be ahead at the half. Last week’s dismal first half and the ensuing Terrence Taylor motivational talk should be enough to bully the Wolverines into starting strong Saturday. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and multiple players mentioned the boos at halftime Saturday. Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet and the offense will come out strong to ensure that doesn’t happen again this week.
Junior Brandon Minor will be Michigan’s best running back against the Fighting Illini. His breakout run against Wisconsin showcased his speed, and freshman Sam McGuffie had a mediocre game. Expect Minor to build off last week’s performance with at least one touchdown run against Illinois and McGuffie to have another down game. When the game gets close tomorrow, Rodriguez will play Minor.
Illinois will win 35-32. Sure, Michigan came back from a 19-point deficit last week. But the Wolverines just aren’t strong enough yet to consistently hang with the best of the Big Ten, and the Illini will be hungry for a win after last week’s downer against Penn State. Michigan will run some gutsy plays but come up just short.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams will give Michigan problems on the ground. Michigan has struggled often against dual-threat quarterbacks in the last few years. Williams will be this Wolverine defense’s first such opponent. Let’s just say, the Juice will be let loose.
Junior safety Stevie Brown will have another good game. The Michigan coaching staff named him one of three defensive players of the game against Wisconsin. After harsh criticism from fans in the team’s first few games, Brown will continue to improve against the Fighting Illini.
Illinois will win 27-24. Once again, Michigan will have a strong second half. But Williams will prove too much for the Wolverines.
Michigan won’t fumble in the return game. The fumbling has to stop eventually, right? The return game looked especially bad against Wisconsin when junior Greg Mathews and fifth-year senior Morgan Trent both put the ball on the ground. Holding on to the ball will be such a big point of emphasis this week that the returners won’t dare drop the ball, more out of fear than anything else.
Freshman Michael Shaw will be Michigan’s premier running back. Shaw has been slowed by injury since week two, when he broke out for two big gains. He didn’t see the field against Wisconsin and saw just minimal time at Notre Dame. He should be back to full strength tomorrow and he will make a difference in the game.
Michigan will win, 30-28. After last week’s comeback, Michigan will be riding high in the Big House. Expect Illinois to take a lead in the first half, but once again the Wolverines will grab the upper hand thanks to superior conditioning and halftime adjustments.