Five takeaways: Michigan football wins close vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football had two jobs above all else on Saturday, the penultimate week of the regular college football season: win and stay healthy.

Well, about that.

The Wolverines jumped out to an early start against Illinois, appearing to look like they would pour on the best defense they had faced all season. The Illini entered the game with the nation’s sixth-best run defense, and star running back Blake Corum raced out for a big gain and explosive play on the first play from scrimmage. The maize and blue scored on the possession, but that was the only one in the first half.

The worst part of all was that Corum took an apparent helmet to the knee as the Wolverines were driving, coughing up the ball while heading to the locker room. Not encouraging news for the star player given that Ohio State is up next.

In the second half, Corum came back for a few plays, but the Wolverines were extremely decimated on the offensive side of the ball. The defense had some uncharacteristic second-half lapses which led to Illinois taking the lead and holding it the entire fourth quarter until there were nine seconds left.

Michigan prevailed, 19-17. Here are our five takeaways from the game.

Is Blake Corum OK?

Photo: Isaiah Hole

More so than even a loss, losing Corum was the worst-possible scenario for Michigan. Though he did get up under his own power and walk off to the locker room without any noticeable physical impediment, he did not return to the game, causing significant concern with Ohio State up next. This is especially true given that Corum is essentially the entirety of the Wolverine offense.

Thankfully for Michigan, he did return in the second half, which indicates that his injury is not serious. But, he only played a handful of plays, so it’s unclear whether he was being held out or if he aggravated said injury. Still, given that chances for Michigan to beat the Buckeyes and beyond is highly dependent on Corum, it needs him to be at as close to full-strength as possible.

The defense didn't have the greatest second half

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Michigan did an excellent job containing Chase Brown in the first half, and with the Wolverines usually being a second-half team, the thought was they would hold him in the second.

That’s not how it went.

Brown ended up with 140 yards and two touchdowns on the day, and while giving up 14 unanswered points was unnerving, the defense did clamp down when it really mattered.

Tommy DeVito was efficient, completing 70% of his passes, but just for 178 yards. Michigan will have a much tougher task this next week with Ohio State and its passing attack next week.

Was Michigan playing possum? Or are there serious questions?

Photo: Isaiah Hole

There were moments where the offense looked efficient and creative. The opening drive was masterful, as were parts of the two comeback drives. However, more often than not, the offense was maddening.

The blocking wasn’t nearly as good as it’s been up front, which certainly could be a credit to Illinois. Down to the three running backs at the end of the playable depth chart, the run game didn’t work. But QB J.J. McCarthy made plays that were needed, throwing into a tough wind, helping engineer big plays at the right time.

The question is: were the Wolverines struggling because Illinois is that good on defense, or were they holding things back for Ohio State? That seems awfully inconclusive for now.

Michigan needs to get healthy

Photo: Isaiah Hole

It’s pretty clear that the Wolverines cannot contend with the Buckeyes if they don’t get their star players back. Without Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards, Trevor Keegan and Luke Schoonmaker, it was a big struggle to move the ball. The wide receivers struggled mightily, and Michigan couldn’t go to the well with the cadre of backup running backs with any success.

The good news is Michigan survived against a good team, even though the roster was decimated this week. 11-0 is all that matters right now, and 1-0 next week is the next goal.

Jake Moody was a lifesaver

Photo: Isaiah Hole

If it weren’t for Jake Moody making big plays down the stretch, Michigan certainly would have gone back to the locker room with its first loss of the season. But Moody, who’s ultra-reliable, drained two extremely stressing field goals, including the game-winner.

Michigan cannot rely so heavily on him next week, but to keep the maize and blue undefeated, Moody was clearly the game’s MVP.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire