It wasn’t the prettiest performance by a Michigan football team, but the path toward their eighth victory of the season soon became apparent: Give the ball to Fitzgerald Toussaint.
The sophomore running back rushed for 121 yards in the first quarter on his way to a career-high 192 yards, leading the Wolverines to a 31-14 win over Illinois in Champaign. Toussaint’s 27-yard touchdown run with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter put the game away and capped off his best game in a Michigan uniform thus far.
When Michigan wasn’t calling a running play, the offense generally struggled. Denard Robinson completed only 6-of-11 passes for 91 yards and two interceptions. On the ground, he added 42 yards with a touchdown and fumble on 11 carries.
Robinson left the game late in the third quarter with an apparent hand injury. Television replays and close-ups showed that he appeared to hit his throwing hand on an Illinois pass rusher’s helmet. Devin Gardner took over for the rest of the game and led the Wolverines’ offense to two touchdowns and a field goal.
Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News quoted coach Brady Hoke as saying Robinson suffered a bruised wrist and could have come back into the game, if needed. Some Michigan fans will surely call for Gardner to be Michigan’s quarterback over Robinson. But making such a change with two games remaining in the season seems highly unlikely, despite Robinson’s struggles throwing the ball.
Receiver Martavious Odoms reminded everyone he still played for Michigan with two big catches, one of which was a 27-yard grab for a touchdown to give Michigan a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.
However, besides Toussaint’s big day, the story for Michigan may have been the performance of its defense. The Wolverines hassled Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase throughout the game (sacking him four times) and held the Illini to 50 yards rushing for the game. (Of course, the Illini had to abandon the run in the fourth quarter while trying to get back into the game with quick scores.)
Scheelhasse and tailback Jason Ford each rushed for second-half touchdowns, but Illinois never cut Michigan’s lead to less than 10 points.
With the win, the Wolverines improve to 8-2 on the season and 4-2 in conference play. They’re tied with Nebraska for second place in the Big Ten Legends Division after the Cornhuskers’ win at Penn State, trailing Michigan State, who won big at Iowa on Saturday.
Michigan hosts Nebraska next week in what will be an important game to determine second place (or perhaps even first) in the Legends Division. Game time is scheduled for 12 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.