The third quarter against Michigan was about as well as Illinois has played all season. But a pervious run defense early and some costly turnovers late meant a fourth straight loss for the Illini.
WHAT IT MEANS
This is an Illinois team that still has yet to figure out how to finish games (and for Saturday, start them). It’s also the midway point of Lovie Smith’s fourth season in charge. Those two things shouldn’t be incongruous.
Think Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet was tough to slow down in the first half? The Illinois defense will face its toughest challenge yet on the ground next week against Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
Handing out grades
Player of the Game | Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson
It wasn’t always a pretty game for the Wolverines’ signal caller, but he came through down the stretch when it mattered most. After Illinois pulled within three points early in the fourth quarter, Patterson led two successful scoring drives to help Michigan pull away for the win. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for the final score of the game.
Lovie Smith would argue the point (and did), but settling on Matt Robinson quarterback in the second half after the revolving door in the first half with Isaiah Williams involved led to a more consistent, productive Illini offense. Two late turnovers, though, put a damper on what was a strong second half for Robinson and Co.
Just think if the Wolverines wouldn’t have rushed for a first down and then some almost every time they touched the ball in the first half. Illinois’ run defense was better in the second half, but the hole was already dug. On the flip side, a fairly stout Michigan defense gave up 25 unanswered points to an Illini offense that didn’t even score a touchdown a week prior.
Pretty wild game for Illini punter Blake Hayes. He drilled a 70-yard punt and also had one blocked that immediately led to a Michigan touchdown the next play. It was a mixed bag for both teams’ kickers, too. Illinois’ James McCourt drilled a 50-yarder in the third quarter (his third this year from 50-plus), while Michigan’s Quinn Nordin missed from 34 yards in the second quarter.
The dueling quarterback first half was not a success for the Illini, and there’s no telling if it would have continued in the second if not for an injury to Williams. The Illini’s stingier defense in the second half also didn’t come with any adjustment. Execution was simply better. Meanwhile, the Wolverines about let this one slip away with a less aggressive approach after halftime.
An easy game to evaluate this was not, simply because the first and second halves couldn’t have been more different. The bottom line is the Illini — even with a strong comeback attempt — lost their fourth straight game with a lot of the same issues cropping up Saturday afternoon. Winning the turnover battle helps, but poor run defense and a slew of penalties made a difference.