The Michigan Wolverines go on the road for just the second time this season on Saturday, as they travel to Champaign to take on former Wolverine quarterback Brandon Peters and the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-2 B1G).
Well, maybe Peters. Maybe not. We will have to see, as Peters suffered an injury in the Illini’s last game against Minnesota and, as of Monday, was considered questionable for the Michigan game.
If not Peters, the Wolverines defensive line will look to feast on a few inexperienced quarterbacks. According to Illinois head coach and Santa beard expert Lovie Smith, the next guys in line would be redshirt freshman Matt Robinson, redshirt freshman Coran Taylor and junior Cam Miller.
Playing in four games this season, Robinson has the most experience, passing for 156 yards on a 50 percent completion rate. The other two quarterbacks have not thrown a pass yet this year, but may have to this weekend if Peters is unable to suit up.
Illinois’ rushing attack is led by senior Reggie Corbin, who has rushed for more than 100 yards twice in four games in 2019. He has 382 yards and 3 TDs to add to his resume. He is a relative non-factor in the passing game, with just one catch all year.
Corbin is third in the Big Ten and 24th in the FBS in yards per carry (6.59) and is fourth in the Big Ten in yards per game (95.5). And according to Illinois athletics, Corbin is third in active career yards per carry (7.1) trailing only Clemson’s Travis Etienne (7.6) and UCF’s Greg McCrae (7.6).
Michigan’s rush defense hasn’t been superb this season — No. 50 in the country, giving up 134.6 rushing yards per game — so limiting Corbin should be on Don Brown’s priority list.
The top wideout Lavert Hill and company will have to keep their eyes on is senior Josh Imatorbhebhe (that’s a mouthful). At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he has 15 receptions for 220 yards and 4 TDs. Another receiver to watch for is junior Ricky Smalling. He leads the team in receptions (22) and has 206 yards and 1 TD. 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end Daniel Barker (151 yards, 2 TDs) is a nice security blanket.
The defense hasn’t been a bright spot for the Illini overall, but they do have some standouts. Junior defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr., a grad transfer from USC, is Illinois’ premier defender, leading the team in both sacks (7) and tackles for loss (10.5). He also has 5 quarterback hits and 2 fumble recoveries.
The Illinois linebackers are also a bright spot, with junior Jake Hansen and senior Dele Harding being the heartbeat of the defense.
Hansen leads the country in both forced fumbles (4) and fumble recoveries (3), to go along with his 39 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and 1 interception. If Hansen wasn’t enough, Harding leads the team in tackles (56) after racking up 15 against Minnesota last week. He also has 4.5 TFLs, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 1 quarterback hit.
Meanwhile on special teams, Illinois ranks No. 1 in the conference and No. 8 in the country in net punting (43.63 yards per game). That’s good, but that also means Illinois’ offense hasn’t been good enough to keep the punter off the field. For that reason, the Illini aren’t getting many chances for kicker James McCourt, as he has just two field goal attempts.
At the end of the day, Michigan should be able to walk away from Memorial Stadium with a W, and not have many issues in doing so. Even though Michigan’s offense was lackluster last week, it should be able to put up a lot more more points than Illinois, especially if it plays without Peters.