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Across the Border: Illinois

Massey of Buckeye Commentary drops by to give his weekly look at Michigan's game.

Illinois v. Michigan Review

Let me be honest, it is getting very difficult to parse the seldom-traveled road of Michigan this season. I do not know what to say. One moment reveals a nice scramble on third and eight; the next is an inconceivable fumble. I cannot tell if they want to pass or run (I know coaches would say “balanced”), and I don’t know at which they are more proficient. The problems occur on both sides of the ball and they can border on comedy. I am not trying to be incendiary, but I know that at least half of you have chuckled in frustration whenever Michigan fumbles in the most unexpected situations. You are fans. You watch every play with same emotion I do Ohio State and you do not need me to recite their successes and follies. We can all agree that they are inconsistent and leave it at that.

I will continue to mention that actual play on the field, of course, but I may shift my focus to watching the intangibles of the team.

What I saw: I think for the first time this season, I saw a result that would have been similar even if Carr was still coaching the Wolverines and the previous systems and schemes were in place. Michigan just could not stop Juice and co. I could nitpick and mention the bad calls that hurt Michigan, but this was simply the case of the better team winning.

The Wolverines played well initially and the first quarter felt like they had picked up right where they left off against Wisconsin. Odoms was great on returns (despite the late fumble) and his first-half receiving stats were impressive with big gains on the two early scoring drives.

For all intents and purposes, the game ended after Illinois scored on the screen to Dufrene. A perfectly lofted dagger, it seemed to pierce the offense’s hearts as much, or more, than the defense’s. The offensive line seemed to play well early on and the announcers were all over them, but that edge slowly dissipated during the second quarter and the offense eventually became impotent.

The defense generally played well but the tackling would be poor from time to time and Illinois always seemed to capitalize on those missed tackles. The Wolverines best defender was Mesko. His punting consistently pinned the Illini deep. He was Michigan’s player of the game. Seriously.

What I didn’t see: The fourth quarter. I apologize. I know I am supposed to watch the entire game for this weekly exchange but FSU/Miami was really heating up and my football-laden DNA required me to change the channel as watching it via Gamecast was wholly insufficient.

In some ways, what I saw was what I did not see. I did not often see good tackling, pass coverages living up to realistic expectations, or an ability to hold onto the ball. It that thing covered in lard?

What I expect to see next week: Ball State blanked Toledo last weekend and the Rockets appear to have no offense, gaining 157 yards against the Cardinals (somehow they managed 600 yards and 54 points against Fresno State, but that was in overtime). I expect a Michigan win along the lines of the victory over Miami (OH).

I do not expect to be able to draw many conclusions from that game, however, as I am totally incapable of predicting Michigan’s performance game-to-game, half-to-half, or even play-to-play with any degree of accuracy.

What this can tell us about The Game: Most likely, Ohio State will be running a very similar offense to the one Illinois dominated with on Saturday. Will Pryor, Wells, and [insert Ohio State WR] be able to replicate those results? Illinois scored on big plays caused by blown assignments and missed tackles with a sprinkling of bad officiating. If those things magically disappear, the Wolverine defense is formidable.

If Michigan’s offense can perform as they did in the first quarter versus Illinois for the entire game against Ohio State, there is no reason to believe they will not be able to move the ball. We have talked about it before, but the Buckeyes have struggled against running quarterbacks. Threet may be shaky but his best moments are good enough.

I still maintain that this is a dangerous game for Ohio State, especially if the Buckeyes are lucky enough to be playing for a Big Ten Championship. Michigan will have the opportunity to ruin the Buckeyes season and set the tone for Rodriguez’s tenure. They will have to play their best game to win. Would any of you be surprised if Michigan put together their best effort on November 22?

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“Across the Border: Illinois”