As the clock wound down on Michigan’s 45-20 loss to Illinois on Saturday, a young fan near the Michigan Stadium tunnel put the afternoon into context.
“I can’t believe Michigan lost by this much,” he shouted, speaking to no one in particular. “This is so embarrassing.”
There were plenty of lows for the Wolverines against the Fighting Illini, but freshman slot receiver Martavious Odoms was one of the few bright spots on the afternoon.
Odoms led Michigan with 129 receiving yards on seven receptions, making him the first Wolverine receiver to break the century mark this season. Along the way, Odoms appeared to establish a rhythm with redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet that had been absent in the first four games of the season.
“He’s exciting, he can run and do a lot of things,” Michigan wide receivers coach Tony Dews said. “We’re just trying to find some ways to get the ball in his hands and let him play.”
The 5-foot-9 receiver took advantage of the absence of two of Michigan’s top wide receivers, Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum, to set career highs in catches and receiving yards. Hemingway will be out for several weeks with mononucleosis and Stonum did not play for violating team rules, so Odoms’ increased role in the Michigan offense may continue in the near future.
Odoms also had the chance to return Michigan’s kickoffs on Saturday and showed the ability to find another gear and get to the next level. He returned seven Illinois kickoffs for 183 yards, including a 36-yarder on the opening kickoff, Michigan’s longest return of the season.
Until Saturday, Michigan return men struggled to get past the first wave of coverage, but Odoms made good reads at the first level and often cut the ball to the outside to gain more yardage.
Unlike in past weeks, Odoms was the lone deep man on kick returns for Michigan, putting more pressure on him to cover the entire field but also giving him an additional blocker to run behind.
Even with a good deal of success, Odoms wasn’t immune to the Achilles’ heel of Michigan special teams so far this season. In the fourth quarter, with Michigan trailing by 18 points, Odoms fumbled a kick return, giving the ball back to Illinois at the Michigan 16-yard line.
“That little guy had been playing his tail off the whole game, but the one time he dropped it low, they put a hat on him, he fumbles,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. “I’m not going to drop him into grease because of it, but we’ve just got to be better fundamentally. And we’ve got to coach it better.”
After the fumble, Rodriguez sent redshirt freshman Avery Horn in to return the last kickoff of the afternoon.
In a day when little went right for Michigan, Odoms was the standout. But even Odoms has improvements to make in the weeks ahead if Michigan hopes to avoid getting embarrassed again.