The last time the Michigan football team took a beating like that, the Athletic Director found a new coach.
The Wolverines have a losing record the deepest into their season since they finished 4-6 in 1967.
And Saturday’s 45-20 loss to Illinois was their worst in the Big Ten since Ohio State beat them 50-14 in 1968.
Bo Schembechler coached Michigan’s next game, in 1969, and stuck around for 21 years. He had success because his teams excelled in the most boring of areas — controlling the line of scrimmage.
Michigan is far from doing that this year.
Wolverine coach Rich Rodriguez needs the right skill players to run his offense, and he may even have them. But it’s impossible to tell because of the offensive line’s struggles.
Michigan might even have a decent pass coverage. But when the Wolverines have no sacks and put little pressure on the quarterback, like they did Saturday, the secondary and linebackers have to stay with talented receivers like Arrelious Benn for way too long. Even if they’re pretty good in coverage, they just can’t be asked to do that.
Illinois junior Juice Williams will be remembered as the star of Saturday’s game, the new-look dual-threat quarterback that’s transforming the Big Ten.
His 431 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and through the air certainly looked the part. He made it seem easy.
But it actually was.
The Fighting Illini’s real heroes were Xavier Fulton, Eric Block, Ryan McDonald, Jon Asamoah and Jeff Allen — their offensive line.
Add on that the Michigan defense frequently bit on fake handoffs, and Illinois had an even greater control of the line of scrimmage, which gave Juice plenty of time to find receivers downfield or run himself. He had a hand in 14 plays that produced at least 10 yards.
Long passes come from time in the pocket, and long runs come from big holes. Juice had plenty of both.
“On defense, you can’t give them plays — not in this league and not against a good team like Illinois,” Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said.
That was true 40 years ago, and it’s true today — no matter which offense is in vogue.
You can talk all you want about the spread, but the Illini won because they played like the better old-school, hard-nosed team. It’s still football, and it’s still largely a battle in the trenches.
And that was also true on the other side of the ball.
Yes, redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet struggled after his excellent first quarter. But his protection, behind an offensive line returning only one starter, faded in the last three quarters. He was sacked four times and pressured on several other plays.
The Wolverines started a different combination on the left side of the offensive line for the fourth straight game. The most recent contingent struggled with Illinois linebacker Brit Miller’s blitzes, and the four-man rushes it faced most of the game, too.
After the game, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez sounded almost jealous of his longtime friend, Illinois coach Ron Zook. Zook, in his fourth year with the Illini, has had a chance to put his stamp on the program.
“They’re a very talented team, and they’ve done a good job increasing their talent,” Rodriguez said. “And we’re going to —”
He sounded like he was going to say he would do the same. But then he changed course. “— We’ve got some talented guys.”
Give Rodriguez credit for not throwing this season away. But if he hopes to succeed in the future, he has to have more than just the Juices.
He needs the Fultons, Blocks, McDonalds, Asamoahs and Allens.
— Dan Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.