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Handing out marks for Michigan’s victory over Illinois

The game against the Illinois Fighting Illini could have been the Michigan Wolverines’ version of the Chernobyl meltdown. For an unholy period, it appeared that Blake Corum had suffered a season-ending knee injury in a suspected throwaway match against an opponent who had also run. To make matters worse, the Wolverines nearly lost to this enemy who was also running. But in the end, while Corum’s status is uncertain and Michigan has only had one win, Michigan lives to tell the tale. Here’s how every position group fared in the Wolverines’ effort to avoid disaster.

Quarterbacks: B-

Both statements are true: JJ McCarthy won Michigan the game and JJ almost lost Michigan the game. No. 9 made multiple CLUTCH games that kept Michigan alive in the fourth quarter. No other Michigan quarterback would have had the guts to catch that fiddly snap without his knees touching the turf, the attitude not to panic, and the ability to toss a dart to Cornelius Johnson for a first down. Just unbelievable. And that conversion in 3rd and 8th place wasn’t nearly the biggest clutch play of the fourth quarter. The Iceman completed three do-or-die quarter passes to keep Michigan in them. These are things Michigan fans dreamed of when McCarthy first donned the Maize and Blue. But honestly, he’s missed on enough throws and misread the reporting enough times to keep Michigan from retiring. McCarthy might want to take a look at his meditation regimen because you get the feeling he’s playing too hyper.

Wide receivers and tight ends: D

At this point, I’m now convinced that the only Michigan players who can catch passes are Ronnie Bell, Colston Loveland, Luke Schoonmaker and Donovan Edwards. I’ve never caught a soccer ball when it feels like 10 degrees outside, but I do know that the gloves wideouts wear today are practically Velcro coated. Many catchable balls have been dropped so many times that they all appear to be merging together. This won’t be an F, however, for three main reasons: Ronnie Bell is a baller, Colston Loveland is Jake Butt reincarnated, and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon could hug Michigan’s pass catcher for 90 percent of the game with virtually no reprisal. The game will be one to forget if the staff can’t find ways to get the ball to Bell and the tight ends anymore.

Running backs: A

The Corn and Blue faithful will be hoping and praying that the knee injury Corum picked up late in the second quarter isn’t too serious as he’s not special. The man had 147 all-purpose yards despite missing half the game. Unreal. Consider that CJ Stroud and Hendon Hooker have had boring games and Corum has a real shot at winning the Heisman. The other defenders – CJ Stokes, Isaiah Gash and Tavierre Dunlap – didn’t have much of an impact, but the blame largely lies in the offensive line overturning on the track. I should say, however, that Gash has had the redeeming catch of the year so far. After he could have dropped a touchdown four minutes into the game, Gash grabbed a CLUTCH hold for fourth and third with 53 seconds left. That catch kept Michigan’s comeback hopes alive and set up the game-winning kick. Kudos to Gash: a fighter in the ring and on the grass.

Offensive line: B-

Frankly, I’m generous with this B-brand. After Corum left the game, Illinois handled that group in running play. The Illini had six tackles to a loss in the game and I’m surprised they didn’t have more. The only area that saved this group’s grade — and Michigan’s day — was the pass protection they offered. As has been the case all season, McCarthy didn’t lack time to dig into his pockets.

Front seven: B+

All in all, the front seven did a good job of containing the nation’s leading rusher, Chase Brown. However, the linebackers were drawn into far too many Illini blocking schemes, allowing the Illinois No. 2 to take over the game for a considerable time in the third. Also, the pass rush and penetration were inadequate, mustering only a QB rush and a TFL.

Secondary: A

The secondary school did a good job of keeping everything in front of them. One could easily see that the outcome of this game would be very different if the Illini were able to connect on deeper passes. This group will need a better performance next week but for the moment it’s been pretty good work.

Special teams: A+

A good friend of mine brought an intriguing observation to my attention: Jake Moody could be Michigan’s MVP this season. Without his ironclad effort, Michigan might not be on the brink of 12-0…or even 10-2. Michigan has always managed to develop solid kicking talent, but Jake Moody has my vote for Michigan’s GOAT pitcher. Ronnie Bell provided plenty of sizzle on the punt return game that I’d like an encore of. Brad Robbins had a tough draw on a stormy day so I can’t blame him too much.

Michigan’s Stance: C-

A win is a win, right? It’s on to Ohio State, right? Not so fast. As I mentioned above, Michigan is a different team without Corum. But the offensive coaching team failed to realize this for far too long. Illinois boxed seven, eight, and sometimes nine defenders to stop the run. And what did the gamblers do? They decided to run the ball down the middle with ruthless abandon, without the best player in the country doing the heavy lifting. When they finally snapped out of him, Michigan moved the ball through the air reasonably well, as might be expected when the opposition lines up with minimal security help in pressmen’s coverage. As for defense, Jesse Minter was another slam dunk associate for Jim Harbaugh. The D bowed when necessary, preventing Brown from letting off steam. And let’s not forget that Jake “Money” Moody was the hero of this film. His body temperature had to be lower than the temperature in Ann Arbor on Saturday because the guy has ice in his veins.

Let’s hope Corum gets plenty of rest this Thanksgiving week when he’s not shipping turkeys to underserved Michiganders. The Wolverines need him more than ever to beat Ohio State again.

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