First off, my apologies on the lateness of this week’s Michigan Monday. Road trips tend to push everything back a few hours and me having to watch Illinois football generally pushes it back a few more hours than that.
I will try to give it my all, but I ended up watching the entire game and I think I may have damaged something. I was only going to watch a half and then write something really great, but I ended up watching it all and now my eyeballs need a safe space and my brain wants to sue for emancipation.
Why do my eyes and brains hate me so? Because I made them sit through a 41-8 Michigan (7-0, 4-0) win over Illinois (2-5, 1-3) that featured multiple rewindings and pauses. Rewinding and pausing an Illini football game is like putting Jackie Kennedy in front of a telestrator and having her diagram JFK’s assassination and asking her to add in an emphatic John Madden “Boom” at the exact moment of impact. It’s just cruel and nobody should have to be put through that.
To put it another way, Illinois is not a very good football team right now and Michigan makes those kinds of teams look a whole helluva lot worse.
You know how salt brings out the flavor in food? Michigan is like salt for bad teams. They can really bring out the suck in their opponents.
The Wolverines were never tested in this game, just as they have never been tested by any of their lesser opponents. Even when they have been tested by Colorado and Wisconsin, they responded with every necessary answer.
And they are only getting more confident and more selfless and more united in what they are doing.
When Michigan Was on Offense
Michigan put up 561 yards of total offense, which was just 39 yards below what they did against Rutgers when they defeated the Scarlet Knights a million to nothing two weeks ago. The Wolverines rushed for 270 yards and threw for 291 yards. Fourteen different players carried the ball and 11 different players caught the ball.
Karan Higdon led Michigan in rushing with 106 yards on eight carries. He has now rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games on just 21 total carries. He continues to exude confidence and there is no hesitation when he is running.
Freshman Chris Evans took two Illinois helmets to his head simultaneously in a Malachian maneuver that received zero flags. He left the game and did not return. He was not needed, but he’ll be back.
I’m still interested to see how involved they will be in a close game against a good defense, provided that ever happens.
De’Veon Smith (18-76) and Ty Isaac (10-35) were slightly disappointing, but that might just because of how easy Higdon and Evans made it look on their nine carries. Even Jabrill Peppers struggled to find room, netting just nine yards on five carries.
Quarterback Wilton Speight was pretty fantastic, completing 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked twice, but generally he had more time in the pocket than a set of keys.
I really have no idea how Ohio State is going to defend Michigan’s tight ends. I don’t expect them to do it very well. Jake Butt caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Wideouts Amara Darboh (5-99) and Jehu Chesson (3-44) were typically consistent.
The offensive line obviously performed well. Left guard Ben Braden is now at left tackle and he was pretty impressive. He did give up a sack, but it was mostly because Speight held the ball forever. Freshman Ben Bredeson started at left guard and it didn’t appear there was too much here for Michigan to worry about.
Delayed blitzes appeared to work better than the more immediate variety.
When Michigan Was on Defense
Michigan only played 38 snaps on defense, so it’s understandable that the Wolverines still had some starters in at the end of the game. The Illini were held to 172 yards of total offense, but they did average 4.5 yards per play, which was the third-highest number allowed by UM on the year (UCF 4.87; Colorado 4.85).
For the third-consecutive game, Michigan held their opponents under 100 yards passing. The Illini started third-string quarterback Jeff George Jr. and he completed just 4-of-15 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception on a screen pass by safety Dymonte Thomas. George did complete a couple of nice deep balls.
Illinois running backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster combined for 88 yards rushing on 15 carries. Vaughn, who rushed the ball seven times, got 45 of his 43 yards on a single carry!
The Illini did have some success with the wildcat, which allowed them an extra blocker. That extra blocker is one of the reasons the Buckeye quarterbacks have been so effective running the ball against Michigan over the last decade plus.
The Wolverines had at least one snap on defense where all 11 defenders were within four yards of the line of scrimmage. It will be interesting to see if they do that against the Buckeyes next month.
Michigan’s base nickel package featured cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling out wide and safety Delano Hill in the slot. Sophomore Tyree Kinnel then came in to play deep safety. If you’re going to attack this secondary, Kinnel and safety Dymonte Thomas would be where you’d start…provided you can pass block.
If you’d rather not take that risk, then maybe just work on running linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray sideline to sideline because they can’t always get there. These are just suggestions for an ideal world, but then Michigan’s defensive line comes along and completely obliterates that ideal world with an asteroid of realism and sorrow.
No, Michigan’s defense has not seen many good offenses this season, but they are doing exactly what great defenses do against poor offenses. Give them credit for that, even if you don’t respect the opponents they are doing it to.
The Michigan Special Teams
Placekicker Kenny Allen made both of his field goals — 23 yards and 27 yards — so that’s good news for the Wolverines.
Perhaps the most amazing — or disappointing — aspect of the game for Michigan was the fact that the Wolverines didn’t manage to return any of Illinois’ seven punts — not even the one they blocked.
Everything else was fine, though Michigan did give up kickoff returns of 41 and 30 yards, but Illinois could have averaged 80 yards per return and they still would have lost by four touchdowns.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan has yet to play down to an opponent this season and it would be a huge surprise if they do so at any point in 2016.
A wrecking ball doesn’t slow down for smaller buildings, and Michigan doesn’t slow down because Illinois is lined up in front of them. The Wolverines do not discriminate. They do not have remorse. They do not feel pity.
If Michigan is going to be beaten by any Big Ten team this season, it will take that team’s best effort of the year because they are going to get the Wolverines’ best effort. More than anywhere else, this is where Jim Harbaugh excels. He’s basically an extreme couponer regarding talent — he gets every last cent out of his guys.
Hell, Jabrill Peppers came to Michigan as a luxurious three-ply player, but being the cheapskate that Harbaugh is when it comes to wasting talent, he peeled those three plys and put one on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams.
And you know he’s one of those people who fills out every mail-in rebate he can because he doesn’t mind waiting “6-8 weeks” to get the most out of a player.
What else does the win over Illinois mean?
It means that this is now Michigan State Week. I don’t know if they actually capitalize “Michigan State Week” in Ann Arbor, and they surely don’t italicize it, so my apologies if I got that wrong.
The Spartans have won seven of the last eight in the series and the lone Michigan win in that stretch — 12-10 in 2012 — came via a 38-yard field goal with five seconds to play.
It hasn’t been easy for the Wolverines against MSU, but this weekend they are a 24-point favorite at East Lansing. Michigan State hasn’t been a home underdog this bad since…hell, I don’t know. My Phil Steele magazines only go back to 1998. Google probably has the answers, but it’s already late enough as it is.
I can tell you that the closest number I could find was the 2006 Ohio State team, which was a 14-point favorite at Michigan State. Only twice can find MSU even being an underdog by 20 or more points — in 2002 at Penn State (+21) and at Ohio State in 1998 (+27.5).
Oh yeah, they beat the Buckeyes 28-24 that year.
But don’t worry, that can’t possibly happen to Michigan. Not in a million years.
The Road to The Game
Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3
Michigan 51 – UCF 14
Michigan 45 – Colorado 28
Michigan 49 – Penn State 10
Michigan 14 – Wisconsin 7
Michigan 78 – Rutgers0
Michigan 41 – Illinois 8
Michigan at Michigan State
Michigan vs. Maryland
Michigan at Iowa
Michigan vs. Indiana
Michigan at Ohio State