LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan is back in the poll, climbing to No. 25 after an impressive win over Purdue, and heads into Saturday’s game favored to beat Illinois by more than two touchdowns.
The Wolverines (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) in theory could be looking ahead to next week’s game against rival Michigan State.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” coach Brady Hoke said sternly Monday.
Hoke seems to deliver a message each week that keeps his players thinking and talking about the next game — not the big picture.
“I’m going to tell you the exact same thing coach Hoke tell us every day, ‘Every week is a championship week,'” defensive tackle Will Campbell said. “Every week we’re going to be playing for a Big Ten championship.”
The Wolverines are coming off a 44-13 victory against the Boilermakers and have steadily improved since opening with a lopsided loss to Alabama. Illinois (2-4, 0-2) has lost three straight games by a combined score of 118-45 and four games this year by an average of 26 points.
The Wolverines insist they’re taking the Illini seriously because they’re one of the teams to beat in their quest to end a conference championship drought that dates to 2004.
“If you overlook any game in the Big Ten, you’re going to lose that game,” offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.
If Michigan can’t figure out a way to run the ball without Denard Robinson doing it, it might have a hard time ending a four-game losing streak to the Spartans on Oct. 20 at the Big House. On nearly 20 carries in the last two losses to Michigan State, Robinson is averaging just 3.3 yards per rushing attempt for 128 yards combined.
Robinson, as he often has when the Wolverines win, was spectacular on the ground at Purdue.
The speedy senior ran for 235 yards at Purdue and became the Big Ten’s all-time leading rushing quarterback with 3,905 yards. He was named the conference’s co-player of the week on offense for a ninth time, tying the record total set by Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, though, was held to 19 yards rushing on 17 carries. He has just 169 yards rushing — 3.2 yards per carry — in four games this year after averaging 5.6 yards per attempt for a total of 1,091 yards last season.
Is Hoke concerned with the lack of production the team is getting from its running backs?
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he acknowledged.
Thomas Rawls has made the most of limited opportunities. Rawls ran for 33 yards on just four carries against Purdue and is averaging 5-plus yards on 16 attempts that have been spread sparingly out over three games.
After Hoke vowed that he’s going to stick with Toussaint at tailback, the second-year coach was asked if he thought about playing Rawls earlier in games?
“No, not really,” Hoke said.
Hoke explained that Toussaint hasn’t proven that he can’t do the job, saying he simply ran against a defense that was designed to stop him last Saturday.
“A year ago, I think Fitz ran for 170 yards against Purdue — they weren’t going to let him did that,” Hoke said. “They were very concerned with taking that part of our offense away. Denard rushed for 235, so something has got to give.”
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