CHAMPAIGN, Ill.-- If the losses continue to mount and a once-promising season further unravels, one incredible sequence from yesterday will be replayed over and over in the minds of those who have an interest in University of Michigan football.
The fate of the Wolverines’ season may have swung on 100 yards, one that they failed to gain despite four chances, and 99 that the University of Illinois accumulated to effectively break the will of their guests.
The final score - Illinois 38, UM 13 - doesn’t begin to describe what went down yesterday at Memorial Stadium. Then again, the wide margin may suggest an over-arching issue, because faced with disappointment, the Wolverines seemingly folded. Now their season, which began 4-0, is in peril as with three games left UM (5-4, 1-4) has not attained bowl eligibility.
At least one senior is concerned
this recent string of futility could result in a defeatist attitude amongst the team.
“Yeah, because you get frustrated and you don’t know what to do and the first thing you try to do is take the easy way out and just give up,” said Brandon Graham. “But I promise that’s not going to happen.”
The collapse, ironically, began on UM’s longest reception of the season. Roy Roundtree hauled in a pass from Tate Forcier on a post route and had a clear path to the end zone only to be caught at the one-yard line by a determined Terry Hawthorne. The 76-yard reception was originally called a 77-yard touchdown but a booth review determined Roundtree was down at the one. Carlos Brown was then stalled on three straight carries, and the bigger Brandon Minor was inserted on fourth down and appeared to cross the end zone on a second effort lunge. But the video replay was again unkind to the Wolverines as Minor’s elbow touched down at the one.
Illinois took over at its one, and six plays later Mikel LeShoure sprinted 70 yards up the middle to give the Illini a 14-13 lead. It was the initial seven of 31-unanswered points for the Illini, which won for just the second time and the first time against a Bowl Subdivision opponent in 364 days.
“That’s a big momentum change, particularly on the road,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “When you have a chance to seize momentum, and you let it reverse on the road, it’s tough.”
The Illini (2-6, 1-5) added two more scores in the third quarter, on a two-yard pass from Juice Williams to London Davis, and on a three-yard run by Williams. That 28-13 deficit grew in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard field goal and a 79-yard run by Jason Ford. UM has now dropped four straight conference games after narrowly beating Indiana on Sept. 26. That’s also the last time UM beat a Bowl Subdivision member.
LeShoure gained 150 yards on 21 tries, and Ford added 128 on 12 attempts. Williams, who has struggled most of the year, narrowly missed being a third player to eclipse 100 yards, settling for 97. He threw for 123 yards on eight of 11 passing.
In terms of production, UI’s second quarter was as brutal as UM’s third, as the Illini were held to minus-15 yards. It wasn’t a torturous quarter though, as UM’s offense sputtered on the third down and kicked two field goals.
“We have to stop the snowball,” defensive tackle Mike Martin said. “We can’t let it get bigger. We have to end this right now.”
Tate Forcier continues to struggle in Big Ten play, though he was not yanked until the final drive. He was sacked three times and lost fumbles twice in the fourth quarter, once at IU’s 16 and later at IU’s 15. The bulk of Forcier’s 257 passing yards were eaten by Roundtree’s 76-yarder and a 66-yard catch by Junior Hemingway. The latter was part of a fourth-quarter drive that stalled after three straight incompletions at IU’s 10.
“Even after [the momentum shift] we had some opportunities,” Rodriguez said. “We just didn’t do it.”
Brown, who rushed for 94 yards on 25 carries, scored on UM’s first drive to even the game at 7-7. Minor (ankle) carried just once.
“We’re all frustrated because we gave it away, we just gave it away,” Graham said. “We were the better team today. Not taking anything away from Illinois but we know we gave it away.”
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