The last time Michigan went 12-0, Brian Griese was starting under center, a young Tom Brady had only 15 pass attempts in his sophomore season and Charles Woodson was headlining a defense allowing 9.5 points per game.
That was back in 1997, but the third-ranked Wolverines find themselves in a position to replicate that record. First, they’ll have to get past No. 21 Illinois on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) maintained its pristine record, coasting to a 34-3 victory against Nebraska last week. J.J. McCarthy completed 8 of 17 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns and Blake Corum added a score on the ground to go along with 162 rushing yards on 28 carries.
“Just feel great. Just so appreciative of everybody, really — players, coaches, staff, all the hard work that’s gone in,” Wolverines coach John Harbaugh said. “The mission continues. It’s a happy mission. … Keep it rolling, keep it going, and guys are a joy to be around. Excited about the matchup that we have this week.”
That matchup will feature two of the best backs in the country, as Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, spearheads the Fighting Illini (7-3, 4-3) offense in a showdown with Corum and Michigan.
Brown rushed for 100-plus yards in 10 straight games, but was held to 98 last week in Illinois’ 31-24 loss to Purdue. It was the first time the Illini lost back-to-back games this season.
Brown went down on the sideline in the fourth quarter with a right leg injury and had to exit the game. Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Brown is working toward playing this week.
“Very positive and excited, but don’t know where we’ll be by Friday for the trip and Saturday for the game,” Bielema said.
Bielema said that linebacker Seth Coleman has been cleared to practice. He entered the concussion protocol and was forced to miss the meeting with the Boilermakers.
Coleman has 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks this season.
Cornerback Taz Nicholson will miss the rest of the season due to a wrist injury.
Due to the injuries, Bielema knows that others are going to have to step up if the Illini want to hand Michigan its first loss.
“From the inside of our building, it’s the next opportunity,” Bielema said of how his team views adversity stemming from injuries. “I just can’t stress enough that that’s how we kind of look at things, that’s how we talk about it to get a chance to go play Michigan at Michigan.”
McCarthy aims to take advantage of the depleted defense. He’s been extremely efficient with 14 TD passes against two interceptions this season. His favorite target, Ronnie Bell, has 45 catches for 597 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 10 games.
The Wolverines are 27-19-2 in the all-time series against Illinois, but have dropped two of their last three contests against their conference rival.
–Field Level Media