Illini drop the ball against Michigan



By Jason Grodsky

In front of a national audience, Illinois dropped the ball – literally.

Tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter against No. 24 Michigan, the Illini looked to be in good shape, forcing Michigan to punt after a stop on third-and-16 to set up a potential go-ahead drive, but the Illini offense never got a chance to step onto the field.

Junior wide receiver Kyle Hudson fumbled the punt at the Illinois 11-yard line to set Michigan up for its eventual game-winning touchdown, stunning a sold-out Memorial Stadium and handing Illinois a 27-17 loss, its first at home this season.

“You can’t give a team like Michigan opportunities like that and expect to win,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said.


photo DI multimedia



Illini fall prey to Wolverines

Click to view an audio slideshow of the game

Even without the nation’s leading rusher, Mike Hart – sidelined with an ankle injury – the Wolverines accumulated 343 yards of offense behind sophomore running back Carlos Brown and junior receiver Mario Manningham.

Brown rushed for 113 yards in Hart’s place, while Manningham caught nine passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wolverines (6-2, 4-0 Big Ten) to their sixth straight victory.

Illinois (5-3, 3-2) got on the board early, scoring before many of the spectators at Memorial Stadium took their seats on a 26-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Juice Williams to senior wide receiver Jacob Willis just 56 seconds into the game.

The score was set up by sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis’ 67-yard kickoff return.

“It felt good to get off to a quick start and get the crowd into it,” Willis said. “But we have to keep that momentum going through all four quarters if we expect to win.”

The Illini stretched their lead to 14-3 in the first half but aided Michigan with costly penalties to allow the Wolverines to come back.

Illinois was penalized 10 times for 107 yards and flagged for four personal fouls in the game.

“We can’t have foolish penalties,” defensive lineman David Lindquist said. “They killed us at certain points. We would force a stop on third down and then have a penalty and give them another chance.”

Michigan’s defense held the Illini to 253 yards of offense. Aside from Illinois’ 90-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter – its longest drive of the year – the Illini struggled to move the ball.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall was held to 85 yards rushing while Williams and backup quarterback Eddie McGee combined to pass for 116 yards.

For the fourth straight week Zook chose to use both quarterbacks to give Michigan’s defense a different look, replacing Williams, who was 8-for-14 for 70 yards with an interception and a touchdown, with McGee in the third quarter.

“We both had a chance to sit back and see what (Michigan) was trying to do defensively,” Williams said. “We just have to correct and take care of the little things, and those things came back to bite us today.”

Michigan also used two quarterbacks after senior starter Chad Henne hurt his hand on a first-quarter sack. Backup freshman Ryan Mallett replaced Henne twice during the game and was 2-for-6 for 16 yards and an interception.

Henne returned in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 201 yards passing and two touchdowns.

The Illini defense sacked Henne and Mallett a combined four times and forced three turnovers but couldn’t overcome the Wolverines in the end, resulting in their second straight Big Ten loss.

“This is one of those games that we can’t let dictate the rest of our season,” Williams said. “It hurts but we can’t get down. We have to keep our heads up and keep fighting.”