Sat Oct 31 06:47pm EDT
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Illinois 38, Michigan 13. All the hype surrounding Illinois as a potential darkhorse coming into the season -- emanating from this blog as much as anywhere -- pinned the Illini's potential success on the veteran stars, Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn, but if their depressing catastrophe of a season has even the tiniest spark left after five straight Big Ten losses, it only exists because of an "effort play" by an obscure true freshman.
With Illinois down 13-7 on the first possession of the third quarter, Michigan's Roy Roundtree took in a short pass from Tate Forcier, broke a tackle and was off to the races to put the Wolverines up by two touchdowns. Roundtree was so obviously gone, in fact, that it hardly seemed worth it for Illinois' Terry Hawthorne to keep chasing him, until Hawthorne miraculously caught up just inside the five and dragged Roundtree down just short of the goal line. Four failed Michigan runs later, Illinois took over at its own one still trailing by only six; six plays after that, Illini running back Michael LeShoure was gone for a 70-yard touchdown that put Illinois up 14-13, the first of three straight touchdown drives by a supposedly lame-duck offense that looked like it had been hit with an adrenaline shot. The second half was the first remotely positive moment of Illinois' season, and it doesn't happen if Hawthorne concedes the touchdown along with everyone else.
That's the rah-rah, feel-good story of the day. On the other side, the verdict is most definitely in on a Michigan outfit that was brimming with so much optimism after a 4-0 September, and that verdict is: Michigan is terrible. Whatever the Wolverines were earlier in the year, now they are terrible, with four straight Big Ten losses and a blowout at the hands of the undisputed whipping boy of the conference to prove it.
Double that sentiment for the defense, which essentially has one nightmare player (dominating senior end Brandon Graham), a decent cornerback (Donovan Warren) and nine stooges -- harsh, yes, but apt for a unit giving up over 30 points and 400 yards per game against Big Ten offenses, even against this Big Ten offense, the lowest-scoring attack in the conference, which put up two touchdowns more on the Wolverines today than it had in any of its previous six games against defenses that aren't Illinois State.
With the loss, the Wolverines drop to 1-4 in Big Ten play, entering a three-way tie for dead last in the conference with Illinois and Indiana. Even after last season's historic collapse, the prospect of last place entering November would have been a colossal disappointment for Michigan partisans at the start of the year, and nearly inconceivable a month ago. But here they are.