Michigan brings plenty of athletic talent to Illinois for its game Saturday. Former coach Rich Rodriquez lasted only three seasons, but he knew how to recruit speed. Those players are a year older, and new coach Brady Hoke is mixing the old philosophy with his own to maximize his players' potential.
Of course, the entire Wolverine offense revolves around dynamic junior quarterback Denard Robinson (6'-0", 195). He is a Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award semifinalist while also being on the watch lists for the Manning, Maxwell, Paul Hornung and Walter Camp Players of The Year Awards. The speedster has already rushed for 100 or more yards in 13 games in his career and is third in UM's career offense list.
Robinson is the team's rushing leader again in 2011, gaining 880 yards in 147 carries and scoring 10 touchdowns. He averages 6.0 yards a carry and 97.8 yards per game on the ground. He is still a dangerous passer despite completing only 53.1% of his passes for 1617 yards and 13 TDs. He has thrown 12 interceptions.
Sophomore Devin Gardner (6'-4", 205) spells Robinson and is also highly athletic. He has gained 44 net yards in 23 carries, and he has completed 9 passes in 17 attempts. He has thrown one interception.
Running back is loaded with talent. Sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint (5'-10", 195) and junior Vincent Smith (5'-6", 172) top the depth chart. Toussaint has great speed and has improved each game. He is averaging 5.6 yards a carry and 70.1 yards per game, scoring 6 touchdowns.
Smith has two TD's, gaining 293 yards, a 6.2 yard per carry average. Senior Michael Shaw (6'-1", 195) also sees time in the backfield. He has three touchdowns and a whopping 7.2 yard per carry average. The fullbacks are sophomore Stephen Hopkins (6'-0", 228) and senior John McColgan (6'-1", 240).
Michigan receivers make up for any erratic passes with great athleticism and experience. Junior Roy Roundtree (6'-0", 177) is a three year starter. He is on the Biletnikoff Watch List and has 16 catches for 291 yards and two scores. He is backed by senior Kelvin Grady (5'-10", 177) and soph Jeremy Jackson (6'-3", 198).
Senior Junior Hemingway (6'-1", 222) is the other starter. He leads the team with 25 receptions for 514 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jeremy Gallon (5'-8", 185), senior Martavious Odoms (5'-8", 173) and soph Drew Dileo (5'-10", 172) also see time. Gallon averages a whopping 9.4 per punt return, and Odoms leads kick returners.
Tight end Kevin Koger (6'-4", 258) is a senior with 15 catches on the year. He is backed by junior Brandon Moore (6'-5", 255).
Four of UM's offensive linemen are returning starters. They are led by senior center David Molk (6'-2", 286). The former Illinois prep is on the Phil Steele, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News Midseason All-American first team. He is also on the watch lists for the Rimington Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.
The tackles are huge. The left tackle is sophomore Taylor Lewan (6'-8", 302), and the right tackle is senior Mark Huyge (6'-6", 302). Junior Ricky Barnum (6'-3", 292) is stationed at left guard. He is the only lineman who didn't start last season. The right guard is junior Patrick Omameh (6'-4", 300).
The Michigan defense is much improved this year, giving up an average of just 15.7 points a game. Senior tackle Mike Martin (6'-2", 304) is a candidate for the Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi Awards. He was second team All-Big Ten last year and has 5 tackles for loss so far this year. Senior Will Heininger (6'-6", 295) has four tackles for loss.
Senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (6'-6", 288) is on the Ted Hendricks Watch List. He has five tackles for loss this season. Junior Craig Roh (6'-5", 269) is Van Bergen's bookend on the opposite side. He has four sacks among 8 tackles for loss.
Junior middle linebacker Kenny Demens (6'-1", 248) leads the team in tackles with 66. He is joined on the strong side by redshirt freshman Jake Ryan (6'-3", 230) and the weak side by true freshman Desmond Morgan (6'-1", 220). Ryan has 5.5 TFL. Morgan plays ahead of junior Brandin Hawthorne (6'-0", 214), who has 40 tackles and 3 TFL on the year.
Sophomore free safety Thomas Gordon (5'-11", 208) is second on the team in tackles while also recovering three fumbles. But he is listed either/or with senior Troy Woolfolk (6'-0", 191). Junior Jordan Kovacs (6'-0", 197) mans strong safety. He is on the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list. Cornerbacks are junior J.T. Floyd (6'-0", 185) and highly rated rookie Blake Countess (5'-10", 176).
Sophomore Will Hagerup has tried more punts than freshman Matt Wile, but Wile has the better average at 41.1. Brendan Gibbons has hit 7 of 9 field goals, his longest being 38 yards.
As usual, Michigan is loaded with quality players. And Hoke has reinstituted the cockiness Michigan has historically demonstrated. After losing at Iowa last week, the Wolverines have their backs to the wall. The Illinois game precedes home matchups with Nebraska and Ohio State.