Scouting Report: Michigan On A Roll

The Illinois football team this week prepares for a tradition-rich team that, all of a sudden, is as good as advertised. After many doubted Lloyd Carr's squad early in the year, Michigan again looks like Michigan as the Wolverines get set to visit Champaign for a key Big Ten game Saturday night.

Yes, the Wolverines stumbled early against Appalachian State and Oregon, which gave competitors false hope U-M was on the decline. Both teams had quarterbacks who could run and pass, and they gave up some big plays as a few new defensive starters learned the ropes. But they are making up for lost time now and have a chance to complete the rest of their schedule unbeaten.

Michigan always has an abundance of explosive athletes, and this year is no exception. They have three great seniors who decided to forego the NFL for another year to help achieve a National Championship, Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long.

The senior Hart (5'-9", 202) is an exceptionally gifted running back who has excelled since his freshman year and leads the nation in rushing attempts and yardage (154 per game). He is moving quickly up the ranks of a myriad Michigan career rushing statistics, and he holds the U-M career record for the most games with 150 or more yards with 12 to date. He has only had three fumbles in his four year career, a remarkable achievement for someone who carries the ball so often. Hart played only the first half against Purdue last week due to a minor injury, but he is expected to play against Illinois.

With a huge and talented offensive line led by potential first round draft pick Long (6'-7", 315) and his NFL-caliber tackle mate Adam Kraus (6'-6", 295), Hart usually has plenty of room to operate. And they have only given up 10 sacks in the first seven games. Michigan has suffered some injuries among their offensive linemen this year, but the replacements seem to be maintaining normal offensive efficiency. Depth is rarely a concern at Michigan.

Henne (6'-2", 226) is one of the nation's most respected quarterbacks, and he has been a starter since early his freshman year. He was injured in the first half of the Oregon game, and his freshman replacement forced U-M coaches to limit their offense in Henne's absence. But there is no doubt Michigan and Henne are now operating on all cylinders again. For his career, Henne has completed 63% of his passes and holds the all-time U-M record with 78 touchdown passes.

Of course, his job is made easier with all the great receivers at his disposal. Michigan is the envy of most other teams with two steller wideouts in Mario Manningham (6'-0", 178) and Adrian Arrington (6'-3", 195). Toss in tight end Carson Butler (6'-4", 247), and Henne's main problem is deciding who to utilize at any given time.

Manningham is their biggest game breaker on the outside, having been named a third team All-American last season. The junior has 102 career pass receptions for 1685 yards and 19 touchdowns. He needs only three more touchdown grabs to vault into the top five in all-time Michigan statistics. Considering their history of churning out one great receiver after another, that is quite an accomplishment. And he has another year to build on his career stats.

Defensively, Michigan is aggressive and athletic. Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley has great respect for them.

"They're an aggressive team that will come after you, so they're going to be a challenge for us. They're not going to sit back and play it close to the vest, they're going to come attack you."

Linebackers Shawn Crable (6'-5", 243) and Chris Graham (5'-11", 225) are active and athletic. They make plays all over the field. Terrance Taylor (6'-0", 308) is a man mountain at defensive tackle, and Brandon Graham (6'-2", 270) leads the team in sacks with seven from his defensive end spot. Safety Jamar Adams (6'-2", 210) and cornerback Morgan Trent (6'-1", 184) are leaders in a fast and physical secondary.

Those who watched the Wolverines lose to Appalachian State and Oregon to begin the season believed the U-M defense was porous and weak. It is true they had to replace a large number of super graduates, but it is not true they became weak as a result. Coach Locksley believes there is a good explanation for why Oregon was able to score so often on them.

"Oregon runs a similar style offense to what we run. I think early in the year, teams show things you haven't seen on tape. They did some things where they were able to catch Michigan by surprise. That was a reason for a large part of their success. They also hit two deep passes where there might have been some blown coverages. From what I've seen on tape, Michigan's got a lot of that stuff shored up by game seven."

Michigan is typical of the Michigan of old. Great talent, great depth, and a mentality of winning make them a formidable foe. They're back in the national picture now, and the Illini expect them to be at their best Saturday.

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