Michigan Football: Illinois at Michigan — What Happened and What it Means
It was not a beautiful day in the neighborhood on Saturday in Ann Arbor, but the results were even better than expected. Michigan played steady in the first half on offense and stepped it up late in the game to secure a 45-0 win. This win is significant; it is the 899th in school history. The next win will be even more significant, especially if it happens next week.
As predicted last week, the Michigan offense did operate more under center using the I formation trying to blast out some yardage. The effort had some success, but still Fitz Toussaint danced a little and hit the hole with only moderate impact. His final statistics pretty much demonstrate what type of game he had: average.
Saturday certainly showed improvement over Fitz’s previous game at Purdue. But keep in mind that Purdue’s front four is a solid group. Illinois sources point out several Illinois defenders as being capable of playing at the next level, but on Saturday that declaration was somewhat hard to defend.
So, with the nice hard running of Rawls, and the added speed of Hayes, there will be speculation and a declaration that Michigan has a running back controversy. None of the verbiage put forth about the running back situation matters. The coaches will make the decision about the running back position. The choice may be to go with a featured running back, or the choice may be to go with a rotation and find out early who is effective against the tough Spartan defense. Michigan will not be prone to experimentation in the rivalry game; the staff will go with what is determined to provide the best chance of victory. There may be a difference of opinion on the running back situation between Coaches Hoke and Jackson. If so, it must be ironed out before Tuesday’s practice.
The prediction was that Michigan may spread out the 1 and 2 receivers to gain space and also it was predicted that the offense would throw underneath the robber free safety and hit the screens as part of a quick passing game.
Coach Borges did not appear to design anything in the passing game around the 4-2-5 defense of Illinois, instead using a little bit of everything when Michigan chose to pass. The quick out to Gallon certainly paid big dividends. Roundtree found a seam deep, a few nice screens took advantage of Illinois crashing into the offensive backfield, and a nice red zone pass to Funchess allowed him to be the athlete he is.
It was not the best day to pass, and the author has sat through worse weather, but it was bad enough to somewhat effect catching and throwing. Denard actually made at least two ill-advised throws that could have been intercepted by better athletes on a dry day. And when Michigan back-up Russell Bellomy got a rare chance to work in game action, his receivers dropped two nicely thrown balls.The screens should give Michigan State something to think about next week. Michigan will need to upgrade the passing game and counter the A Gap blitz to have an increased chance of winning. Coach Mattison did not show anything that is not in any film archive. But he has shown enough of the collective offensive package that Michigan State will need to prepare for not only realities but also possibilities. No doubt Michigan and Michigan State will have wrinkles ready, but this is a game where familiarity will rule.
The defense was just plain steady and workmanlike. Last week the lone Purdue touchdown was created by a late Denard Robinson turnover. Take that occurrence out of the defensive file and Michigan has given up 6 points in 8 quarters. Demens and Ross made some nice reads yesterday and filled the hole like a linebacker is meant to do. This has not been a common event in the last few years. Jake Ryan stood out and his play is starting to indicate real potential to be an impact player. A good test for Jake will be next week against a bigger line and a much better running back. The defense needs to show the muscle and control to a reasonable level the hard running of Le`Veon Bell. The secondary must account for monster tight end Deon Sims, and the entire defense must throw Andrew Maxwell off of his rhythm.
The interior line buckled a little early on, giving up yardage enough to allow Illinois to sneak out a few first downs. Then Scheelhaase sustained an injury and Michigan took control of the game. It is hardly a secret that the Illinois offense on the field after the injury to Scheelhaase in no way could be considered a test of the defense.Still, the opinion is that the defense continues to improve. Assignments are being understood and carried out. The edge is being better defended than a month ago, and Craig Roh continues to make some strides. Jibreel Black is causing minor concerns for an offense and the future Super Mario, Mario Ojemudia, is holding his own as an undersized true freshman defensive lineman. Mario, and Jake, and Jibreel together give UM at least a little pressure. As long as Q Washington and Big Will Campbell can occupy the middle with success, this trio may continue to get better at applying pressure. This allows coach Mattison more flexibility in dialing up personnel packages for specific situations.
Mario was a defensive tackle last year and beat bigger people frequently. Once the size and strength are full go, look out.
Many other youngsters continue to make very good progress. Joe Bolden may never be the wow factor at linebacker, but he will always be solid. James Ross is doing what the GBMWolverine staff predicted quite a while ago, getting to the ball and hitting like a missile. Sione Houma is catching some eyes on special teams. He is fast, getting bigger, and just seems to like to play team football. Funchess is already a nice receiver; case closed on that matter. Stone-Jenkins is contributing and should do nothing but get better. Because of his injury, Kaleb Ringer has not been mentioned in discussions linked to the new kids on the block. But if he recovers fully, Kaleb can play.The special teams youngsters are making it clear that the coaching staff selected very good athletes in the 2011 class. And the staff still has the luxury of red-shirting several key linemen. The coverage did appear improved yesterday, and all three kickers are getting the job done in nice fashion. It has been awhile since Michigan could make such a statement.
Michigan played very solid, with few mistakes, and showed workmanlike attitude and results. A post theme is that Illinois was not that good and the results mean nothing. Not so, in this view. This team continues to get better, is pursuing much better on defense, and back-ups such as Raymon Taylor are showing reasonable development in their new starting roles.
All is not rosy, but with hard work and a couple of key victories, that could change.
Next week will be no picnic and smackdown and smashmouth will be present in this very important game for the Michigan program.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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