Sunday, November 01, 2009 - Andy Andersen
The University of Michigan Wolverines continued their slide towards the bottom of the 2009 Big Ten standings by missing tackles, dropping the football, and otherwise befuddling their fans, but unfortunately not the competition, in losing to one win Illinois in Champaign Saturday. This version of the Wolverines proved once again they do not win away from the Big House.
Illinois was 0 and 5 in the Big Ten and 1 and 6 overall before Saturday’s largesse by the surprisingly inept Wolverines took effect. What is most surprising and intolerable is that Ron Zook out coached Rich Rodriguez.
The results prove it. It’s a flat out, undeniable fact. A team that was in disarray according to many credible press accounts embarrassed the Wolverines and deserved to win. The record reads that M is 66, 23 and 2 against the Illini. You certainly can’t say they own us, even if they do have a two-year supremacy now. Even so this one stung, and RR has yet to beat them.
There was no champagne for the Wolverines in Champaign, and there shouldn’t have been, as this game overall, was a dismal performance. They revisited many of their seasons worst mistakes, letting out big plays, defending like they had never seen a zone read option before, failing to take advantage of their offensive and defensive opportunities, and turning the ball over. They again demonstrated some receiving hands of stone, and allowed multiple long drives. The OL let Tate get sacked a number of times, and he did not exhibit the moxie to get rid of the ball, and sometimes could not hang onto it either. They couldn’t punch it in from the one-yard line with four tries. Tate did produce 257-yards passing and rushed 11 times for 24-yards.
Carlos Brown rushed 25 times for 94-yards and a TD, and a near TD. Brandon Minor had one carry for zero yards, and he also had a near TD. Both near TD’s were lost by a booth review, which overturned them. The lack of Minor’s rushing attempts is indicative of the depth of his injury, as his slashing style produces, and he would have otherwise handled a number of snaps.
This was probably the most important game on their schedule this year. Six wins would have made them bowl eligible, and they could now be working on seven, which would have gotten them a better bowl, and which seemed very possible if they could subdue Purdue, which is up next week.
This team seems to have descended to the level of last year’s team in Big Ten play. Not for the season, but in the Big Ten. My apologies to Stephen Threet and last year’s group for continuously holding them up as a bad example. The 2008 Wolverines have suffered in comparison to 2009 until now, but that is rapidly changing if only Big Ten play is considered. The Wolverines now seem destined to finish in the lower part of the bottom half of the Big Ten Standings.
Granted their current over all record is 5 and 4, and they lost one Big Ten game in overtime and came back for a near Big Ten victory in another, so there is some visible improvement, but that is deceptive since it only includes one Big Ten win after five Big Ten games, and all the non Big Ten wins except Notre Dame were not of Big Ten caliber. As you know, their only Big Ten victory as yet this year is against the team immediately below them in the standings, Indiana. They now sit about where they did in last years Big Ten standings. It is hard to see much palpable improvement there, which is a great disappointment after the fast start. The promise of that start is fading fast.
Four hundred yards were gained in the second half by a suddenly hot Illinois team. Say, what? 500-yards overall? It was a great job by the Illini and inversely as terrible a performance by the Wolverines. It was just a nightmare come true.
The turning point of the game was after a 76-yard catch and run by slot receiver Roy Roundtree and it looked like the tide was turning Maize and Blue. This TD was reviewed and reversed by the review booth. It was then first and goal inside the one. Michigan took four stabs at the goal with four runs. The OL didn’t get enough push on all four attempts. Carlos Brown took three stabs at it, middle, right and left, and then Brandon Minor was stopped on the right, and the ball turned over on downs, as Minor’s elbow was deemed short of the goal on another booth review.
One has to wonder why no Grady in this series.
This was the obvious turning point in the game. The enthusiasm of the Illinois team ignited, and fueled a blow out as illustrated by their subsequent ninety-nine yard drive and TD to tie. Their drive featured a seventy-yard TD pass. For all intents and purposes the ball game was over at that point. I thought as much at the time and expressed the thought. Rarely is there such a clear-cut tornado of momentum exchange.
There was a few personnel changes, the most notable being that Kevin Leach replaced Obi Ezeh at the Mike LB. It was also notable that Denard Robinson took only a couple of snaps in mop up time.
The scoring went like this:
1st quarter: Illinois received and produced an impressive 12-play, 82-yard drive, Benn scoring on a 2-yard rush. M’s defense seemed clueless, but Tate and company answered with a 12-play, 70 drive with a Carlos Brown rush for a two-yard TD. Tit for tat and it seemed Michigan could also score a lot of points.
After Junior Hemingway muffed a punt, which Illinois recovered, they missed a field goal attempt. It seemed this helped to prove the pre-game conception their field goal kicking was erratic and Michigan had an edge in that area. Turned out that it didn’t matter.
The quarter ended seven up.
Punts were exchanged, then M drove 32-yards and produced a 29-yard field goal. M 10-Ill 7. Olesnavage hit one for 42-yards and it was M-13, Ill-7, and Michigan headed to the half leading by a little. Thinking they are a second half team, I am happy they have escaped the initial onslaught and survived with a lead. Little did I know what was coming.
Michigan received, fumbled and Moosman recovered enabling a 78-yard drive that came to naught at the half-yard line of Illinois as already described. The review placed the ball at the one. The tide turned as evidenced by the Illinois drive for six from their own one yard line in six plays, the final disaster being a seventy-yard rush by LeShoure for the TD. M-13, Ill-13.
It is insufficient to say that the above series of events turned the tide as momentum exploded to the Illinois side, and they never looked back. It was over. Signed and sealed but not yet entirely delivered.
Illinois would score the go ahead on a 4 play 79-yard drive culminated by a 2-yard TD run as their momentum continued. M-13, Ill-21. They got another in the third, this time on a 6-play 42-yard drive ending in a 3-yard TD run. M-13, Ill-28.
Tate fumbled, and it led to a 10 play, 74-yard drive for a 23-yard field goal. M-13, Ill-31. There was another fumble and it led to a 6-play, 87-yard drive and a 79-yard Ford TD for the Illini. Final M-13, Ill 38.
This was the worst defeat of the year for the Wolverines to date, and one that will relegate them to a quite minor bowl if they are able to snuff out the hopes of Purdue at home next Saturday. It does not seem possible that they can whip Wisconsin away, or Ohio State at home as right now they are not playing good football. But they have the opportunity ot compete and maintain their Michigan pride. It is up to them to provide the fight, and to not stand around and accept defeat.
This team is not getting better and it is in trouble, being forced into a tighter and tighter corner by injuries, and their own mistakes. Offensive and defensive regression is resulting. The Wolverines don’t cause turnovers, it seems they simply make them. Lately, they don’t make big offensive plays, and the defense lets the competition make them. Special teams other than the kicking and punting which are usually first class, contributes no points, but often turnovers.
Michigan is simply not a very good football team at this point in the season as they proved Saturday. Not what I expected as predicted after the first five games of the season and not what they probably expected.
Maybe as a sausage maker once said when he bought a new machine, the wurst is yet to come. I hope not. Maybe we will be surprised with one or more victories in the next three games, and maybe not.
But what ever happens, make no mistake, it is great to be a Michigan Wolverine!