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

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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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Illini Football

Predicting the 2018 Illinois Fighting Illini season game-by-game

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We’re nearing game week and that means it is time to gather all the intel possible and make the best decisions possible…because it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. 

Yes, the annual tradition of Illinois Fighting Illini season predictions is back. Yes, we’re also going to break down the season in game-by-game fashion. 

No, you won’t see it in the written form. Instead, we’re going 21st century and giving you our publisher, Andrew Coppens, thoughts in video format. 

The Illini went first (no coincidence to alphabetical order), so you can follow along by subscribing to our YouTube channel as well. 

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also don’t forget to join in the conversation below and let us know your thoughts on the season and your predictions too! 

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Illini Football

Illini look to fresh jerseys to help reboot football program

Illinois reaches to its successful past in hopes of sparking interest in struggling football program of today. It means new uniforms for the football program.

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Nothing says trying to shed a bad image like rebooting your jersey and helmet looks. When you’re the Illinois Fighting Illini and you’ve compiled a whopping 5-19 overall record and just two Big Ten wins in the last two years, a reboot is probably a good idea.

On Friday morning, the Illini announced exactly that, keeping the school colors and even the Gray Ghost uniforms they have worn to pay homage to the Galloping Ghost himself, Harold “Red” Grange. The new uniforms feature a much simpler look and a more defined block “I” on the v of the neck.

For you old-timers out there, these uniforms are likely to look very familiar to you. That’s because they harken back to the Illini glory days of the Dick Butkus era in the 1960’s.

One of the biggest additions to the uniform combinations is that of a re-designed orange helmet. Gone is the metallic look, replaced by a matted finish and a color that more accurately fits the uniform color as well.

Illinois will begin wearing the new gear for the home opener on Sept. 1 against Kent State and of course will begin to be available for purchase (blue only apparently) this fall as well.

As for the design, I like the simplified look and feel of the jersey. Illinois has a color scheme that stands out in the Big Ten, so why try to hide it. Instead, they are embracing history and moving forward to hopefully more success.

With all the momentum off the field, hopefully Love Smith and crew can deliver some of that same momentum on the field. We’ll have an idea about that when the Illini hold an open practice tomorrow, April 7.

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Illini Football

Lovie Smith hits home run with Rod Smith’s hire as OC

Lovie Smith hires prolific spread offensive coordinator Rod Smith in hopes of jump-starting a stagnant Illinois Fighting Illini offense.

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Just one day after two former starting quarterbacks announced their departure from the Illinois Fighting Illini program, the Illini went out and announced a huge hire.

On Friday afternoon, head coach Lovie Smith announced the hire of former Arizona offensive coordinator to the same position for the Illini.

“Rod Smith brings terrific and exciting offensive experience to our staff at Illinois,” Lovie Smith said. “His background and development of dual-threat quarterbacks and multiple-threat offenses is the direction we are going here. Rod has developed explosive quarterback play and offensive performance at each of his coaching stops.”

It was huge get for the head coach because Cam Thomas, who is a true dual threat quarterback is literally the only scholarship quarterback on the roster until the fall.

Smith comes to Illinois after leading one of the most explosive offenses in the country at Arizona. Smith helped lead an offense that averaged 41.3 points (5th nationally), 309.3 rushing yards, 180.2 passing yards and 489.5 total yards (12th nationally) per game. Wildcat quarterback Khalil Tate rushed for 1,411 yards (9.2 yards per carry), while completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,591 passing yards with 14 touchdowns.

Most importantly, Smith has an extensive background as a quarterbacks coach, and that background will be tested by the rawness of Cam Thomas’ game and two incoming recruits this fall.

He’s had success not just with one quarterback in the fold at Arizona as well, working with Anu Solomon for three seasons prior to Tate taking over at quarterback. Solomon completed his three-year playing career with the third-most passing touchdowns and fourth-most passing yards in UA history. In 2014, Solomon threw for 2,793 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only nine interceptions.

That kind of production and long-term output at quarterback is sorely needed for the Illini to turn things around. Just how fast can Smith mold Thomas? He’ll get a really good opportunity with a cleared quarterback room this spring.

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Illini Football

Illini have no choice but Cam Thomas at QB now

Two quarterbacks announce transfers within a matter of hours on Wednesday, leaving the Illini with only Cam Thomas on scholarship.

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The Illinois Fighting Illini went in to this offseason with three quarterbacks who started games in 2017. It took just one day for that to completely change though.

On Wednesday night, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff George Jr. announced he would be graduating in the spring with a degree in Management and will transfer from the program as a graduate transfer. He will have two seasons of eligibility left wherever she goes.

Chayce Crouch then announced that he was retiring from football period after an injury-riddled career at Illinois.

So, what was once a potentially three-man race for the starting quarterback job just became a one-man race and the winner by default is sophomore quarterback Cam Thomas.

He’ll have a lot of work to do this offseason though, because his opening campaign was a rough one on the stat sheet. Thomas completed just 42.4 percent of his passes (28 of 66) for 375 yards and zero touchdowns to five interceptions.

In four games he also rushed for 233 yards and a touchdown. Thomas was clearly much more comfortable as a runner than a thrower in the Big Ten.

The question is, will the lessons learned in those four games as a starter be enough to push him in to being the guy that turns things around for the stagnant Illini offense.

Thomas is easily the leader in the clubhouse given he’s the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, but he will be joined in the fall by 2018 signee M.J. Rivers. He is a 6-4, 213-pound dual threat quarterback that was ranked as the No. 26 dual threat QB in the country.

It means the Illini will go in to spring ball with just one scholarship quarterback on the roster and in to the 2018 season with just two scholarship quarterbacks at all.

Lovie Smith now has to trust in Thomas and pray he’s the answer they’ve been looking for or it may be curtains for his time at the helm of the Illini program.

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