It would be hard to find fault with a 42 point, 295-yard rushing performance, except that the Wolverines left a lot to be desired following Saturday’s 42-25 win at Illinois. Still lacking an identity, we saw two different Michigan teams throughout Saturday’s contest, especially in the first half.
Michigan showed improvement in the run game and completely shut down the Illinois offense. By the end of the first half, Michigan was up 28-7 and dominated on the ground with 215 rushing yards. After the good start, the Wolverines beat themselves and seemed to be sleepwalking in the third quarter.
An unsportsmanlike penalty from Ben Mason would end a promising offensive drive and force a field goal attempt, which was missed by Quinn Nordin. Running backs Zach Charbonnet and Tru Wilson would each fumble and help out the Illinois offense. In the third quarter, the Fighting Illini would score 25 unanswered points, while gaining 114 total yards compared to 11 by Michigan.
In the end, Michigan was able to fend off a valiant comeback effort from Illinois and pull away late to win the game.
The Wolverines offensive game plan was clear right from the first snap. Facing an inferior opponent and averaging just 3.5 yards per rush through the first five games, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was determined to work on the run game. Michigan would run the ball 14 of their first 20 plays from scrimmage and found instant success. Midway through the second quarter, Running back Hassan Haskins would get his first career touchdown to put Michigan up 14-0. The Wolverines had gashed the Illini defense for 161 yards on 14 attempts, averaging 11.5 yards per carry.
After forcing a three-and-out, the special teams for the Wolverines made a huge impact play. Linebacker Jordan Glasgow bulldozed through coverage to block a punt and Michigan would take over at the Illinois seven-yard line.
On the very next play, Charbonnet would fight his way into the endzone to put Michigan up 21-0. With the running game working as well as it was, it opened up seams for quarterback Shea Patterson through the air. He hit tight end Luke Schoonmaker for a 25-yard touchdown pass on a play action fake early in the game. Patterson hit wide receiver Ronnie Bell on a quick slant route that Bell would take for 73 yards.
Three plays later, Patterson hit tight end Nick Eubanks for a four-yard touchdown to put Michigan up 28-0 late in the second quarter. The Illini offense, which had been dormant the whole game, showed some signs of life on their last possession before the half. Missed tackles from the Michigan defense would allow Illinois to drive right down the field. Illinois quarterback Matt Robinson was able to connect with wide out Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 23-yard touchdown to cut the Michigan lead to 21.
Michigan got the ball back at their own 25-yard line with 50 seconds left in the first half. It was confounding to see the Wolverines drown out the clock to end the half, especially since Michigan had all three of their timeouts and were moving the ball with ease throughout the half. The Wolverines weren’t at all comfortable with a 28-7 lead entering halftime. The late touchdown for the Illini gave them some serious momentum.
Michigan would come out of the second half a little too assured, while Illinois continued to claw its way back. The Wolverine offense only saw two offensive possessions during the third quarter and were forced to punt on each. Meanwhile, the Illini offense possessed the ball for almost 11 minutes, gained 114 yards, and scored 10 points.
The Michigan defense could not make the necessary stops to get the Illini offense off the field. To start the fourth quarter, Michigan running back Tru Wilson fumbled and Illinois took over at the Michigan 36-yard line.
The Illini were able to capitalize on the turnover with a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion to make it 28-25 Michigan with 12:50 left in the game.
At this point, Illinois had scored 25 unanswered points, while Michigan looked completely inept. The way that the Wolverines played in the third quarter, it appeared as though the Illini might win the game and pull off the huge upset.
However, Michigan seemed to wake up on their next offensive possession. Patterson drove the offense down the field with both his arms and legs, capping the possession off with a gorgeous five-yard touchdown throw to Donovan Peoples-Jones. He ran an out route to the corner of the endzone to put Michigan up two scores with 8:57 left in the game.
On the next Illinois drive, Michigan linebacker Cam McGrone would force a fumble after coming with pressure on Illini quarterback Matthew Robinson. Glasgow would recover and Michigan would take over at the Illinois 18-yard line. The Wolverines were not able to capitalize, turning the ball over after a failed fourth down conversion.
Two plays later, the Michigan defense came up big again. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson came with initial pressure, while the other end Mike Danna would hit Robinson from behind knocking the ball loose.
Michigan’s Carlo Kemp plucked it out of the air and get knocked down just short of the goal line. On the next play, Patterson sneaked it in from one yard out to put the Wolverines up 42-25 and effectively ended the game.
The Wolverines were in command to win this game decisively, but a lackluster second half made it a lot closer than it probably should have been. Illinois came out swinging in the second half, while Michigan came out overwhelmed. This team struggles in response to adversity, and a significant amount of hurdles they face are self-inflicted.
Offensively, Michigan has now lost nine fumbles this year, which is the second most in the nation.
Defensively, the Wolverines can look great at times, (i.e. against Iowa), or they can look rough, like they did against Wisconsin and in the second half against Illinois. The defensive line can be dominated by bigger offensive lines and the secondary is shaky at times in man coverage.
Michigan does not have much time to clean up the mistakes as they travel on the road to take up a top ten, undefeated Penn State team in Happy Valley on Saturday. ESPN’s College Gameday has also announced they will be there to cover the game. Kickoff is scheduled at 7:30 p.m.