Two full days have passed since Michigan clawed out of Champaign with a win. After two full days, the stress induced headache from the game has passed as well. Both are minor miracles in and of themselves. A quick look at what stood out:
Chad Henne - On a day where there were any number of offensive players who could've been name "player of the game," Chad Henne was head and injured shoulder above everyone else on the field. Henne played, and played well, with what was either a severely sprained or separated right shoulder. The Illinois game was reminiscent of the Northwestern game, long periods of ineptness without Henne followed by periods of glory when he returned. Henne was brutalized all game by the Illini and his own line, yet despite it all still led this team to a victory. Never underestimate his importance to this team.
Carlos Brown - Congrats kid. You earned it.
Manningham/Arrington - These two are finally showing what we'd prayed for all off-season, for them to be the best 1-2 receiver combo in the Big Ten if not the college game. Both players showed not only awe inspiring skill but dogged determination to win. Arrington's TD catch should live forever in You Tube glory.
Not to be outdone, Manningham showed the drive and desire that appeared to be missing earlier in the year in scoring the first of his two touchdowns. Both men deserve kudos for their performances.
Brandent Englemon - Horrendously blew his assignment on the first play of the game, and it wound up a touchdown. After that, Englemon spent the rest of the game making sure everyone knew that play was a fluke. He was in on just about every tackle and filled the gaps the linebackers were normally responsible for. If there was a tackle to be made or coverage that needed to be there, Englemon was the first person to step up. Again, should be considered for the Thorpe. Maybe he shouldn't win it, but he should definitely get a part invite.
Defensive Contain - Heavy, heavy props to the DL for keeping contain almost the entire game. Aside from a 23 yard scamper by Juice Williams, the mobile Illini quarterbacks were kept in check. Take away Williams' 23 yarder and Juice averaged -1 a carry. Not too shabby. The run defense was outstanding. The line was great.
Brandon Harrison - Um, when did he become good? Harrison has been a terror since the Oregon game and the Illinois game was no different. He smells out screens like a bloodhound and hits them like a man twice Harrison's 4'7", 125 pound frame. I can't point to anything he did wrong during the Illinois game and remember saying "That's Brandon Harrison!?" on more than one occasion. All of a sudden, he's our spark plug.
Donovan Warren - Like Englemon, got burned on the game's first play. After that, lights out. Teams seem to be avoiding him all of a sudden. This could also be because Illinois can't throw and Purdue can't throw when five guys are playing Stretch Armstrong with their quarterback, but I'm willing to bet the pass attempts against him over the last three games are fewer than the attempts against Trent. His interception was a thing of beauty, you've gotta think the coaches are going to put him on offense once in a while after seeing that.
Offensive Play-calling - Wow. I'm impressed. WR reverses turned into passes to the corner of the endzone. Passing on first down. Fullback shuffles that aren't runs. The world is flat and the sky I falling. Great game for DeBord. All is not forgiven, but great game.
Guard and Center Play - Good God, Man. Block someone. Henne's injury/injuries were a direct result of the offensive line completely missing its pass protection assignments. I really like Justin Boren and believe he's got a promising future, but he was a revolving door all game long. To make matters worse, he couldn't get the ball to the quarterback. While I believe blame lies as much with the quarterback and the center, on one of the snaps the appeared to rocket halfway up Mallett's arm before it fell back to the earth. Both Ciulla and Kraus had rough days as well. On the sack that cost Michigan Henne the first time, both were badly beaten. Boren's double team was off but no matter who he chose, Henne was still going to get flattened. Things seemed to settle down when Kraus moved to center, so we'll see if that's a permanent switch. Kraus has had a rough year too, so maybe the swap will be good for both players. On the right side, Ciulla simply wasn't ready, hopefully a game under his belt will help, but he was pretty rough out there. I was hoping the "Hart Chart" over at Genuinely Sarcastic would be up to cross reference, but you'll have to wait for empirical numbers.
Ryan Mallett - Not his best performance. Two fumbles (one lost) and a bad interception. Before people get on Debord's case about the play calling with Mallett in the game, I thought the play call on Mallett's INT was a great one. Arrington was wide open in the corner of the end zone and Mallett underthrew the ball, allowing the safety to make the play. More air under that throw and everyone starts saying what a great call it was. Mallett looked frustrated with himself when Carr yanked him out. He's a competitive guy, but he's not used to struggling. I think the two fumbles rattled him a bit. Frankly so did the Illini defense. They were all over him, yapping, jabbing, hitting him at ever opportunity. Mallett needs to learn to control his emotions a little better, and when he does he'll be great. But on Saturday, he showed he's still a true freshman.
Linebackers - Crable was fine, but anyone else in the middle of the field was questionable. The LB's have got to start making plays or Caulrick or Ringer will cripple one of our safeties.