Michigan football: Wolverines need to tighten things up before Ohio State
Upset alert? Trap game? Most dismissed that notion when looking at No. 3-ranked Michigan vs. Illinois. Some entertained the thought, but Vegas odds suggested Michigan would win by at least a pair of touchdowns Saturday at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
The 11-degree on-field “feels-like” temperature, the absences of TE Luke Schoonmaker, RB Donovan Edwards and DE Mike Morris, along with the second-half no-go from RB Blake Corum, certainly made things more difficult than anticipated for the Wolverines, who moved to 11-0 for the first time since 2006 and for the first time under coach Jim Harbaugh with the 19-17 win over the Illini.
During the past couple of weeks, the banged-up bug has made its way through Michigan’s locker room. Several players have been bitten.
Is RB Blake Corum 100 percent healthy? Obviously not. His typical load was drastically reduced during the second half Saturday vs. Illinois in Ann Arbor. The Heisman candidate rushed for more than 100 yards — yet again — but did most of his damage in the first half, including a 2-yard touchdown to cap the first drive of the afternoon. He took a helmet to a knee late in the first half and never appeared to be back to full strength, having just 1 carry after halftime.
If not for kicker Jake Moody, the Wolverines would have suffered their first loss of the season. But Moody’s 35-yard game-winner late in the fourth propelled UM to another victory and set the stage for an unbeaten vs. unbeaten next Saturday in Columbus.
“I knew he wasn’t going to miss once we got it down there (in FG range),” said QB JJ McCarthy during an on-field postgame interview with ABC.
Well, obviously, the next matter of business for Michigan awaits Nov. 26 at The Shoe with the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes, who have a Heisman candidate of their own in QB CJ Stroud — arguably the best QB in the nation. He leads the country in all kinds of stats and is the fuel for one of the highest-powered offenses in the country.
Michigan’s defense, No. 1 overall when considering all stats, was stout vs. the Illini. Scoring more than 2 touchdowns vs. the Wolverines has been quite the challenge all season for opponents. However, Illinois’ 17 points were almost enough to win Saturday in Ann Arbor. Simply put, Michigan must find ways to get more out of its drives if it hopes to upend Ohio State.
There were at least three chances for McCarthy to connect on touchdown passes, and that was just in the second half. A long-ball that was thought to be a free play was slightly off-target for WR Andrel Anthony. Colston Loveland, a TE, was wide open and could have scored inside the 20 but McCarthy chose to dump the ball to RB Isaiah Gash for a short gain. Another was overthrown to Loveland, who was inside the 10 and could have easily taken the ball into the end zone.
All of that needs to be cleaned up if the Wolverines hope to knock off Ohio State for the second straight year. UM hasn’t notched back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes since 1991-92 under former coach Gary Moeller.
Michigan’s second-half dominance has been well documented. On Saturday, the Wolverines found themselves trailing 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter, somewhat unfamiliar territory for a team that’s been ironclad in Q3 and Q4 play. While Illinois found a way to hang around and threaten, it was unable to score in the fourth quarter — the same song and dance for Michigan’s past 4 opponents.
Having the ability to turn it on in the second half is great. Ask any team or coach and they’d agree. However, Saturday’s upcoming matchup with Ohio State won’t afford such luxury. If OSU jumps out to a lead, there is a good chance that the Wolverines won’t be able to make up for lost ground — even with a big second half.
History still in the making
You’ve probably heard it all before: Michigan’s undefeated season, the chance to beat OSU for 2 straight years, and a possibility of another outright Big Ten title. Yeah, 11-0 is great; it hasn’t been done since UM’s players were infants. Sure, winning a Big Ten title, outright, for a consecutive year would be a monumental feat for Michigan — something that hasn’t been done in 30 years.
All of the stats and potential for history have been entertaining to monitor. Harbaugh is absolutely doing what most thought he’d end up doing with the Wolverines. There is no doubt that Michigan, overall, has restored a lot of its historical luster. Saturday vs. Illinois wasn’t ideal — and Harbaugh would likely say the same thing — but it was a tough win that proved that the Wolverines had a backbone and could fight off some adversity.