Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Michigan Test Looms for Illini Just Another Team? Illinois to Find Out

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Michigan Test Looms for Illini Just Another Team? Illinois to Find Out

Article excerpt

Since 1989, a year after Lou Tepper arrived at Illinois as defensive coordinator, the Illini had devoted special time to defending Michigan at each spring practice session.

This was going to continue until the Illini defeated the Wolverines, Tepper said.

But last spring, the players got together and came to Tepper, now the head coach. They wanted to discontinue the practice of spending 10 or 15 minutes each day preparing for Michigan, citing their 22-22 tie last fall at Michigan Stadium.

Reluctantly, Tepper gave in.

"I'm glad we're not doing it anymore," strong safety Tyrone Washington said. "Michigan is just another team."

That was the thinking of the players, who wanted to stop putting Michigan on a pedestal. If nothing else, this was a psychological ploy by the Illini.

At 2:37 p.m. today at Michigan Stadium, before 106,000 fans and the national cameras of ABC-TV, Illinois will have another shot at proving that Michigan really is "just another team."

The 13th-ranked Wolverines (4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten) aren't as dominant this season as they have been in the last couple of years because they don't have the same power on the offensive and defensive lines.

But they still have a grinding running game, led by back Tyrone Wheatley, who is averaging 128.7 yards per game. Michigan is averaging 173.2 rushing yards a game, and that is a big concern to Tepper.

The Illini (2-4, 2-1) are fourth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 77 yards per game and only 2 yards per rush.

"Tyrone Wheatley is the best running back that I have seen to date," Tepper said. "He's one of those forces that can take a game over by himself."

Wheatley gained 192 yards against Penn State last week as the Wolverines made mishmash of a Nittany Lions defense that came into the game with a stout defense against the run.

"I think what scares me is that Penn State came into that game with the No. 5 rushing defense in the country and exited (the top 10) in a hurry," Tepper said. "We're going in No. 4, but that doesn't mean anything."

Washington, an effervescent sophomore, was asked how the Illini planned to stop Wheatley.

"The same thing you do to stop any running back. …

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