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Beating a bad Illinois team by a lot of points was fine…boring and inevitable…but it was necessary. It was the next step in the process of getting where you want to be. You can’t roll into East Lansing undefeated bringing with you the best defense in a generation without having to blow through teams like Rutgers and Illinois first.
However, here we are.
It’s State week.
I don’t think I can sum up the Illinois game any better than just by saying it’s over…we won…we won by a lot. No one got injured. It’s time for big kid football now.
I really liked Speight in this game. So did Jim Harbaugh.
Those first three drives of the game, and then the entire game– I thought Wilton Speight might have had one of the best games of his career.
My favorite part of this game wasn’t just that we ran this formation again, but that we scored out of it this time. Not only does it validate how great this formation is, it makes this the highlight of the game so Michigan State and Ohio State fans have to watch this right after seeing highlights of their teams lose.
Also, late in the game, Jim Harbaugh challenged the spot on a 3rd down catch by Drake Harris at the sticks. The challenge was unsuccessful (although the spot was wrong, but still short), but the ensuing 4th down try was not as Michigan converted with a Bobby Henderson run up the middle. The next play, Michigan takes a knee to run out the clock.
Win with cruelty.
However, doing a fake punt up 34-0 in the 4th quarter gives every defensive coordinator left on Michigan’s schedule something else to prepare for now. Call it a silver lining, I call it advanced coaching theory.
Jim Harbaugh is playing chess. See the whole board.
OFFENSE: Karan Higdon
Led all 13 rushers with 106 yards on 8 carries including a brilliant 45 yard touchdown run in the 2nd half which ended up being the final score of the game. Was it a garbage time touchdown? Of course, but I don’t care. He’s fast, maybe the fastest back in Michigan’s stable, and I want to see more of #22 this week.
DEFENSE: Dymonte Thomas
His interception on Illinois running back screen was impressive to say the least. It shows tremendous vision by the safety to come up and make that sort of play. He also registered 3 tackles and a PBU.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Khaleke Hudson
It’s pretty simple, actually. In a game like this when Jabrill Peppers didn’t do anything super-human returning the ball…block a punt, get a game ball! The numbers don’t lie…if you block a punt, your odds of winning go up drastically. Michigan already had pretty good odds when they woke up on Saturday, but a blocked punt just feels nice.
COACHES: Tyrone Wheatley
Like we said, Michigan’s running backs haven’t looked this strong in a long time. And it’s not just one or two that seem to be clicking, it’s the whole bunch. Odds are any given week, two or three running backs are going to be playing well, all you have to do is just get them the ball. That’s not luck, that’s coaching.
Also receiving votes: Wilton Speight, De’Veon Smith, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon, Mike McCray.
2016 Game ball standings
1: Jabrill Peppers (8)
2. Jourdan Lewis (2), Don Brown (2), Jim Harbaugh (2)
3. Karan Higdon (1), Dymonte Thomas (1), Khalele Hudson (1), Tyrone Wheatley (1), Amara Darboh (1), Channing Stribling (1), Kenny Allen (1), Greg Mattison (1), De’Veon Smith (1), Jake Butt (1), Chris Evans (1), Mike McCray (1), Wilton Speight (1), Chris Wormley (1), Chris Partridge (1)
Even the Rutgers game featured a slow start from the offense. That did not happen today, as Jim Harbaugh utilized a dizzying array of formations, personnel, and misdirection to conduct a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Jake Butt finished it off with a screamingly open three-yard touchdown out of the now-legendary “Train” pre-snap look.
OFFENSIVE CHAMPION – When it gets close to the goal line, you gotta love Khalid “The Hammer” Hill. Michigan hasn’t had a battering-ram of a back since…Leroy Hoard? It’s got to be an awesome feeling for a coach & a team to know that when you get close, The Hammer is going to seal the deal. Red zone efficiency is an important metric and when you can punch it in from in close, you pretty much punch out your opponent.
I feel like Harbaugh/Drevno/Fisch have decided that they’re going to show Michigan’s opponents so many things in their playbook that have so many variations, that no one will know that look X means play Y. Instead, they’ve gone full Vulcan: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Sure, we’ll try a fake punt up 34 in the second half, because the opportunity presented itself! Sure, we’ll run the train after two straight misfires in the “let’s just Jabrill Peppers a touchdown today” effort. Sure, we’ll cook something up that earns Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. his first career catch which becomes a touchdown.
Up 41-8 Harbaugh challenged the spot. I love it. It was a reminder that no matter what the circumstances, our focus will remain sharp, the gas pedal will be pressed down. The team came out stale in the second half and I wonder if Harbaugh did this to reminder everyone that this never stops – there are no moments to relax – and this is how it will always be. Even up 41-8 in the 4th.