Michigan, Robinson Major Hurdle For Illini

The Fighting Illini football team travels to Michigan to take on the Wolverines this Saturday. UM boasts possibly the most exciting, dangerous offensive threat in the nation in sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. His quickness and explosiveness, coupled with his passing accuracy, make the Wolverines a major threat against anyone.

Rich Rodriquez brought his fast-paced spread offense to Michigan and is replicating the excitement he enjoyed at West Virginia. Recruiting Florida spring champ Denard Robinson (6'-0", 193) made it all possible with his overall skills.

Robinson is the 2nd leading rusher in the nation with 160.8 yds per game. He leads the country with 1287 rushing yards and is second nationally in total offense with 349.5 ypg. He set the UM total offense record with 502 yards at Notre Dame. He is the only quarterback in NCAA history to run for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in two games in a single season.

These statistics don't really express the excitement he creates for his fans or the apprehension he creates in opponents. The young man is not only extremely fast, but he is able to change directions without losing speed and can break tackles. He puts fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators.

It is his passing that makes the running even more effective. If you concentrate on stopping the runs, he finds his receivers with regularity. He wasn't much of a passer as a high school player, but he has improved tremendously. He is hitting 65.1% of his passes, completing 108 of 166 for 1509 yards, an average of 188.6 a game.

His backup is no slouch either. Tate Forcier (6'-1", 192) was the starter last year as a true freshman and has plenty of experience. He and Robinson switched roles this year, but he has seen plenty of action when Robinson left games with temporary injury problems.

Michigan has plenty of firepower to go with them. Receiver Roy Roundtree (6'-0", 176) is a Biletnikoff Award candidate. He is among Big 10 leaders in catches with 36 for 410 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Hemingway (6'-1", 225) is among the league leaders in reception yard average, catching 18 balls for 387 yards.

Darryl Stonum (6'-2", 196), Jeremy Jackson (6'-3", 203), Je'Ron Stokes (6'-0", 193), and Kelvin Grady (5'-10", 176) all figure heavily in the passing game. Stonum also holds UM season records for kick returns and yards. Tight ends Kevin Koger (6'-4", 255) and Martell Webb (6'-4", 255) contribute to both the pass and run games.

Michigan balances Robinson's runs with sorties by the running backs. Vincent Smith (5'-6", 180) is short but extremely quick. He leads the running backs with 43.6 yards a game. Michael Shaw (6'-1", 187) supports him with a 35.5 ypg average. Other threats include freshman Stephen Hopkins (6'-0", 227) plus Michael Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Teric Jones. The fullback is John McColgan (6'-1", 231).

The offensive line opening holes for Robinson includes three seniors. Center David Molk (6'-2", 288) has been nominated for the Rimington and Rotary Lombardi Awards. He is the 2009-10 NSCA All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete Of The Year recipient.

The other linemen are left tackle Taylor Lewan (6'-8", 294), a freshman; senior left guard Stephen Schilling (6'-5", 308); right guard Patrick Omameh (6'-4", 299); and senior right tackle Perry Dorrestein (6'-7", 321).

The UM defense has given up 440 yards a game and is last in the Big 10 in total defense. Part of the problem has been injuries and inexperience. Its run defense is more respectable than its pass defense. Still, there is talent present.

Nose tackle Mike Martin (6'-2", 299) is one of the best in the conference when healthy. He went out of the Penn State game with an ankle injury. Rodriguez says Martin will be ready for Illinois, but it remains to be seen if he is fully recovered. If not, his backup is fifth year senior Adam Patterson (6'-3", 276).

The rest of the defensive line is experienced. Defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (6'-6", 283) is a junior, and defensive tackle Greg Banks (6'-4", 285) is a senior.

Weakside linebacker Jonas Mouton (6'-2", 240) is a senior who leads the team and conference in tackles. Kenny Demens (6'-1", 250) and senior Obi Ezeh (6'-2", 250) share middle linebacker, while Craig Roh (6'-5", 251) is an outside linebacker who sometimes moves up and puts his hand on the ground.

The UM secondary has lost some players and is playing youngsters at several spots. In Michigan's 3-3-5 alignment, a Hybrid roams the field. This position is shared by two redshirt freshmen, Cam Gordon (6'-3", 207) and Thomas Gordon (5'-11", 205), no relation. Senior safety Jordan Kovacs (6'-0", 195) is tied for second in the conference in total tackles. True freshman Ray Vinopal (5'-10", 193) plays free safety.

Sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd (6'-0", 183) may be unable to play this week due to injury. If not, he will be replaced by freshman Courtney Avery (5'-11", 167). Senior James Rogers (6'-1", 183) is the other cornerback.

Freshman Will Hagerup is the punter. He is the younger brother of Indiana punter Craig Hagerup and has over a 40 yard per punt average. He was ranked one of the top punters coming out of high school last year.

Place kicking is another matter. The Wolverines are only 3 of 9 on field goals this year. Seth Broekhuiszen or Brendan Gibbons will try to improve their track record against the Illini. Freshman Jeremy Gallon (5'-8", 180) is one of the conference leaders in punt returns, and he shares kickoff return duties with Stonum and Vincent Smith.

Michigan has holes opponents have exploited. But there is no question Robinson is capable of putting the team on his back, winning games they otherwise lack the experience and depth to win.

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