Illinois football travels to Ann Arbor for penultimate regular season game


Sydney Laput

Senior defensive back Sydney Brown runs down the field during the game against Purdue on Nov. 12.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini (7-3, 4-3) will be in Ann Arbor, Mich., this Saturday at 11 a.m. for the first of two road games to finish the regular season. The Michigan Wolverines (10-0, 7-0) are tied for first place in the Big Ten East division and haven’t lost a game at home since 2020.

2022 has been a down year overall for the Big Ten, but the Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes have continued to reign supreme over the rest of the league. The Wolverines have shown very few weaknesses up to this point, a big reason why ESPN projections give them a 91% chance of victory on Saturday. 

The Wolverines are dominant at every position group, as they score over 41 points per game and only surrender eleven. Leading the offense is none other than sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy, a former 5-star recruit from Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park, Ill., before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year.

McCarthy is having a solid year with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions, completing passes at almost a 70% clip. While he is strong through the air, he can also scramble, making guys miss and extending plays. 

Fortunately for McCarthy, his legs are not needed often, as the Wolverines boast an elite running back duo. Heisman candidate junior Blake Corum has nearly 1,400 total yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, solidifying himself as a top candidate for the best player in the country. Sophomore Donovan Edwards has been more than a reliable back, allowing Corum a few breathers every game. Edwards is averaging over 6.7 yards per carry due to his shiftiness, speed and the big offensive line. 

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5.6 yards per rush attempt and only 12 sacks allowed on the year tell the story of what this offensive line can do. They are big, physical and have not met an equal foe this season. While this offense is stacked, the Illini defense is also big and physical. The defense has not been the strongest the last two weeks, but they have risen to the challenge before this season and Saturday will be an excellent opportunity. 

Pressure on McCarthy will be essential. While this sounds unrealistic after reading the statistical superiority of the Wolverine offense, the Illini defensive line is capable. While sacks are fantastic, simply forcing McCarthy out of the pocket favors an Illini secondary that has become addicted to intercepting passes.  

If the defense may be overmatched, the Illini offense has an elite backfield weapon of its own. Despite his worst two-week span in terms of yardage, junior running back Chase Brown still leads the nation in rushing yards. The production of Brown and company has been down in their last two games, but with a change in play calling, the offense could test the Wolverines. 

Big plays are not the style of this Wolverine defense, they just don’t allow teams to score. The unit is average, with turnovers forced and inconsistent when it comes to sacks. However, they don’t need these big plays, only allowing 232 yards per game. 

The only real weakness that the Wolverines have shown this year is slow starts. A team prone to sleepwalking into games they should win hasn’t been hurt yet, but it could give the Illini a chance. While not likely, the Illini have a slim chance to pull off the upset for their best win in a long time. 



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