|College Football: Michigan at Illinois Wolverines v. Illini|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Thursday, 18 October 2007 14:46|
UM after sixth straight
After a disastrous start to the season, Michigan has played its way back into the Top 25.
With the nation's leading rusher hoping to be in the lineup, the No. 24 Wolverines look for their sixth straight victory when they visit Illinois in a Big Ten matchup Saturday night.
Michigan (5-2, 3-0) beat Purdue 48-21 last Saturday to improve to 5-0 since opening the season with a stunning loss to Football Championship Subdivision team Appalachian State, followed by a defeat to Oregon - both coming at home.
On Saturday, the Wolverines will play as a ranked team for the first time since opening at No. 5. They fell out of the poll after the 34-32 loss to Appalachian State.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Michigan -2.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Thursday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on Michigan -2.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Michigan is looking for its sixth victory in a row over Illinois, and will be trying to extend its unbeaten streak in Champaign to 10 games. Both are possible for a Michigan team that is tied with top-ranked Ohio State for the conference lead.
"The things that are important are that we improve, continue to improve this week," embattled coach Lloyd Carr said. "Because certainly there are some things that we didn't do well, and certainly some things that we need to do better."
Stronger defense and the running of Heisman Trophy candidate Mike Hart has fueled the Wolverines' resurgence.
Hart, who has 1,078 rushing yards and leads the nation at 154.0 per game, is expected to play Saturday despite hurting his right ankle against Purdue. He ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before departing.
Though Carr said he won't know until closer to game time if Hart - who needs 243 yards for 5,000 - will be healthy enough to play, his teammates expect he'll be ready.
"There's no doubt in my mind he'll play,'' All-American tackle Jake Long said.
Hart rushed for a career-high 234 yards and a touchdown in a 30-19 victory at Illinois on Oct. 16, 2004 in the most recent meeting between the teams.
While Hart paces an offense that's averaging 28.6 points, Michigan's defense continues to make strides after giving up 73 points in its two losses. The Wolverines have allowed 68 points during their winning streak.
That resurgent unit could be in for a challenge against Illinois (5-2, 3-1), which ranks eighth in the country at 243.4 rushing yards per game.
The Illini, though, are looking to bounce back after a 10-6 loss at Iowa last week knocked them out of the poll after spending just one week at No. 18. Illinois was held well below its 26.7 scoring average by the Hawkeyes.
Versatile sophomore Juice Williams is expected to again start at quarterback despite being replaced by Eddie McGee for a third straight game. McGee threw an interception inside the Iowa 15-yard line with 2:28 left, ending the Illinois' comeback attempt.
"Right now, Juice is the starting quarterback. But that doesn't mean that Eddie won't play,'' coach Ron Zook said.
Rashard Mendenhall, 13th in the nation at 119.9 rushing yards per game, will try to rebound after being held to 67 yards on 15 carries against Iowa.
Illinois won 35-29 at Michigan on Oct. 23, 1999 for its most recent victory in the series. The Illini haven't beat the Wolverines in Champaign since a 16-6 victory Oct. 29, 1983.
Though Illinois is 2-15-2 against Michigan since that win, it will be looking for its third straight home victory over a ranked opponent this season. The Illini beat then-No. 19 Penn State 27-20 on Sept. 29 and then-No. 5 Wisconsin 31-26 a week later.
"(Illinois is) going to be fired up and ready to go," Long said. "They are a good team on both sides of the ball so we're going to have to come with our best."
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