No. 3 Michigan avoids major upset, gets past Illinois with field goal in final seconds

Michigan somehow found a way to get it done and remain undefeated.

The third-ranked Wolverines were in a fight for their College Football Playoff lives on Saturday at home vs. Illinois. And it came all the way down to the final seconds.

After falling behind 17-10 late in the third quarter, Michigan clawed back with star running back Blake Corum on the sideline and eked out a heart-stopping 19-17 victory to set up a monster showdown with No. 2 Ohio State next weekend in Columbus.

Jake Moody’s four second-half field goals were the difference.

Moody made kicks from 46, 41, 33 and 35 yards, the final three of which came in the fourth quarter. Moody calmly connected from 35 to win the game with just nine seconds left in regulation to avoid what would have been a mammoth upset for the Fighting Illini.

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Michigan led well into the third quarter, but the offense went into a shell without Corum. Corum, a Heisman Trophy contender, notched his eighth consecutive 100-yard rushing game with his first-half performance alone. But Corum went down with an apparent knee injury late in the first half, fumbling deep in Illinois territory in the process.

Michigan took a 7-3 lead into halftime and Corum briefly returned for Michigan’s first offensive series of the third quarter, but never saw another snap afterward.

On that third quarter drive, Michigan added a field goal to make it 10-3 but there was not much offensive rhythm in the process. And not only was Corum out, No. 2 back Donovan Edwards was also sidelined, as were several other key contributors on the Michigan offense. At that point, it became pretty clear that Michigan's offense was in for a major fight against a strong Illinois defense.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws against Illinois in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws against Illinois in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

And on the other sideline was another star running back — Illinois’ Chase Brown. Brown entered the weekend as the nation’s leading rusher, and he finally got loose. He scored an 8-yard touchdown midway through the third to tie the score at 10-10. And then after Michigan turned it over on downs, Brown broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown, giving Illinois a 17-10 lead with 1:36 remaining in the third.

Things looked dire for the Wolverines, but they were able to chip away. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan's first-year starting quarterback, missed some open receivers, but he did enough to get Moody in position to chip away at the Illinois lead — and eventually win the game.

McCarthy was just 18-of-34 for 208 yards while C.J. Stokes and Isaiah Gash combined for just 22 yards on 12 carries in the second half. Michigan's three fourth-quarter field goal drives spanned 15, 54 and 35 yards.

It wasn't pretty, but it was enough.

With the win, Michigan is now 11-0 on the season with a trip to No. 2 Ohio State coming next weekend. And if the Buckeyes take care of business on the road against Maryland, they will also be 11-0. The Big Ten East title will be on the line, and there's a chance the loser could be knocked from College Football Playoff contention.