Defense fails Illini football in OT loss

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Illinois defense came to Ann Arbor boasting one of the top defenses in all of college football.

It ranked 12th in the country with 16.8 points allowed per game and had only allowed 62 in the last four games.

Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier, Roy Roundtree, and the Michigan offense changed all that, scoring 67 in their triple-overtime victory over the Illini.

“I’m going to chalk it up as we got our butt handed to us,” Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “We’ve got to tackle better; we can’t let guys run by us in coverage. We just kind of fell apart and reverted to bad fundamentals and bad football.”

It didn’t take long to figure out the Illini’s strongest unit might not have its best day.

On the first play from scrimmage, Robinson threw a play-action pass to a wide-open Roundtree, who ran straight past safeties Tavon Wilson and Trulon Henry, at the 47-yard line. Roundtree did the rest, scoring a 75-yard touchdown.

“That first play shocked me, I think it shocked a lot of us,” linebacker Martez Wilson said. “You don’t expect it. It’s the game of football, you just expect us to keep our eyes on our man.”

Illinois was able to intercept Robinson passes on the next two Michigan drives, but things only got worse for the Illini defense.

Robinson set a Michigan record for most passing yards in a half with 262 in the first, as the score was tied 31-31 heading into the break.

“He’s a quick little guy,” linebacker Nate Bussey said. “We expected him to run the ball as well. He did exactly what we expected.”

Illinois only allowed one touchdown in the third quarter, when Robinson was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Heisman Trophy candidate ended the game with 367 total yards and three passing touchdowns.

Illinois looked as if it might pull away when it scored after backup quarterback Forcier into a fumbled on his first play, but Forcier drove Michigan to an overtime-forcing touchdown with just over four minutes left.

The Illini were also unable to contain Michigan in overtime, and when they allowed, the Wolverines scored touchdowns on all three possessions and a two-point conversion. The most heartbreaking touchdown may have been the second in overtime, with the Wolverines on the Illini 9-yard line on third-and-eight.

Forcier threw straight to Illini cornerback Terry Hawthorne on the goal-line. Hawthorne looked as if he would catch the ball, but it bounced off his hands straight to Michigan receiver Junior Hemingway in the end zone.

“We coach them to tip it down, and to never tip it up,” head coach Ron Zook said. “He knows what he has to do.”

Both Zook and Henry blamed the bad game on a lackluster week of practice.

“We should’ve focused on the smaller detailed things during the week. We had too many distractions going on, too much going on with the divisions of players,” Henry said. “Simple things, you know, reading keys, studying our opponent more. We watched our amount of film. We should know what they want to do before they’re going to do it. They caught us off balance a few times today.”

“I’m emotionally exhausted,” he added. “You feel like you let somebody down. I feel like I let my team down and I let my offense down.”

While giving Michigan and Robinson credit for the day, Koenning looked at himself for the letdown.

“I hadn’t felt like we practiced with the intensity we need, and I shared that with the guys,” he said. “We obviously didn’t prepare as well as we needed to, and it goes back to me, and I’ve got to find a way to get the best out of these guys.”