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What we learned from Michigan’s inconsistent performance against Illinois

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Frustration and chaos, that’s what college football does!

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

Stressful and unpredictable, yes Joker was a marvel (PUNS!), but college football this weekend was exactly the same.

This is what we learned from the Michigan Wolverines, Big Ten, and college football at large.

Michigan

Allow me to set the stage.

The Michigan Wolverines were rolling in every facet of the game: a smothering defense, game-breaking special teams (i.e. punt block), and the offense was showing flashes of the mythical speed in space concept, while establishing a dominant run game. Hell, even Shea Patterson looked confident. Michigan was rolling, until they weren’t.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Squandering a 28-0 lead, the Wolverines found themselves up only 3 points, on the road, in the fourth quarter. The defense was on the ropes and the offense had flat-lined. Backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey was getting loose on the sidelines because this offense and team needed a spark; Michigan found their spark in an unlikely, albeit familiar place.

Much maligned quarterback Shea Patterson promptly and inexplicably led the Wolverines on a 10-play, 79 yard scoring drive to push the Michigan lead back up to 10. Collected and aggressive, Michigan’s offense looked how it was supposed to all season.

All of this would be an encouraging sign of resilience and the offense finally figuring it out if these events occurred next weekend against Penn State or a quality opponent. Unfortunately, it took this gut-check effort to hold off the Fighting Illini 42-25.

Yes, I expressed on a podcast last week that I wanted to see Michigan struggle in order to prove to themselves that they could overcome it. But wishful momentary struggles snowballed into a 3 point game in the fourth quarter and that is not what anyone wanted.

Apparently, beggars cannot be choosers because this Michigan team rides self-inflicted momentum like no other. When it’s good, the Wolverines look balanced and calculated on offense and the defense plays like it did against Iowa.

But when one mistake (bad sack, fumble, dropped passes, penalties, etc.) happens, the pendulum swings the other way and Michigan looks like, well, they look like whatever allowing 25 unanswered points to Illinois looks like. Trash, maybe?

Celebrating all victories is the fan’s mandate; ugly wins exist, while a good loss is merely a fictional term used to comfort the fragile. However, in celebration, all concerns are not alleviated.

Michigan has to stop fumbling. Michigan has to use momentum only as a supplementary source of drive and not their entire life support. Michigan has to utilize play makers. Michigan has to relegate Quinn Nordin to Gatorade duty (Nordin has not made a field goal in 366 days). Some of these are more important than others.

All in all, the song remains the same and inconsistency be thy tune. This performance is what you get when you average out the Michigan performances against Wisconsin and Iowa. Middling, frustrating, but a win nonetheless.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Something interesting to remember, though, was that when Michigan was nearing the low point of their entire season and the wheels had completely fallen off, it was Shea Patterson who dug them out.

Big Ten

With all due respect to an undefeated Penn State team, this is a two team race to perfection; a war with two battles looming with the finale taking place in Indianapolis. Wisconsin and Ohio State are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference and could not be anymore different.

Wisconsin is a traditional pro-style offense straight from 2005, who wants to use a power running game to set up play-action shots down the field. The occasional jet sweep keeps things spicy, but running back Jonathan Taylor is the engine of this offense and quarterback Jack Coan is a pleasant game manager upgrade from the black hole that was Alex Hornibrook.

The Buckeyes are an explosive 2019 pro-style spread offense who want to exploit bad match-ups in space with their plethora of talented skill position players. Transfer quarterback Justin Fields is an elusive game breaking type of talent and the resurgent J.K. Dobbins is on pace to finish with career highs in yards and touchdowns. When this spread attack is effectively utilizing timing on play-action, the Buckeyes are nearly unstoppable.

Defensively, both teams are smothering. Ohio State has only allowed over 10 points once this season and that was against Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic in the season opener.

Wisconsin is having one of the best defensive seasons of all time, currently leading the nation in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, rushing defense, and have shut out 4 of 6 opponents. The two teams they did not shut out scored 14 and 15 points respectively.

This is a classic ‘something’s gotta give’ game. The two teams square off in two weeks in Columbus and will more than likely meet again in Indianapolis with the fate of the Big Ten on the line. If you are a fan of high level college football, these two match-ups are can’t miss viewings.

Excuse me, while I go cry in envy.

College Football

Finally, some chaos, and we called it!

Georgia hosted unranked South Carolina and were favored by 20.5 points. The Gamecocks were out gained (468-297), committed more penalties (11-6), and lost the time possession battle (36:04-23:56).

However, Will Muschamp’s team did win the turnover battle (4-0) and the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 20-17 in double overtime. So what does this mean? Very little and A LOT at the same time.

If Georgia wins out, they will still earn a College Football Playoff bid because their resume will include wins over Notre Dame, Auburn, Florida, and whoever wins the SEC West. This loss exists in early October and when you lose matters more than it should to the Playoff committee.

However, winning out is highly improbable for the Bulldogs. Notre Dame remains a good win, but defeating Auburn, Florida, and likely either Alabama or LSU, is a Herculean task for any team.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

More than likely, the Playoff is already set. Clemson and Oklahoma should go undefeated with favorable schedules ahead for both. Ohio State and Wisconsin should duke it out twice this season with the winner of the Big Ten Championship game earning a spot. And the winner of the Alabama/ LSU game will presumably run the table and earn the number one overall seed.

There is simply no room for a two-loss Georgia team or a two-loss team of any kind. The season, on paper, is over after this Georgia loss. But, as college football has taught us time and time again, anything can happen between now and December.

To paraphrase Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the clown prince of crime, it is the responsibility of college football’s middle tier teams to introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.

Chaos in college football typically comes like a thief in the night, but on Saturday, it came like a rooster between the hedges.

Thank you, South Carolina.