None of us know what Illinois coach Ron Zook will say to his team at halftime, but his remarks could begin with, “We’re lucky to only be down 14-0. So we’re still in this game.”
The Fighting Illini trail Michigan by 14-0 at halftime, but the Wolverines squandered several opportunities to build a much bigger lead.
First and foremost was a 1st-and-goal at the three-yard line early in the second quarter, after Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson completed a 39-yard pass to tight end Kevin Koger. Two subsequent rushes by Fitzgerald Toussaint lost five yards. Robinson then ran around left end for a seven-yard run and appeared to get the ball over the pylon for a touchdown.
However, replay showed that Robinson stepped out of bounds inside the Illinois two-yard line, negating the score and giving Michigan a fourth down. The Wolverines opted to skip the field goal and go for the touchdown. Unfortunately, the offense looked badly out of sync on an option play and lost three yards.
Michigan again had a chance to extend their lead after Jordan Kovacs forced a fumble by Illinois running back Jason Ford. Safety Thomas Gordon recovered at the Illini 13-yard line. But a fake reverse and outside run by Michael Shaw lost eight yards and Robinson fumbled on the next play under a heavy pass rush.
Yet another scoring opportunity presented itself when the Michigan defense forced Illinois into a three-and-out. A 19-yard pass from Robinson to Martavious Odoms moved the Wolverines to the Illini 19-yard line. But Toussaint lost two yards on a running play, and Robinson followed up with two incomplete passes. Brandon Gibbons finished the failed drive by missing a 38-yard field goal.
Michigan has outgained Illinois 259 yards to 42. The Wolverines have 168 rushing yards to the Fighting Illini’s 2. Illinois had only one first down in the first half. Taking all that into consideration, they should probably be happy at trailing by only two touchdowns.
Illinois gets the ball to begin the second half. Virtually anything from their offense would be an improvement. But give credit to the Michigan defense and coordinator Greg Mattison for timing blitzes and well and mixing up coverages to confuse Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.