Michigan survives momentum shifting road game
Written by Matt Pargoff   

 

One of the toughest things to do in a road game is to reclaim lost momentum, but the Wolverines managed to do exactly that in a weird back-and-forth brawl with Illinois on Saturday. Leading by as many as 28 points in the first half, Michigan gave up 25 straight to the Fighting Illini before forcefully reasserting control and claiming a 42-25 victory.

Even with a couple significant missed opportunities in the first half, including an unsportsmanlike penalty that led to a missed field goal and a fumble on a drive into Illinois territory, the Wolverines still seemed to be cruising to an easy win.

Things began to shift just before half though, with Illinois putting on a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive while in hurry up mode. Over a span of 19 minutes on the game clock, the home team built momentum, outgaining the Wolverines 202-28.

But upon seeing the sizeable lead dissolve into just a three-point edge, Michigan’s offense answered with a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. Facing hardship for the first time since the first half, Illinois began to crack, fumbling the ball on each of its next two possessions, allowing U-M to pull away again.

Michigan finished the game outgaining Illinois 489-256, with two backs going over 100 yards on the ground, including Hassan Haskins’ 125-yard effort and Zach Charbonnet’s 116-yard showing. Shea Patterson completed 11-of-22 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, finding Ronnie Bell three times for 98 yards.

Improving to 5-1 on the season, the Wolverines will stay on the road, playing at Penn State next week at 7:30 p.m. eastern on ABC.

Point - Counterpoint

Some fans were unhappy with the Wolverines’ effort in a low-scoring win over top-15 ranked Iowa a week earlier, and for those people, the middle portion of the game against Illinois did not alleviate any concerns. Michigan was outplayed in every facet during that span, and it was against an Illinois team that lost to Eastern Michigan among others.

There is little question that if the Wolverines have a span like that against a team like Penn State next week that it will be very tough to win. So for people placing the bar very high, the level of expectations were not met against the Illini.

But consider Michigan’s games against Illinois in 1993, 1999 and 2009 as an example of what was avoided on Saturday. In each of those three meeting, the Wolverines built up double-digit leads, appeared to be cruising to a win, but lost momentum and ultimately the game. Those Michigan teams played in bowl games, while two of the three Illinois teams did not.

It was far, far from a perfect showing by Michigan on Saturday, but it does take a lot to halt negative momentum on the road without some sort of lucky break or turnover. The Wolverines did it with the offense simply reasserting itself. No tricks, no flukes, no controversial bad calls - just an offense recognizing that the situation had changed and responding. They at least deserve credit for that.


 
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