One week ahead of a perhaps slightly deflated visit to East Lansing, the Michigan football team kept rolling.
The Wolverines raced to a 41-8 win over Illinois at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, keeping them undefeated heading into a rivalry game against Michigan State.
The Daily broke down the good, the bad and the ugly from the game:
Karan Higdon just keeps looking better. Michigan’s sophomore running back got off to a slow start this season after missing much of spring and summer workouts with mononucleosis and a knee injury. But after rushing nine times for 81 yards and two scores in Michigan’s 49-10 rout of Penn State last month, Higdon has continued to impress.
He did not play against Wisconsin, but he racked up 108 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers last week, and he gained 106 yards and a score against Illinois. In each of the last three games in which he played, Higdon has a run of at least 40 yards. Against the Fighting Illini, he ripped off a 45-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that was the first real big play Michigan’s offense had made since the first half.
It should say something about Higdon that he got top billing in this section, especially since redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight had one of the best games of his career. Speight was 16-of-23 passing, totaling 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Michigan’s defense lived up to its own deservedly lofty reputation, but we praise them all the time. This time, we thought a couple of offensive performers deserved some shine.
Outside of three big plays, Illinois had just 41 total yards of offense. Two 43-yard receptions and one 45-yard rush accounted for more than three quarters of the Fighting Illini’s offense, which is usually not a winning recipe. And while Illinois was the first team to bust a big play against the Wolverines since Penn State, its offense simply could not get into any kind of prolonged rhythm.
Much of this, of course, can be credited to the Michigan defense. But Illinois’ offense was not without fault.
Michigan held Jeff George Jr. without a completion in the first half, and while Jim Harbaugh said he thought George acquitted himself well, he certainly had to face some tough circumstances. Michigan now has the nation’s No. 4 rush defense to pair with its top-ranked pass ‘D,’ a pairing that allows the Wolverines plenty of options in coverage. George faced that pressure early, and it led him to a quarterback rating of -28.6 at the half.
There aren’t many tougher ways to make your college debut.
Just as was the case in Michigan’s previous two home games, a Wolverine suffered a potentially serious injury. After Jeremy Clark (knee) and Grant Newsome (knee) were lost for the year against Penn State and Wisconsin, respectively, Michigan had another scare on Saturday.
Freshman running back Chris Evans took a jarring shot to the head on Michigan’s second drive and did not return. Harbaugh implied Evans briefly lost consciousness from the collision, though he could not specify after the game the severity of the injury.
Concussions are always serious, though, and with the emphasis being placed on them around the sports world, it would not be surprising if Evans had to miss extended time. The more glaring concern in this matter is his personal health, to be sure, but if Evans is lost for extended time, he will be the third key contributor the Wolverines have lost in their past four games. Redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill and sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel also left Saturday’s game early.
That’s the opposite of what Michigan wants going into its critical final stretch.