Michigan vs. Illinois score, takeaways: No. 3 Wolverines stave off upset on late FG to remain undefeated

No. 3 Michigan needed a fourth-quarter comeback to avoid an upset loss at home to Illinois one week before meeting No. 2 Ohio State in The Game. In the end, the Wolverines remained undefeated with a 19-17 victory over the Illini thanks to four second-half field goals from kicker Jake Moody, including a 35-yard game-winner with 9 seconds remaining.

Michigan jumped out to a quick lead, moving 75 yards on its first possession to go ahead 7-0. The Wolverines put together a couple of other long drives in the first half, although neither ended in points. Ahead 7-3 and in position to score again, Michigan saw running back Blake Corum move the ball inside the Illinois’ 20-yard line only to fumble after being drilled in his left knee. Corum left the game, and although he made a brief appearance in the third quarter, he did not play after that.

The Illini took advantage in the third quarter putting together two touchdown drives behind RB Chase Brown to take a 17-10 lead. Those scores were the first touchdowns the Wolverines allowed in the third quarter all season. When the fourth quarter began, it was the first time Michigan trailed in that period during its unbeaten campaign.

Its defense stood firm from there as the Wolverines put together three field goal drives to avoid the loss and keep both its undefeated season and College Football Playoff hopes alive. Michigan improves to 11-0, while Illinois’ third-straight loss drops it to 7-4.

1. All eyes will be on Blake Corum

We’ll never know how this game plays out if Corum doesn’t exit, but it’s not difficult to see how it impacted the Michigan offense today. In five first-half possessions with Corum on the field, Michigan scored only one touchdown but had 206 yards of offense in 33 snaps (6.24 yards per). In six possessions without Corum, Michigan had 170 yards in 45 snaps (3.78 per). None of the six drives without Corum covered more than 54 yards, and only the final two reached the red zone.

Corum began his day with a 37-yard carry on the first snap of the game. He caught a simple screen pass on Michigan’s second drive and took it for 41 yards. The Wolverines offense had only one other play of at least 25 yards in the game, and it clearly struggled to find ways to move the ball consistently in his absence.

Despite missing over half the game, Corum finished with 108 yards rushing, 39 yards receiving and a touchdown. Complicating matters was the absence of backup Donovan Edwards, who did not suit up due to injury. Now Michigan goes into Ohio State week with the status of its Heisman-hopeful running back in the air. Given how much difficulty the Wolverines had reaching the end zone without him against a strong Illinois defense today, Corum’s status for next week’s game is a significant storyline to watch as the week unfolds.

2. Michigan hurt by lack of explosive passing plays

The Wolverines offense entered the game ranked 86th nationally in explosive play rate in the passing game at 14.3%, and it was still a problem today. The biggest play in the passing game was the 41-yard screen to Corum, who caught the pass behind the line of scrimmage. There were other completions of 27, 22, 20 and 16 yards, but of the 85 yards gained on those four receptions, 65 came after the catch.

When it comes to pushing the ball down the field vertically, Michigan’s receivers struggled to get separation. When they were open, McCarthy (18/34, 208 yards) struggled to find them. It didn’t cost the Wolverines a win today, and it hasn’t all season, but it’s a lot harder to beat elite teams without an explosive passing attack in today’s landscape.

3. Illinois fell just short of Bret Bielema’s first statement win

Illinois won’t be in a good mood after this game. Yes, it came close to pulling off the upset, but it didn’t. Now it’s lost three straight to fall to 7-4, putting a damper on what had been a terrific start to the season. Plus, while Bret Bielema’s Illini rebuild seems to be far ahead of schedule in only his second season, the Illini were still missing a statement win. Beating No. 3 Michigan on the road would have reached the goal, and the Illini were nine seconds away from getting it.

There will be some criticism of questionable calls that went in Michigan’s favor, but Illinois had plenty of chances to put the game away and didn’t. You don’t pull off upsets like this by giving your opponent a chance to beat you, and Illinois gave Michigan too many chances.

That said, it was still an impressive performance by an Illinois defense that’s been one of the best in the country all season but had fallen into a rut the last few weeks due to injuries. Michigan’s 376 yards of offense is its second-lowest of the season, behind only a 327-yard game in its 27-14 win over Iowa.

4. Michigan is now 42-1 when leading at the half under Harbaugh

It was very close to being 41-2. The lone loss came in Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan, when this happened:

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