Champaign, Illinois- Illinois’ loses yet again in their downward spiral in Big Ten play. This time, their loss came at the hands of #24 Michigan Wolverines. The Illinois defense kept them in the game, but the lack of rhythm and consistency on offense gave the Illini a loss with a score of 14-31.
I can’t stress enough, how disappointing starting a season 6-0 and losing 4 straight games can be. The Illini are still bowl eligible, but the dream season has been lit on fire. The pattern of losing must be snapped. There really isn’t a game of finger pointing to be played. The reason for the losses is obvious. The Illini offense just can’t make plays. They are statues during the first half of their recent games. The offense collects a lot of 3 and outs, resulting in punts. The offense struggles to move the ball. The commentators during the Michigan game even commented on Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s “happy feet.” After the snap, Scheelhaase’s timing is quick and short. He takes basically a 1 second timeline until he’ll run the ball. Illinois’ offense has been unable to create points in the first half of the past 4 consecutive games.
Well, we all know it wasn’t a pretty game. At halftime, Michigan had 8 times as many yards as the Illini offense. Illinois posted just 30 yards of offense and had -12 yards on the ground. That’s what it looked like on paper. On the scoreboard, all that effort only gave the Wolverines an 10 point lead. Denard Robinson went out in the third quarter with a wrist injury. He had 2 rushing touchdowns for the Wolverines. Michigan backup quarterback Devin Gardner stepped in and was able to secure a win.
The first half was all Michigan. Illinois didn’t move the ball into Michigan territory until the 3rd quarter. Thankfully the Illinois defense kept the team in the game. A Michigan touchdown was called back and was followed by a blocked field goal. This gave the Illini the ball at their own 14 yard line. Illinois was still in the game with a score of 0-17. The following drive took Illinois down to the Michigan 14 yard line, where Nathan Scheelhaase did a read option that faked the Michigan defense. Scheelhaase ran it in for the touchdown and put Michigan up by only 10 points. Michigan was stopped by the Illinois defense on their next possession. The Illini offense returned to the field. In desperate times, Scheelhaase was constantly looking for the connection with his star receiver A.J. Jenkins. In fact, Scheelhaase made an effort to stare him down on every snap. Michigan cornerback J.T. Floyd took advantage of this. On this Illinois drive, Floyd read Scheelhaase’s eyes and easily picked him off. Floyd returned the pick 43 yards to set up a touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Michigan receiver Martavious Odoms. This put Michigan back up by 17 points with a scoreboard reading 7-24.
Illinois would answer and eat up 6 minutes off the clock. They had an 18 play drive that ended with a Jason Ford 1 yard touchdown run. Illinois was now down by 10 points with 3:50 left in the game. Michigan would score on a 27 run by running back Fitzgerald Touissant. Even after a failed onside kick, the game was out of reach. Illinois would have another Big Ten loss.
Both teams had plenty of mistakes. A key one for the Illini was when Ryan Lankford fumbled a punt in the 3rd quarter that was recovered by Michigan. It was just an ugly performance. Illinois offense’s inability in the first half cost them the game.
The offense needs a lot of work. The offensive line is a problem, and so is the cohesiveness of the playmakers.
Illinois rebound will be very difficult in their next game. Illinois will be at home once again next Saturday against a very good Wisconsin Badgers team.