Sunday, October 05, 2008 - Andy Andersen
The Wolverines managed to take some of the luster from last week’s fine defensive effort in beating Wisconsin, and in so doing, they have diminished their Big Ten Championship chances by a horrible offensive/defensive performance that let Illinois produce a very credible victory in hammering the Wolverines 45 to 20, in their own stadium, on a Homecoming Saturday.
There were again special teams bugaboos as in an early blocked field goal, a later missed extra point, and a late KO return fumble. Offensively, there was a critical muffed QB/running back exchange, there were errant passes (but no interceptions), frequent 1st and 2nd down and long offensive situations, and erratic OL and QB play.
This was another enigmatic performance by Wolverine QB Steven Threet who looked like an absolute world-beater on one play and then looked clueless on the next. Perhaps part of his troubles stem from a problematic offensive line that too often did not show much progress. Perhaps some of the trouble stems from that sudden sidearm sling of his, which makes some of his passes seem like a wild pitch (you can’t tell who they were intended for sometimes), and too often they get knocked down. Perhaps, his inexperience also should be credited with an assist here.
The offensive bugaboo that is Threet’s inability to hit his long passes with any reasonable consistency continues. He missed many open receivers, but did make a number of great passes. In the same game, amongst misfires, he threw some perfect passes, and ran for valuable yardage. Again, there was a bugaboo hand off, this time a botched exchange to RB Shaw that helped seal the fate of the Wolverines in this game. And maybe sealed Shaw’s football fate some, too. A fleet and talented back, it seemed he could help, but not if he fumbles, and he had a miscue against Notre Dame too.
Time and time again the offense was faced with 2nd or 3rd and long, and the defense was then asked to again save the day. Sometimes it was a result of a Threet play, sometimes the offensive line was the problem. It is amazing McGuffie can take the mauling he has been getting on some unsuccessful first down runs.
It is beginning to seem that this offense is destined to dwell near the bottom of Big Ten offensive statistics for a while longer. It is a wildly unpredictable offense, and therefore unreliable.
Prior to the game I expressed concern that the defense would not be able to stop a talented spread offense, with a mobile QB. And sure enough, they didn’t, and that put us into an offensive shoot out and this year we will always lose those.
The bugaboo that consists of the usual damaging conversions of third and longs by the opposing offense persisted, and were not negated by some remarkable stands by the defensive Wolverines. There were the usual missed tackles in space. There was the usual inability of a Michigan defense to defend a spread offensive formation effectively, but Juice Williams has to be credited. He had anything but a usual day running and passing. His 431 yards (310-yards passing, 121-yards rushing) set a Michigan Stadium record. Williams was a definite bugaboo. Williams or Illini running backs broke contain often, and Williams also squirted up the middle. The Wolverine defense allowed big play after big play. Juice certainly has improved over the years.
When a defense gives up 501 yards as the Wolverines did, it has failed, pure and simple, even if part of the problem is an offense that continuously hangs its defense out to dry when it often can’t move the ball.
Illinois defeated Michigan in all phases of the game, except special teams.
There were some bright spots, and one of those is named Zoltan Mesko who booted eight punts for 375-yards with a long of 5-yards. He booted some great punts. Martavious Odoms is another. He had a good receiving day and an even better day returning KOs. He ran a few bad patterns, and coughed up the ball on his last KO return, but all in all he was a big part of any success the Wolverines had offensively and field position wise. He seems to be growing into a real team asset. He breathed life into an otherwise moribund KO return game. Greg Mathews had some nice catches. Talented Freshman Darryl Stonum wasn’t to be seen as he is in the Rodriguez doghouse for undisclosed reasons.
Michigan scored twice in the 1st quarter, the first TD on a 3-play 48- yard drive powered by a Sam McGuffie run and a reception of 26-yards by Tay Odoms. M-7, I-0.
The Illini answered with a 48-yard FG for 3. M-7, I-3
Next Mathews caught an 11-yard pass for a TD and the giant scoreboards read M 14, I-3 to finish the first quarter. This nice first quarter drive was powered by passes to Odoms and Mathews. Threet looked great.
All seemed right in the Michigan football world, but Williams cured delusions that all was well by slipping into the endzone to make it M 14, I-10 and threw a back breaking 57-yard pass for a score. M-14, I-17 at the half. The Wolverines would never lead again.
But at the time there was hope that the Wolverines would roar out after the half and stifle the Illini. No way. A 77-yard, third quarter pass play squelched that hope. It was M-14, I-24 to end the third quarter.
The Illini put three TDs on the board in the 4th quarter to produce one of their best victories against Michigan ever, while Michigan managed only a 2-yard pass to Mike Moundros. Moundros contributed some fine blocks during the game and did hang on to Threet’s pass in the endzone. Michigan’s extra point failed. Final: M-20, I-45.
Illinois flat out deserves credit for this year’s performance. They have a terrific offense and their defense was more than adequate Saturday.
Several plays were subject to official review with one Michigan TD approved and one denied.
Illinois is so much better then last year that I am not even going to try to belittle their program by inferring their recruiting progress will be stymied because they have reached their salary cap, or write any other demeaning witticisms about them, except to say they were penalized for a chop block and blocking from behind. Ron Zook is not my favorite coach.
I had several titles in mind before I chose the one above: Michigan Miscues; or Revising Expectations; or Disappointed, Not Devastated. Any one of them would be apt. I am disappointed by this loss, but not devastated. I thought the Wolverines would lose to Wisconsin and beat Illinois. So they got the reverse split, but right now M’s football stock is flatter than my retirement portfolio, so I have revised my expectations somewhat.
It seems that disappointed, not devastated, is where it is at right now.
They will win some, lose some, the rest of the way. I just hope any losses are not as ugly as this one.
Motor City Bowl any one?