It seems as if the pattern lately at Michigan is to provide one drama after another. The parade of theatrics continues, with the rumor mill abuzz with talk of the Wolverines being ready to jettison defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
A series of dreadful performances have the grim reaper standing at the door, especially after the most recent showing against a very mediocre Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions were averaging little more than 20 points per game, third from the bottom in the Big Ten, but Michigan allowed Penn State to score 41, and to convert on six of its first seven possessions.
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez has said that Robinson is not walking the plank, but you have to wonder how long this can go on. The Wolverines are sound on offense, but they are being asked to outscore teams in order to have a chance to win, since the defense has demonstrated that it can't stop anyone.
The Wolverines enter the final four games of the season on a three-game losing streak. In their last three games, the Wolverines have allowed 34, 38 and 41 points. Michigan is second to last in the Big Ten in points allowed per game (30); by contrast, Big Ten leader Ohio State allows 13.6 points per game.
At this late juncture, there certainly is no quick fix for the Michigan defense. But what the fans, the administration and certainly Rodriguez need to see is much cleaner execution and relentless effort. The defense can continue to struggle, but if there are any signs it has quit, then the real trouble begins.
--QB Denard Robinson has four of the top 10 total offensive performances in Michigan history. He had 494 yards of offense in the win at Indiana, 345 yards in the home win over UMass, 502 yards in the win at Notre Dame, and 383 yards in the win over UConn.
--The Michigan pass defense allows 290.5 yards per game, worst in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are allowing opponents to complete almost 63 percent of their passes.
--Michigan has played 13 true freshmen this season.
--After opening the season with five consecutive victories, Michigan has lost three straight games. Michigan started 4-0 last season but stumbled to a 5-7 finish.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Illinois 66-23-2 (last meeting, 2009, 38-13 Illinois).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Michigan started the preseason with a wealth of options at tailback, but a parade of injuries has turned the tables. Of the six backs that started the season with Michigan, only Vincent Smith and Stephen Hopkins were ready to play at Penn State. With QB Denard Robinson already shouldering too much of the burden, Michigan is nearly out of options.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The youth has been exposed, and it can no longer be the sole reason for this unit underperforming. Michigan employs a unique 3-3-5 alignment and has a pair of sophomores in the secondary next to a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. They get beat too often, as evidenced by Penn State's 435 yards of offense last week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're a team. We're a family. You can't break a family. Even though there are going to be some downs, you can't break a family." -- Michigan QB Denard Robinson, on holding the team together with a three-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Michigan, Nov. 6 -- The Wolverines (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) face a suddenly rejuvenated Illinois team that owned Michigan a year ago. The Wolverines desperately need to snap their three-game losing streak and get bowl eligible.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The scenario the Wolverines need to see develop is one where their maligned defense shows some pride and makes a stand. With a consistent showing from the defense, and a takeaway or two, Michigan will have the opportunity to reverse its recent struggles.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Denard Robinson -- The nation's rushing leader is this team's best option running the ball, and its next best when he drops back to pass. There's a highlight film waiting to happen with each Robinson carry.
TE Kevin Koger -- The junior gives Robinson a big, athletic target, as evidenced by his 60-yard catch and run for a score against Penn State. Koger has five TD catches in his career.
CB J.T. Floyd -- After racking up three straight games with double-digit tackles, the sophomore had a career-best two pass breakups and added seven tackles in the Penn State game.
--DL Will Campbell has been moved to offense, where he will play guard.
--OL Quinton Washington has been moved to nose guard on the defensive side.
--OL Mark Huyge started at right tackle in the Penn State game in place of Perry Dorrestein, who has chronic back problems; Dorrestein is expected back this week.
--QB Denard Robinson had an MRI on his injured throwing shoulder in the off-week prior to the Penn State game. The test showed no significant damage.
--RB Michael Cox did not play against Penn State due to a knee sprain.
--LB Obi Ezeh, Michigan's active career leader in tackles, has lost his starting position to Kenny Demens.
-- CB JT Floyd is out for the season with a torn ankle ligament suffered in practice this week.
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