Michigan wants to get Toussaint going against Illini
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan has proved it can win by leaning on Denard Robinson's legs.
It happened again last week when Robinson ran for 245 yards at Purdue. The 25th-ranked Wolverines (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) might be able to get away with just letting Robinson run against Illinois (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday at home.
To beat better teams, such as Michigan State next week, Robinson will have to make plays with his arm because teams will force him to pass.
"There is no question that's going to happen," Wolverines coach Brady Hoke acknowledged. "People are going to make you."
It will help Robinson, and the team, if handing off to Fitzgerald Toussaint becomes an effective option.
It hasn't been so far.
Toussaint ran for just 19 yards on 17 carries against Purdue and has just 169 yards rushing in four games this season after running for 1,091 yards last year. Michigan, especially its offensive line, is motivated to help Toussaint to get into a groove.
"As an offensive line, you definitely want to get the tailback going and moving people around and opening holes," center Elliott Mealer said. "I think Purdue really gave us Denard and you have to be happy with that. If they are going to shut down the tailback runs, which I think they did a decent job at, we will take Denard. We have the luxury of having a playmaker back there."
The Illini are happy to have quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase back in the lineup to make plays through the air and on the ground after being slowed by an ankle injury. Scheelhaase had 84 yards rushing, including a 5-yard touchdown, and 178 yards passing and another score in last week's 31-14 loss to Wisconsin.
Illinois, though, is still trying to find its stride under first-year coach Tim Beckham after winning seven games in each of Ron Zook's last two seasons. The Illini have lost their last three games by a combined score of 118-45 and the struggling team has already had a players-only meeting to try to sort things out.
"We kind of just had a talk of where we were last year and how we've fallen off of that, as far as just swarming the ball and being kind of a ferocious defense," safety Steve Hull said. "I think we've kind of drifted away from that as of late."
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has already had to say he stands behind Beckman, whose woes have been compounded by getting caught on camera chewing tobacco on the sideline.
"It's just a bad habit," Thomas said. "I've talked to our athletic director concerning the situation. I apologize, it's a terrible habit. My father even texted me."
Family members, fellow students and fans of Michigan's teams might be looking ahead to next week's highly anticipated matchup with the Spartans, who have won four straight in the series. The Wolverines insisted they've only been thinking about beating Illinois.
Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten title since 2004 and its leaders say they're "100 percent focused" on winning each week to end that drought.
"I'll answer all the questions you all want about Michigan State next week," offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "Right now, my focus is Illinois."
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