Now that we're finally back to football after a scandal-filled week, Michigan got out to a fast start in Champaign this weekend and (mostly) coasted to a 31-14 victory over the Illini. Two quick TDs and a stifling defense kept Michigan in front the whole time, and a dominant rushing attack combined with QB pressure sealed the victory. Red zone issues continued to plague the Wolverines, however, and turnovers kept this game closer than it should have been.
The First Half
Michigan got the ball first, marched down the field, helped by a 65-yard rush from Fitzgerald Toussaint, who had a whale of a game. Two plays later they hit pay dirt with an easy Denard rush TD. After a few trades of punts and a Denard fumble, Michigan pressure again set up an Illinois punt at the end of the first, and eight straight rushes later, Michigan scored again on the legs of Denard.
The rest of the first half was pretty stagnant, as Michigan was able to get down all the way to the 1 yard line but was again stoned on 4th-and-goal for the second straight week, with Denard being stuffed on a play everyone in the stadium could have called. Kovacs promptly forced a Jason Ford fumble on the very next play, but Denard handed it right back with an interception on Michigan's third play of their new short drive. Again, offensive woes. Michigan, however, didn't let the momentum swing too far toward the Illini, as they forced two three-and-outs to keep Illinois off the board and out of Michigan territory in the first half. Gibbons missed another field goal, but what else is new?
The Second Half
Michigan again forced a punt to begin the second half with excellent QB pressure and run defense, but a fumbled snap doomed Michigan's first possession to a punt. Another Illini three-and-out was followed by Michigan's longest sustained drive of the day, unfortunately punctuated by a Denard injury that forced him out of the game. Devin Gardner seemed fine at the reins, leading Michigan to a field goal. Again, though, Michigan was unable to punch it in after having a first-and-goal at the nine.
Illinois answered with a sustained drive and scored on a Nathan Scheelhaase scramble, and Michigan was forced to punt on the following possession. Just when Illinois seemed to be gathering strength, J.T. Floyd had a beautiful interception and long return to set up a short field for Devin Gardner and Michigan, who capitalized a few plays later with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Martavious Odoms. Illinois responded again, this time completing a 4th-and-26 (Iowa, anyone?) to bring the score to 24-14. Luckily, Toussaint came to play and quickly rushed for 40 yards on Michigan's final scoring drive, scoring a touchdown and putting the game out of reach at 31-14.
After the jump, we'll take a look at The Good, The Bad, and the Links from the game and a few other thoughts.
- Rushing. Fitzgerald Toussaint had another monster game, going for 192 and a TD on 27 carries. Denard also looked fine rushing, finding holes en route to two scores himself. His 2.5 YPC wasn't great, and he got stoned on the goal line, but it's nice to see him scoring when Michigan needs it.
- Jordan Kovacs. When Michigan needed a huge play, he forced a fumble immediately, and the entire Michigan secondary had a good day, limiting Illinois to only 16/31 passing and forcing a couple key turnovers.
- Fundamental defense. Tackling and hitting looked great today. Anytime you force a couple fumbles and get a coverage pick, you know you're getting pressure and hitting hard. Van Bergen and Martin stood out on the D-line today, and Desmond Morgan had a great key hit.
- Defense in general. Not allowing Illinois into Michigan territory until the third quarter was huge. Big turnaround from the slow-starting M teams of the past.
- Passing. Denard is still off. One ball hit an Illinois defender in the chest and absolutely should have been a pick, but it was thrown too perfectly to him and he dropped it. Another pass was completed to a wide-open Kevin Koger but was thrown short, allowing the defender to make a play and tackle him. There was no one behind Koger - just the red zone and an open endzone. If that ball is thrown to him in stride, he scores. No missed PAT. That pass cost Michigan seven points.
- Offensive play-calling in general. Borges still doesn't have a coherent plan. With the speed Michigan has, he needs to be stretching the field and getting playmakers open on the edges, allowing the RBs to open it up down the middle. This hasn't happened. Luckily, Denard only needed 12 carries today.
- Giving up a 32 yard pass on 4th and 26. Defensively, this was a total breakdown. Cushioning WR's that much leads to a wide open pass. This wasn't even a close play. Sure, Scheelhaase extended the play, but those DBs and LBs need to keep their heads on a swivel and just not let the WRs that open.
Detroit News Recap - Angelique has some good stats on how Michigan won this game.
Denard injury update - Looks like his wrist will be just fine. Worrisome how he continually hits defenders' helmets with his hand though.
Purdue Upsets OSU - Great win by the Boilermakers. Hah. TSDS is struggling. I like.
Obligatory emotional piece - Many feelings and emotions from Happy Valley in their close loss to the Huskers. Kudos to Penn State fans for showing solidarity for the victims and their team - raising over $20,000 for RAINN. Check out the BSD link here.