The game against the Illinois Fighting Illini could have been the Michigan Wolverines’ version of the Chornobyl Meltdown. For an unholy stretch of time, it looked as if Blake Corum suffered a season-ending injury to his knee in a presumed throwaway matchup against an also-ran opponent. To make matters worse, the Wolverines nearly lost to that said also-ran foe. But in the end, while Corum’s status is uncertain and Michigan only eked out a victory, Michigan lives to tell the tale. Here’s how each position group did in the Wolverines’ efforts to skirt disaster.
Both statements are true: J.J. McCarthy won Michigan the game, and J.J. nearly lost Michigan the game. No. 9 made several CLUTCH plays that kept Michigan alive in the fourth quarter. No other Michigan quarterback could have had the gumption to pick up that fumbled snap without his knees touching the turf, the poise to not panic, and the skill to throw a dart to Cornelius Johnson for a first down. Just unbelievable. And that conversion on third-and-8 wasn’t close to being the most clutch play in the fourth quarter. The ice man completed three do-or-die fourth-down passes to keep Michigan in it. These are things Michigan fans were dreaming of when McCarthy first donned the Maize and Blue. But frankly, he misfired on enough throws and misread the coverage enough times to prevent Michigan from pulling away. McCarthy might want to take a look at his meditation regimen because one gets the feeling that he’s playing too amped up.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: D
At this point, I’m now convinced that the only Michigan players who can catch passes are Ronnie Bell, Colston Loveland, Luke Schoonmaker, and Donovan Edwards. I’ve never caught a football when it feels like 10 degrees outside, but I do know the gloves wideouts wear today are practically coated with velcro. Many a catchable ball was dropped, so much so that they all seem to blend together. However, this won’t be an F for three main reasons: Ronnie Bell is a baller, Colston Loveland is Jake Butt reincarnate, and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon could practically hug Michigan’s pass catchers without reprisal for 90 percent of the game. The Game will be one to forget if the staff doesn’t find ways to get the ball to Bell and the tight ends more.
Running Backs: A-
The maize and blue faithful will be hoping and praying that the knee injury Corum sustained late in the second quarter isn’t too serious because he is beyond special. The man had 147 all-purpose yards despite missing half of the game. Unreal. Factor in that C.J. Stroud and Hendon Hooker had humdrum games, and Corum has a real shot at winning the Heisman. The other backs — C.J. Stokes, Isaiah Gash, and Tavierre Dunlap — didn’t make much of an impact, but the blame largely lies with the offensive line getting out-leveraged down the stretch. I should say, however, that Gash had the redemption catch of the year so far. After dropping what could have easily been a touchdown with four minutes left in the game, Gash hauled in a CLUTCH grab on fourth-and-3 with 53 seconds left. That catch kept Michigan’s comeback hopes alive and set up the game-winning kick. Kudos to Gash: a fighter in the ring and on the turf.
Offensive Line: B-
Bluntly, I’m being generous with this B- mark. After Corum left the game, Illinois manhandled this group in the run game. The Illini had six tackles for a loss in the game, and I’m surprised there weren’t more. The one area that saved this group’s grade — and Michigan’s day — was the pass protection they provided. As has been the case all season, McCarthy was not lacking time to throw in the pocket.
Front Seven: B+
All things considered, the front seven did a decent job of containing the nation’s leading rusher, Chase Brown. However, the linebackers got sucked into far too many Illini blocking schemes, allowing Illinois’ No. 2 to take over the game for a sizeable amount of time in the third. Plus, the pass rush and penetration were inadequate, only mustering one QB hurry and one TFL.
The secondary did an alright job of keeping everything in front of them. One could easily see the outcome of this game being very different if the Illini were able to connect on more deep passes. This group will need a better showing next week, but for now, this was pretty good work.
Special Teams: A+
A good friend of mine brought to my attention an intriguing observation: Jake Moody might be Michigan’s MVP this season. Without his ironclad effort, Michigan might not be on the precipice of 12-0...or even 10-2. Michigan has always managed to cultivate solid kicking talent, but Jake Moody has my vote for Michigan’s G.O.A.T placekicker. Ronnie Bell provided plenty of sizzle in the punt return game, which I would like to see an encore of. Brad Robbins had a tough draw punting on a blustery day, so I can’t harp on him too much.
Michigan’s Deportment: C-
A win’s a win, right? It’s on to Ohio State, right? Not so fast. As I mentioned above, Michigan is a different team without Corum. But the offensive coaching staff failed to realize it for far too long. Illinois put seven, eight, and sometimes nine defenders in the box to stop the run. And what did the play callers do? They decided to run the ball up the middle with reckless abandon, all without the best player in the country doing the heavy lifting. Once they finally snapped out of it, Michigan moved the ball reasonably well through the air, as one might expect when the opposition lines up in press man coverage with minimal safety help. As for the defense, Jesse Minter has been another slam-dunk hire for Jim Harbaugh. The D bowed up when needed and prevented Brown from running riot. And let us not forget that Jake “Money” Moody was the hero of this one. His body temperature had to be lower than the temp in Ann Arbor on Saturday because the guy veritable has ice in his veins.
When he’s not delivering turkeys to underserved Michiganders, let’s hope Corum gets plenty of rest this Thanksgiving week. The Wolverines need him more than ever to beat Ohio State again.