Michigan vs Illinois: 5 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Win Aginst Illini
The revival of Michigan football continued on Saturday when the Wolverines stomped out Illinois, 31-14. While this win only continued to show the strength of the Michigan football team, only one year removed from the Rich Rodriguez fiasco, there was a crucial injury.
In the third quarter, Denard Robinson followed through on a pass and crunched his hand against an Illinois pass rusher. Robinson was replaced by Devin Gardner, who helped maintain the Wolverine lead.
At this time, there is no official word on the extent of the injury, but fans have to be worried going into next week's key game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. However, before looking forward to next week, what did we learn from Michigan this week?
Running Game Is Dominant
Everyone knew that Denard Robinson is impossible to fully contain. However, seeing Fitzgerald Toussaint going off for a game like he did only makes the expectations go up for the Wolverines.
Robinson can spread a defense out and force teams to play to Michigan's tempo because Robinson will burn defenses with his legs if they miss a tackle in the backfield. However, seeing the pure athleticism of Toussaint was unreal and makes Michigan's ground attack look near unstoppable.
Toussaint's defining run came when he stopped on a dime to cut up the field into a hole and make everyone in Champaign pick their jaws off the ground. 192 yards on 27 carries tends to do that to teams and the end result: Michigan just made themselves look very dangerous in the final two weeks of the year.
The Defense Can Play Too
So the ESPN culture of sports shows the sports world the explosiveness of the Michigan offense and Denard Robinson, but games like this show how the defense can stop the run, a huge key in the run oriented Big Ten.
Illinois ran the ball 33 times against Michigan, but sputtered out a mere 1.1 yards a carry for a pathetic 37 yards. Jason Ford, Illinois' starting running back was held to just 2.4 yards a carry and gained 26 yards on the day thanks to a Michigan front seven that played very well.
As mentioned earlier, the Big Ten features many run first minded teams and next up Nebraska is one of these teams. If Michigan continues to have this kind of success against the run, the Wolverines are in a very good position moving forward.
Brady Hoke Is for Real
Don't look now Wolverine fans but there is a good change Michigan will finish a season in the top 25 and if they continue to play this well, the team could win a meaningful bowl game.
All in Brady Hoke's first season as coach at Michigan. Rich Rodriguez had the almost exact same group of guys and consistently struggled against every opponent. Hoke has come in and brought a real sense of Michigan pride to this team. They want to play well for him and the school, and as a result, Michigan is only a game out of contention for the Big Ten championship.
If this is what Hoke can do in one season, I see this team only improving and becoming a Big Ten power once again.
Turnovers Are the Achilles Heel
Neither team played especially clean football to begin with, but to turn the ball over three times in a game and still win is an accomplishment.
Michigan is 52nd in overall turnover differential and looking closer, teams ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings stand ahead of them (Michigan State in the Legends and Penn State in the Leaders). Michigan's only interception was thrown by their starter (Denard Robinson left with an injury to his hand in the second half).
Michigan's ball security isn't necessarily the most important aspect against Illinois, but against Nebraska, this team needs to protect the ball or the Wolverines will be in for a long day. Speaking of Nebraska...
Next Week's Game Is HUGE
The other team from Michigan controls their own destiny in the race for the Big Ten Legends crown, but that doesn't mean something strange can't happen in the meantime.
For Michigan, winning next's week contest versus Nebraska carries a lot of implications. First, the game is at home for the Wolverines and defending their house unlike Penn State did against Nebraska would signal strength (yes, I understand there were other factors at play for PSU).
Also, trying the Spartans for first would be significant for Michigan. While State would still get the bid over the Wolverines, a better bowl would be in the cards. Michigan would have the one up over Nebraska and with both teams boasting strong traveling fan bases, whoever finishes higher would get to go to the Outback Bowl as compared to the to Insight or Gator Bowls.