Each Thursday, WolverineNation will take a look at five storylines for the Wolverines heading into Saturday's game. Here are the storylines for Michigan as it returns home to face Illinois.
1.) Get the non-Denard run game going. This will continue being a storyline until Fitzgerald Toussaint returns to form. He’s the Wolverines’ No. 1 running back, but he hasn’t looked like it this season. Quarterback Denard Robinson can’t take the majority of the rushes for this team the deeper it gets into the conference season. Toussaint needs to step up and hit a few holes and alleviate the pressure for Robinson. This game is a great opportunity. And considering the Wolverines are next looking at the best rushing defense in the league (Michigan State), now might be a good time to get the ball rolling/rushing.
2.) Pressure the quarterback. The defensive line has looked much improved since playing Alabama, but it still isn’t getting enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the four-man rush. The Wolverines shouldn’t have to blitz every single time in order to get bodies to the quarterback, but so far, that has kind of been the story. If Michigan can get more pressure up front, the linebackers will be able to make big plays without leaving so many holes in the field.
3.) Continue using good technique defensively. The defense said it prepared well for Purdue and that the added week of attention to technique really allowed the Wolverines to hone in on things that needed to be addressed. But, now that they didn’t have an extra week to get back to basics and they’ve been mainly preparing for the Illini, they need to make sure that progress carries over.
4.) Robinson needs to make good decisions. The senior is at his best when he’s not trying to do too much, and against Purdue that’s the kind of mindset he had.
Against the Boilermakers he made several smart plays either throwing the ball away or running out of bounds after long runs to avoid absorbing big hits. If he’s not throwing an interception or ot taking an unnecessary trip to the ground, it’s a very good thing for the Wolverines. Now, he just need to do that consistently.
5.) Be efficient in the red zone and on third downs. Illinois leads the league in third-down defense and is second in red zone defense. The Illini are consistently good there, and the Wolverines need to make sure they don’t leave points on the field. Yes, kicker Brendan Gibbons has been a solid kicker this year for Michigan and with most under 40 yards, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going in. But, if they have to choose between six points and three points, the answer is obvious.