Illinois ready for test Michigan star Denard Robinson poses
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org October 12, 2012 8:00PM
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Updated: November 14, 2012 3:06PM
After making modest progress last week at Wisconsin, struggling Illinois will face an even more daunting task Saturday at Michigan.
Keeping the Badgers’ between-the-tackles running game at bay for three quarters was one thing. Keeping the Wolverines’ Denard Robinson, the Big Ten’s all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback (3,905), from wreaking havoc on the corner is quite another.
‘‘Denard is awful special,’’ Illini coach Tim Beckman said. ‘‘You better know where he is at all times. He’s a threat to take it the distance any time he touches the football.’’
With a defense that’s allowing more points than that of any other Big Ten team (28.3) and an offense that also ranks last in the conference in scoring (21.2), it’s no wonder Illinois is a 31/2-touchdown underdog.
But the Illini are taking heart from being two-touchdown underdogs at Wisconsin and trailing only 10-7 in the fourth quarter before losing 31-14. That 17-point margin is their closest loss.
‘‘You have to be able to build on things,’’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. ‘‘You’re halfway through the season. You have to put things together the way they were at times [last week].’’
Scheelhaase is especially intent on guiding Illinois, which led 7-0 at Wisconsin, to another early lead at Michigan to keep another giant crowd at bay.
‘‘It’s going to be a lot the same way,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘The best thing we did [against the Badgers] was start early. Our defense got a few big stops, and we were able to score. When you’re able to do that on the road in a tough place to play, it makes things a whole lot easier.’’
A key issue will be the Illini finding their running game, which is averaging a Big Ten-worst 126.5 yards. Against Wisconsin, Illinois ball carriers managed only 22 yards on 11 rushes beyond the 84 yards Scheelhaase gained.
‘‘We have to be able to establish it up front,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘Our guys up front know that. They’re going to work at it, do whatever it takes to get it done.’’
The Illini have had their
moments at Michigan Stadium lately. They are 2-3 in their last five trips to Ann Arbor, including a
riveting 67-65 loss in triple overtime two years ago.
Illinois is ill-prepared to engage in another shootout like that. That means it will have to find a way to keep Robinson, who leads the Big Ten in rushing (135.2 yards) and total offense (323.6), from having another field day.
At least the Illini are familiar with him.
‘‘Very familiar,’’ defensive end Michael Buchanan said. ‘‘We’re up for the challenge. We love it. We’re going to have to come up with a different game plan [than Wisconsin] to stop him from getting out of the pocket. But we’re up for it.’’