Position by position breakdown: Illinois vs. Michigan

QUARTERBACKS

With both teams having problems at quarterback, the position is up in the air again this week. Illinois’ Juice Williams and Eddie McGee are superb running quarterbacks but have yet to establish themselves as consistent passing quarterbacks, especially under pressure. Michigan’s Chad Henne is a good pocket quarterback with average speed but has been banged up this season, giving way to true freshman Ryan Mallett at times. Whichever quarterback outplays – and outlasts – the other will likely be the key to this game.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

RUNNING BACKS

Both teams feature great running backs with power and speed. Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall was shut down last week for the first time all season, while Mike Hart continued to plug away against Purdue for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Mendenhall is undoubtedly having a breakout year, but Mike Hart’s consistency over the past four years gives Michigan a great, consistent running game.

ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN

WIDE RECEIVERS

Illinois’ lack of depth at wide receiver is starting to bite the Illini, and teams are able to key on Arrelious Benn. It will take a big game from another Illinois wideout or one of the tight ends this week to offset the Michigan receiving corps that features two bona fide threats in Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington.

ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN

OFFENSIVE LINE

As with weeks past, the two lines are big, physical groups that will punish the defensive lines they oppose. Michigan’s left side of the offensive line features two fifth-year seniors in Adam Kraus and likely future top-five pick Jake Long. Illinois’ left side of Xavier Fulton and Martin O’Donnell will have to perform very well this week to help the Illinois offensive attack get its bearings back.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

DEFENSIVE LINE

The loss of Alan Branch to the NFL has slowed Michigan’s defensive line some, but it is still a formidable and experienced group, with two seniors, a junior and a sophomore that have helped Michigan register 25 sacks on the year. Illinois’ line has been part of a defense that has tallied 22 sacks on the season but doesn’t have the same experience that the Wolverines do. If Illinois can get a good push from defensive tackles Chris Norwell and Dave Lindquist, it should be able to disrupt the Michigan running attack.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

LINEBACKERS

While it has been hard for opposing teams to match up against Illinois’ playmaking ability at the linebacking position in weeks past, expect Michigan’s group to be the best that Illinois has faced yet. Whichever group can help stop the running game more effectively should give its team a big advantage.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

SECONDARY

The Michigan secondary features three seniors in Chris Graham, Morgan Trent and Brandent Englemon that should help the Wolverines against the Illini receiving corps. Illinois’ best chance may be to go against freshman Donovan Warren and hope to exploit his lack of experience. The Illini safeties will have to play well this week to not get burned by the potent Michigan passing game.

ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN

SPECIAL TEAMS

Illinois should be able to rely on place-kicker Jason Reda this week again as it has in weeks past for points. Michigan had some trouble at this position, going seven of 13 on the year on field goal attempts between kickers Jason Gingell and K.C. Lopata. Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko has had a good year punting, averaging 41.1 yards a kick, with a long of 60 yards, and 13 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Illinois’ Anthony Santella will have to punt well to keep Michigan’s return game from giving its offense good field position.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

COACHING

Lloyd Carr and Ron Zook are both seasoned coaching veterans and will prepare their teams well this week. While Carr has come under fire this year for a shaky start, he has rallied the Wolverines after their two-loss start. Zook will get the edge this week because he will want to prove to trustees that they made the right choice in extending his contract.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS