The Michigan Wolverines improved to 7-0 (4-0 Big Ten) with a 41-8 homecoming victory over Illinois (2-5, 1-3 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon.
Things started quick for the Wolverines, as they received the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in ten plays—capping off the drive with Wilton Speight finding Jake Butt for a receiving touchdown. The Wolverines scored early and often in the first half, wasting no on its second possession either, as they scored another touchdown just 47 seconds later. On the third play of the drive, Wilton Speight dropped back and found Tyrone Wheatley for a 21-yard pitch and catch. Michigan added two more touchdowns (Khalid Hill 1-yard rush, and De’Veon Smith 4-yard rush), and also a Kenny Allen 23-yard field goal before the half.
Allen’s field goal came as time expired in the first half, and Michigan took a 31-0 lead into the locker room. Scoring was limited in the second half for the Wolverines, as they only managed one 27-yard field goal from Kenny Allen and another touchdown as Karan Higdon was able to slide past the defense on his way to a 45-yard score
The Michigan defense was in top form all game and forced multiple three-and-outs throughout the contest. The Wolverines held Illinois to 172 total yards—77 rushing yards and 95 passing yards. They also allowed an opponent to score for the first time in 8 quarters, as Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. was able to find Malik Turner behind the Michigan secondary for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Delano Hill actually had a play on the ball, but he mistimed his jump, leading to an easy catch and score for Turner.
Overall, this was another great TEAM win for the Wolverines (especially since it was Homecoming in Ann Arbor), but a few individuals shined above the rest on Saturday. Let’s see who are “Harbaugh’s Heroes” this week.
Wilton Speight, Quarterback, Sophomore
Speight has been relatively quiet the past few weeks, as Michigan hasn’t needed to throw the ball a ton. In the game against Wisconsin a few weeks back, a lot of people criticized Speight’s play and lack of accuracy. Speight finished that game 20-32 with 219 yards and a touchdown, and threw only his second interception on the season. I believe a lot of the uneasiness coming from the Wolverine faithful, was carried over from the Colorado game, where Speight took a big hit and never really seemed in rhythm.
This week was a different story. Wilton Speight seemed to shine from the opening kickoff. Speight was 16-23 with 253 yards and 2 touchdowns. He seemed in sync with his receivers all afternoon, as Amara Darboh racked up 99 receiving yards, Jehu Chesson had 44 yards and Jake Butt added 40 yards and a score. Head coach Jim Harbaugh had high praise for Speight after the game, claiming that “this was Wilton’s best game yet”. I would have to agree with coach, as we saw Speight step up and make some big time throws. I love what I have seen from this kid so far this year, and going forward, Wilton will have continue this type of play if Michigan wants to win a Big Ten Championship.
Tyrone Wheatley, Tight End, Sophomore
Listen, if you look at the stat sheet, or even if you watched the game, you probably think I’m crazy for this one. I totally understand, but I have a good reason.
I have been waiting for this kid to see some serious action since last season. This offseason I hyped him up to just about everyone I know. I figured Michigan would use multiple two tight end sets, and feature both Jake Butt and Tyrone Wheatley. Even if that didn’t happen, I assumed he would start at fullback for the Wolverines. One of the main reasons I have been so high on Wheatley, is because of his pedigree. He is obviously the son of former Wolverine standout running back Tyrone Wheatley. The second reason I have been so high on him, is his size. Wheatley stands 6’6”, and weighs in at 276lbs. I figured with that size, and the pure athleticism he showed in high school, Wheatley would find himself contributing immediately for the Wolverines.
Unfortunately, none of that has come true thus far in his collegiate career. However, Wheatley did find himself on the receiving end of a 21-yard Wilton Speight touchdown Saturday afternoon. He added one more catch for 6 yards later in the contest, and it was encouraging to see him contribute in a Michigan victory!
Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator
Michigan has the best defense in the country. I don’t care what anyone says, I would put my money on the Wolverines every single time. I’ll be honest, I was a little worried about how guys would respond to an entirely new defense this season. I obviously knew Michigan had athletes on defense, but I was anxious to see how Brown would use those athletes. So far, so good. It’s such a great feeling to have so much confidence in your team’s defense. Even when they struggled against Colorado, you knew they were going to make the right adjustments, and eventually return to dominance. Don Brown is a defensive genius, and we have just seen the tip of the ice burg. Look for the Wolverines to build on their defensive dominance, as they travel to East Lansing next Saturday.
The Wolverines face off with the Michigan State Spartans next Saturday, and I can’t wait for another great Big Ten matchup! Go Blue!