Oct. 22, 1999
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan and Illinois haven't met on the football field since 1996. A lot has happened since then.
The Wolverines won a national championship in 1997, going 12-0. They were 10-3 last year and are 5-1 this season. That's 27-4.
Still, it doesn't scare the Fighting Illini.
"You get to go into one of the best stadiums in the country, a school with as much football tradition as anybody in the country," Illinois coach Ron Turner said. "An outstanding program, an outstanding coach, an outstanding coaching staff and some of the elite athletes in America.
"If you can't get excited about going in there and playing a team that is ranked in the Top 10, there's something wrong with you. I'm very excited about it, and I'm sure our players are."
The No. 9 Wolverines (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) are coming off a bye week. They lost 34-31 at Michigan State two weeks ago. Illinois (3-3, 0-3) has lost its last three games. Little wonder the Illini are 24 1/2-point underdogs.
"We go into games with the intention of winning," Turner said. "The one thing we need to regain now is our fight and that competitive spirit and the ability to come out and play hard for 60 minutes, every play, no matter what happens, no matter what the scoreboard says."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr hopes the bye week gave the Wolverines a little healing time, both from nagging injuries and the psychological scars left from the loss at Michigan State.
"From the standpoint of getting some rest and healing some of our injuries, I think it's very beneficial," Carr said. "It also gave us the opportunity to work on some of the things from a correction standpoint that have to be done for us to be the kind of team we would like to be."
Specifically, Carr wants to improve a rushing attack that averages 108 yards per game, ranking ahead of only Iowa in the Big Ten. The Wolverines ran for only six net yards at Michigan State.
Carr also wants to provide some relief for tailback Anthony Thomas, who is averaging 87 yards per game and has 63 percent of Michigan's carries.
"Somebody is going to get an opportunity, because Anthony has carried the load for six weeks and we just have to have help there," Carr said.
Michigan's quarterback rotation remains the same, with Tom Brady scheduled to start and Drew Henson playing the second quarter before the staff decides who starts the second half.
Illinois' Kurt Kittner finished 19-of-45 for 180 yards, with one interception and one touchdown in a 37-7 loss to Minnesota last week. He is 114-of-211 for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kittner's quarterback rating of 125.6 is only slightly better than Henson's 124.0 rating.
But Henson is only the backup at Michigan. Brady, who ranks third in the Big Ten with a 143.2 rating, has completed 94-of-142 for 1,090 yards and six TDs. Henson is 41-of-73 for 519 yards and three TDs.