Michigan's defensive line has continued to make strides over the last several weeks, earning praise from Purdue as one of the best in the country. While they're not there yet, they have shown signs of rounding in to a very good group.
Senior Craig Roh has set the tone with his dedication to film study, head coach Brady Hoke said.
"Craig is really a sharp guy," Hoke said. "It helps being smart, because it's not easy. It used to be easy when I played - you played two defenses and that was it in an offensive scheme. Now you see a lot of different things, and you have to have an intelligence to play.
"He's done a good job the first third of the season. He's done a nice job with a new position and all that, leadership-wise, effort, how he comes to work every day."
The rest of the line still has a ways to go in terms of knowing what's coming based on formations, etc.
"I think we have a little better idea when you look at formation sets, backfield sets, all those things you try [to discern]," Hoke said. "There's a whole new set of variables when you start looking at personnel groups, down and distance.
"You can overload. I'm one who doesn't like to overload unless a guy can handle it. Craig is one of those guys who handle it very well. Ryan Van Bergen a year ago handled it very well."
Freshman lineman Ondre Pipkins played more last week than he had in some time.
"We were a little more in base defense. That helps," Hoke said. "You don't want to overload guys. If we started teaching him all the sub package stuff, dime, nickel, it would probably set him back a little bit. I don't like to set guys back. I want to see them moving forward.
"He takes a couple steps forward and a half step back now and then. He's young. His technique is flawed to some degree. That's a daily work at it. He'll be fine."
The Wolverines continue to practice well, Hoke said. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said Tuesday the team had had its three best practices in two years last week.
"I like how we're preparing right now," Hoke said. "I think the intensity level hopefully will be the same today.
"From an offensive standpoint, talking to Al, they got a lot of good work done yesterday. Defensively, I'd say the same thing. Both coordinators were pleased - not happy - but pleased with the preparation. I think it was comparable [to last week]. Coming off the bye week and not playing for a week, you always have a little more intensity, it seems like, but I think they're comparable."
The offensive line led last week's spirited practices, and Hoke expects that to continue.
"That's where it's got to come from, on both sides of the ball - your fronts," he said. "Game day or practice, they've got to set the tone with the leadership, everything you do. I'm a big believer in that."
Practices remain intense with plenty of action between the first team on offense and defense. The defense will spend some time preparing for a mobile quarterback in Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase.
"I've always done it with defensive linemen, and we do a little at the end of practice - some chasing the rabbit drills. You instill a mindset and a mentality. With us going so much against each other, obviously 16 [Denard Robinson] is kind of hard to corral once in a while. That helps us as a team when you're playing against a guy like Scheelhaase."
Junior Devin Gardner continues to learn the nuances of the receiver position after moving from quarterback.
"The experience factor," Hoke said. "You play against our guys a little bit and we give them different looks, but then you play against new people every week and it's a little bit different - how they want to play two deep, how they want to play man inside and outside, if they want to be physical at the line or if they're going to play off.
"There are a lot of different ways. The more he sees it, the better he gets and the better he reacts."
Hoke is happy with redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon on punt return, even though Gallon hasn't had many opportunities to catch and run this year. He's not among the league's top 10 in return yardage.
"I'd like them to catch them all and judge them correctly," Hoke said. "He's the one doing it every day, practicing it. I think Jeremy has done a nice job. I have a lot of faith and trust in him. Drew Dileo is pretty good back there, Amara Darboh does a nice job practice wise and Dennis Norfleet's getting better. There are four guys back there we have a lot of faith in, but obviously we think Jeremy is the best."
Hoke called the tight ends a "work in progress," especially with freshmen Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams seeing plenty of time.
"Those are two young guys who are playing big boy football," he said. "They are learning every week. I think we can be more physical there. They are growing, they are [strength coach Aaron] Wellman-ized. You'll see that with them, which will lead to maybe a little more movement at the line of scrimmage.
"Mike Kwiatkowski has done a pretty good job, gotten better, and he's been called on to get better. Brandon Moore is practicing and kind of back out there."
Illinois' defense is among the best in the conference in the red zone. U-M struggled inside the 20 at Purdue last week, settling for three field goals.
"Their whole front is pretty good," Hoke said. "They lost a couple guys from a year ago, but they are an athletic front. They can be physical. You can see what they're doing on third downs . It's a little new defensively because they have a new coordinator, a new deal. They're working through it, and they're athletic."
Fullback Stephen Hopkins may or may not be ready to play Saturday. Hoke has been pleased with Joe Kerridge's play at the position.
"We've really been happy with Joey, how he's done a nice job blocking at the point of attack," he said. "He's going to lock up linebackers. He's done a nice job. Paul [Gyarmati] is is still there. We have some depth. Sione [Houma] is taking reps and getting better."