It was way too close for comfort, but the Michigan Wolverines survived against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday afternoon, 19-17. Jake Moody was the savior of the game, nailing four field goals as the maize and blue dealt with several injuries, including to superstar running back Blake Corum.
Corum went down in the second half after taking an awkward hit to his left leg. The pain was insurmountable, to the point that Corum grasped for his leg and fumbled the ball on the play:
A significant play here:— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 19, 2022
Blake Corum loses fumble and leaves game with injury.
Let's hope the star Michigan RB is OK. pic.twitter.com/AaRQ7nwAXg
Corum lay on the sideline in pain as team doctors moved his left leg to try to determine the severity of the injury. ESPN’s Molly McGrath reported that the Heisman hopeful was in tears on the ground. A beacon of hope came as Corum was seen walking off the field with his own power despite a significant limp.
The junior running back may have played his last game in the Big House and has been one of the most dominant players in the country this season. Saturday’s game was no different. He had 17 carries for 103 yards and two catches for 39 yards in the first half alone. That accounted for 142 of Michigan’s 221 first-half yards.
He opened up the game with this 37-yard rush:
Then, Corum capped it off with a two-yard touchdown run on a dominant opening drive from the Wolverines. After that, Michigan failed to put up any points on the board in the first half. Harsh winds and cold weather made it increasingly difficult for J.J. McCarthy to hit open receivers, throwing just 7-for-12 for 98 yards in the first half. When they finally got things going on the final drive of the first half, Corum went down with the leg injury and fumbled, likely costing the Wolverines points on the drive and potentially much more.
On the opposite side, Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, had a mediocre first half. His 15 carries for 48 yards made it difficult for the Fighting Illini to move the ball down the field with much consistency. Tommy DeVito stepped in with some big throws, but it was never quite enough to get into the endzone.
Michigan’s defense stuffed the Illini twice on promising drives. Brown was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-one early in the second quarter. Then, on the next Illinois drive, the entire Michigan defense shifted on a fourth-and-one and two offensive linemen jumped, forcing a field goal attempt. At the half, the score was 7-3, Michigan.
Out of the break, the Wolverines forced a three-and-out and took possession. Corum returned for a carry after jogging onto the field for warmups. It would be his final touch of the game. Michigan went on a 7-play, 24-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard field goal from Jake Moody.
A third-quarter defense that has been excellent all season long collapsed against the ground and pound of Illinois. The Fighting Illini offensive line slowly and methodically began to dominate the Michigan defense front. There was so little pressure that Brown started to have all the time in the world to let the blocks set up. A 9-play, 67-yard drive ended with a touchdown rush from Brown.
Michigan took over and moved the ball down the field rather well with C.J. Stokes, Isaiah Gash, and Tavierre Dunlap running the ball. It was capped off by a 4th-and-6 conversion attempt. It looked like an Illini defender jumped, so McCarthy took a shot deep down the sideline to Andrel Anthony that appeared to be a free play. It was a great throw that went straight through the hands of the sophomore receiver. McCarthy and the Michigan sideline stood stunned that there was no flag on the play and the drive ended. Without Corum, the Wolverines’ offense had just 66 yards in the third quarter.
Illinois took over with great field position, and Brown broke free for a 37-yard touchdown run. In the third-quarter, Brown had 7-carries for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Suddenly, the Wolverines were in trouble at home on Senior Day heading into the fourth quarter.
To start the fourth, Michigan’s defense forced a massive three-and-out. Ronnie Bell returned the ensuing punt for 40 yards down the sideline. It put the maize and blue in plus yardage, but they continued to struggle to get anything rolling on the offensive end. A few runs stopped at the line of scrimmage, and a scramble from McCarthy resulted in another field goal from Moody as the Wolverines still trailed 17-13.
Illinois had another strong second-half possession going 44-yards on 10-plays, but the Michigan defense stood tall on a fourth-and-six attempt where D.J. Turner made a great tackle in the open field on a scrambling DeVito.
The Wolverines took over and went on a game-defining drive. McCarthy was hitting receivers on crucial downs including a fourth-and-four completion to Ronnie Bell just outside of the redzone. Then, the Michigan offense unraveled. Gash dropped a ball on a pass where McCarthy missed a wide-open Colston Loveland in the endzone. On the next play, McCarthy overthrew Loveland on what could have been another touchdown. Michigan would settle for a field goal with 3:14 to play. The score, 17-16, Illinois.
Again, the Wolverines' defense came up with a huge stop. Brown picked up essentially no yardage on two runs, and then a holding penalty put the Illini well behind the sticks. The Fighting Illini would not score in the fourth quarter.
Michigan had one last shot to win this game getting the ball at midfield. It came down to a fourth down play where Gash made up for his earlier drop by converting on a quick out route. On the next play, McCarthy took a shot down the field to Ronnie Bell, and Devon Witherspoon, an Illinois defender, was called for defensive pass interference. Now, Michigan was in Jake Moody’s field goal range. With 13 seconds left, Moody lined up for a 35-yarder that he sent straight through the uprights for a game-winning field goal.
After some late theatrics, Michigan would win the game 19-17. They’ll head into Columbus 11-0 with a perfect regular season on the line. Just as we thought all season, it all comes down to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State plays on the road in College Park against Maryland this afternoon. If they win, it will be the first time since 2006 that both teams head into the final game of the season undefeated.