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Illinois Fighting Illini at Michigan Wolverines: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Sat. Oct 22; 3:30pm ET
Where: Ann Arbor, Mich.; Michigan Stadium (107,601)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Michigan Leads 69-23-2
Last Meeting: Michigan Won 45-0 (2012)
Line: Michigan (-35.5)

What could possibly happen when Michigan meets the second-worst team in the Big Ten? After all, the last time we saw the Wolverines they were still seen scoring points in Piscataway.

However, Illinois can actually score points on offense and have stopped teams from scoring (if you call Rutgers scoring 7 points a victory for the Illini defense).

While on paper this game may not seem appetizing and a likely blow out, there are factors that make it worth taking a second look. So, let us explore perhaps the most lopsided game of the weekend on paper.

 

1 Burning Question: How Focused Will Michigan Be for this Game?

Even the best of teams can get caught looking backward or looking forward. In the case of the Wolverines, the team must find a way to overcome the high of a 78-point whopping of Rutgers two weeks ago.

That same team must also not get caught looking ahead of the Illini, who lost to Purdue of all teams, and looking towards a big in-state matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing last week. Michigan is also a team coming off a bye week, one in which its head coach was having fun at high schools all over America and at Ruth’s Chris in Ann Arbor too.

Of course, Harbaugh is known as a master of motivation and a master at getting his teams to focus on the task at hand. But, given all that has gone on the task here may be getting his team (and himself) not to buy in to the hype and the press around them.

Can this team focus on the task at hand and take care of business handily as expected?

2 Key Stats:

— 10. That is the number of games Illinois have won at Michigan Stadium All-Time. Most teams have historically struggled at Michigan Stadium, largely because the Wolverines have been a historically great football program. However, I point this out because expecting the gulf between these two teams on the field to evaporate is one thing and expecting Illinois to pull of a historically significant win is a totally different thing.

—6. That is the number of interceptions for both the Michigan Wolverines and Illinois Fighting Illini defenses in 2016. It also happens to be one more than the number of touchdowns both have allowed this season. Michigan is likely to see Wes Lunt returning from injury this week and he can whip the ball around the field with ease. He is also not exactly prone to throwing interceptions, as he has six touchdowns to just one interception on the season. If Michigan can get Lunt to turn the ball over, this one is likely over quickly. Same if the Illini can get the statistically great Wilton Speight to turn the ball over.

3 Key Players:

West Lunt, Illinois QB: Welcome back from the sidelines, your mission is to take on one of the best defenses in the country. Good luck with that. However, the simple fact is that if the Illini are going to win this game it is likely that they are going to have to do it on the arm of Lunt at some point in time. Having him back should help open things up, but the wide receivers and he need to be on the same page or this could get ugly.

De’Veon Smith, Michigan RB: Michigan has the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten according to the numbers, but its beauty is in the multiple running backs it can throw at teams. Smith leads the team with just 61 attempts on the season, and four running backs average seven or more carries per game. However, it would be great to see just one back carry the load and that back needs to be Smith. Of the four main backs, Smith’s 5.5 yards per carry average

Kenyon Jackson, Illinois DT: Being stout up front has largely been a problem for past and present Illini defenses. One answer that has emerged in 2016 is freshman Kenyon Jackson. He’s started each of the last two games and has been very productive in the middle of the defense. Seven of his nine tackles on the season have come in the last three games alone. That kind of production is a welcome sight up front, and with Michigan’s impressive rushing offense, it could be helpful to hear his name being called multiple times in this game as well.

4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Michigan 52-7
Dave: Michigan 42-7
Phil H.: Michigan 42-13
Philip R-R.: Michigan 52-14

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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