Michigan vs. Illinois Score, Takeaways: No. 3 Wolverines Deterred by Late FG to Go Undefeated

No. 3 Michigan needed a fourth quarter comeback to avoid a loss at home to Illinois a week before meeting No. 2 Ohio State in The Game. In the end, the Wolverines went undefeated with a 19–17 win over the Illini courtesy of four second-half field goals from kicker Jake Moody, including a 35-yard game-winner with 9 seconds left.

Michigan jumped out to a quick lead and advanced 75 yards on the first possession to lead 7-0. The Wolverines put in a few more long drives in the first half, but neither ended in points. Leading 7–3 and in position to score again, Michigan saw running back Blake Corum move the ball inside the Illinois 20 yard line to fumble after being drilled in his left knee. Corum left the game and although he made a brief appearance in the third quarter, he did not play again.

The Illini took advantage in the third quarter by putting together two touchdown drives behind RB Chase Brown to take a 17-10 lead. Those scores were the first touchdowns the Wolverines have allowed in the third quarter all season. As the fourth quarter began, it marked the first time Michigan trailed during its undefeated campaign during that span.

The defense stood firm from there as the Wolverines put together three field goals to avoid the loss and keep both the undefeated season and College Football Playoff hopes alive. Michigan improves to 11-0, while Illinois’ third consecutive loss cuts it to 7-4.

1. All eyes will be on Blake Corum

We’ll never know how this game turns out if Corum doesn’t leave, but it’s not hard to see how it affected Michigan’s offense today. In five possessions in the first half with Corum on the field, Michigan scored only one touchdown, but had 206 yards of offense in 33 snaps (6.24 yards per). In six possessions without Corum, Michigan had 170 yards in 45 snaps (3.78 per). None of the six runs without Corum covered more than 54 metres, and only the last two reached the red zone.

Corum started his day with a 37-yard carry in the game’s first snap. He caught a simple fencing pass on Michigan’s second drive and took it 41 yards. The Wolverines offense had only one other play of at least 25 yards in the game, and it was clearly struggling to find ways to consistently move the ball in its absence.

Despite missing more than half the game, Corum finished with 108 yards rushing, 39 yards receiving, and a touchdown. Complicating matters further was the absence of backup Donovan Edwards, who was unable to fit into the suit due to injury. Now Michigan is entering Ohio State week with the status of its Heisman airborne hopeful. Given how much trouble the Wolverines had today to reach the end zone without him against a strong Illinois defense, Corum’s status ahead of next week’s game is an important storyline to watch as the week progresses.

2. Michigan hurt by lack of explosive passes

The Wolverines offense entered the game ranked 86th nationally for explosive play speed in the passing game at 14.3%, and it was still a problem today. The biggest play in the passing game was the 41-yard screen to Corum, who caught the pass behind the line of scrimmage. There were other completions of 27, 22, 20, and 16 yards, but of the 85 yards gained on those four receptions, 65 came on the catch.

When it came to pushing the ball vertically down the field, Michigan receivers struggled to get separation. When they were open, McCarthy (18/34, 208 yards) struggled to find them. It hasn’t cost the Wolverines a win today, and it hasn’t all season, but it’s much harder to beat elite teams without an explosive pass attack in today’s landscape.

3. Illinois fell just short of Bret Bielema’s first win

Illinois won’t be in a good mood after this game. Yes, it came close to getting rid of the upset, but it didn’t. Now it lost three straight to fall to 7-4, putting a damper on what had been a great start to the season. And while Bret Bielema’s rebuilding of the Illini in his sophomore season seems way ahead of schedule, the Illini still missed out on an official win. Beating No. 3 Michigan on the road would have reached the goal, and the Illini were nine seconds away from reaching the goal.

There will be some criticism of questionable calls that went in Michigan’s favor, but Illinois had plenty of chances to postpone the game and didn’t. You don’t cause this kind of misfortune by giving your opponent a chance to beat you, and Illinois gave Michigan too many chances.

That said, it was still an impressive performance from an Illinois defense that had been one of the best in the nation all season, but had been thrown into a rut in recent weeks due to injuries. Michigan’s 376 yards of offense is the second lowest of the season, with just a 327-yard game in its 27–14 victory over Iowa.

4. Michigan now 42-1 at half lead under Harbaugh

It was very close to 41-2. The only loss came in Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan, when this happened:

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