clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What We Learned: Illinois Week

The bye week benefitted the Wolverines in a big way.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports


Bye week did wonders for Wilton Speight. This is great news for Michigan. This is awful news for the remaining opponents on Michigan’s schedule.

Wilton was making the short throws to the flat, and setting his guys up for yards after the catch. He was hitting targets on slanting and crossing routes in stride. He was hitting the deep ball with ease. And what impressed me most of all is how often he went through his progressions and found a wide open target who was not the primary target. Michigan may host the Aerial Assault QB Camp during the offseason, but Wilton Speight was putting on a clinic in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

This is important for Michigan’s future games because it takes away the “Load the box and make Wilt beat you” strategy. Doing that is now like giving the Golden State Warriors a lot of open 3s. Michigan just has too many weapons for this strategy to work. If you consistently leave Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, and Jehu Chesson in single coverage, disaster is sure to follow.

The improved passing game also eases the burden of the running game, which has vastly improved from a year ago.

Michigan seems content to use several running backs each game as a long term strategy. It started this week with a subtle Twitter dig at Nick Saban, who elite Class of 2017 RB Najee Harris is currently committed to, and Michigan is trying to flip.

Saban typically makes sure he gets the best years of his running backs before the NFL has a chance. This can actually cost players the all-important 2nd NFL contract, which typically pay superstars 8 figures on a multi-year deal. Trent Richardson is not getting one of those deals right now.

There is a reason Michigan offensive offensive coorinator Tim Drevno mentioned this, as the Wolverines pursue Najee Harris. But it is not just lip service. Michigan puts this into practice every week. Michigan’s 4 headed RB monster (Evans, Higdon, Isaac, Smith) each have at least 43 carries and 332 yards, with nobody having more than 416. It keeps the players fresh, and it is a pain in the butt for opponents to scout and gameplan for.

Is it time to be concerned about the offensive line? Everything was going great until Grant Newsome went down. Michigan has scrambled in looking for his replacement. Bushell-Beatty started against Rutgers, but could not keep the job for a second start. Ben Braden was moved to LT, and this didn’t work too well.

However, in deciding whether or not to panic, it’s important to consider all the factors. Illinois’s defense has actually recorded more sacks than OSU this year, and the defensive line is Illinois’s strongest position group by far. I’m putting the panic meter right around 3.5 out of 10 for the offensive line because I was not too please with the holding penalties and QB pressures allowed, but I still trust Tim Drevno to get this fixed.

Harbaugh sure turned this thing around quickly. Now is a good time to step back and see how far Michigan has come. 2 years ago this week, Brady Hoke apologized for his players driving the stake in the ground in East Lansing, as Michigan lost to MSU 35-11 to go to 3-5. Now Michigan is ranked #2. What a difference a competent AD and an elite head coach can make.

Think about the loss to Rutgers. Think about the free tickets with the purchase of 2 Cokes. Think about the lack of dignity. And think about the embarrassing performances against rivals. The first few negative memories have been avenged. The embarrassing performances against rivals should change in 5 days.


Ohio State, we’re not afraid of you any more. There’s a scene in the Pixar animated classic “Monsters, Inc.” that came to mind when I was reviewing Penn State’s upset of Ohio State. Randall is the slimy, weasel-like, back stabbing monster who had repeatedly tormented Boo, the little girl. (This actually makes him perfect for the role of OSU.) But in one scene, everything changed, and the tables were turned.

After Randall got beaten to a pulp for all to see, nobody was afraid of him any more. In the same way, Michigan should no longer fear Ohio State, after seeing Penn State (who Michigan clobbered 49-10) take care of business against the Buckeyes.

Penn State drew up a great blueprint for how to stop Ohio State’s zone read. They repeatedly sent multiple blitzers right up the middle (double A gap blitz) to put rapid pressure on JT Barrett, shut down the running lanes, and control the line of scrimmage. They also took notice of the fact that Ohio State severely lacks big play threats outside of Curtis Samuel, and tightened up coverage when he was on the sideline.

Michigan has much better defensive linemen than Penn State. They have a defensive coordinator who is a blitzing guru. And they have perhaps the best blitzing linebacker in college football, in Jabrill Peppers. Michigan should not be afraid of Ohio State any longer.

Back 2 back 2 back 2 back 2 back losses for MSU. However in 5 days, none of this will matter. MSU has a chance to salvage their season, in the eyes of a fanbase who sees the Michigan game as their Super Bowl each year. They will throw everything including the kitchen sink at Michigan. Guys who quit in the middle of games during the last month will play their absolute best for 3.5 hours. Certainly Michigan will not cover the huge point spread because you can throw out all the records in a rivalry game. And yes, I am perfectly okay if I end up being wrong about everything I’ve said in this paragraph.