The No. 3 Michigan Wolverines staved off an upset at home after beating the Illinois Fighting Illini 19-17. They move to 11-0 on the season and meet back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time since 1902-03.
Once again the Wolverines looked off to a great start. They rattled off a sustained 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Again they went stale, ending the first half with seven points. Luckily, Illinois wasn’t much better, settling for a field goal to go down four at half.
Missed opportunities aren’t uncommon for the Wolverines this year. The adjustments made out of the half usually make up for them, but they were seemingly absent yesterday. A stalled-out offense never saw the end zone in the second half. Michigan capped off three drives with three field goals in the fourth quarter, with all three drives ending within the Fighting Illini’s 25.
The most frustrating one came at the start of the third after Ronnie Bell’s 40-yard punt return. He returned it to Illinois’ 38, setting Michigan up perfectly for a scoring drive. J.J. McCarthy’s 12-yard pass to Colston Loveland looked like a resurgence of offense, but they couldn’t move the ball with success after that play. Luckily, Jake Moody nailed the field goal.
Illinois outscored the Wolverines 14-3 in the third quarter to put them down seven going into the final quarter. Trailing late for the first time this season, Michigan needed stops. So while Moody scored field goals, the defense forced Illinois three and out. Moody’s second field goal in the fourth came with three minutes left. It put Michigan down by just one point, 17-16, as Illinois took the field again.
Michigan’s defense had another huge stop to give the offense a shot to win. Illinois took the field with an uncomfortable lead at its own 25. The Wolverines held Chase Brown to three carries for seven yards. A holding call against Illinois made the three-play drive total -3 yards. Michigan ball.
The final drive by the Wolverines featured this week’s turning point of the game. It was a 4th and 3 situation at the Illinois 45. The Wolverines were down one with less than a minute to play. McCarthy’s pass found Isaiah Gash for eight yards to secure the first down. A huge play by the walk-on kept the drive alive to set up Moody’s game-winning field goal.
Michigan left a lot to be desired in this close call against Illinois, especially one week before facing No. 2 Ohio State. But even good teams have their off days. So take your allocated six hours to break down this Illinois game and move on to Ohio State.