ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Expect Michigan to get an upward bump in the national polls this week following its 41-8 win against Illinois combined with Ohio State’s 24-21 loss Saturday at Penn State.
The No. 3 Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) raced to another double-digit win and now prepare for their in-state rivalry with Michigan State (2-5, 0-4), a noon (ET) kickoff Saturday in East Lansing.
“The execution was outstanding on offense, defense and special teams,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We’re just executing well. Those first three series were great. I think that (quarterback) Wilton Speight had one of his best games yet. It was windy out there, and he was making good intermediate throws. I think that was his best performance yet.”
But before this week’s polls are released, the grades are as follows — and, to be clear, Landof10.com doesn’t grade on the Jabrill Peppers curve.
Here are grades for Michigan following its win against Illinois, on a scale from one star to five:
Offense (4 stars)
The rush and the pass were the most balanced they’ve been since … well … ever this season. Michigan had 270 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries, and 291 yards and two touchdowns on 20 completions. Quarterback Wilton Speight finished 16-for-23 passing for 253 yards, his highest yardage output since Sept. 10, when he threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-14 win against Central Florida.
Michigan may have found a second option at tight end behind Jake Butt in Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., who capped off a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter that utilized 10 different formations (including a familiar one, below), by scoring his first collegiate touchdown.
Should we call this the… "Touchdown Formation"? ? pic.twitter.com/yIoOIRTUWE
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) October 22, 2016
Leading rusher Chris Evans left after a hit that knocked off his helmet and underwent concussion protocol testing. Karan Higdon led the way with 106 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
Defense (4 stars)
Michigan’s pass defense shined, allowing zero passing yards in the first half. Save for a hiccup by Delano Hill in the fourth quarter that resulted in Illinois’ only touchdown, the secondary played efficiently through the course of the game.
The guys in the secondary said they owed their success to the front seven, which they believed did the dirty work and made their job easier. Linebacker Ben Gedeon and defensive end Taco Charlton each had five tackles for Michigan, and Maurice Hurst Jr. sacked Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr.
Michigan allowed Illinois just 95 yards passing and got another quiet yet effective performance by cornerback Channing Stribling, who had two pass breakups. Michigan finished with six passes defended, including Dymonte Thomas’ interception late in the second quarter.
Special teams (3.5)
Kenny Allen went 2-for-2 on field goals, and is clearly winning the ongoing kicking competition. Jabrill Peppers had two kickoff returns — in addition to playing at three positions on offense and at linebacker — for 58 yards, but Michigan didn’t have any punt return yardage, despite the fact that Illinois punted seven times.
Coaching (4.5 stars)
Harbaugh’s new glasses didn’t create the only buzz Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines are again undefeated in October, and Michigan did it by continuing to find a team’s weakness and exploiting it. Michigan took advantage of Illinois’ spotty and inexperienced passing game, as third-string quarterback Jeff George Jr. made his first start for the Fighting Illini. Michigan utilized its depth, especially in the running game, where 14 players had carries against the Illini.
Overall (4 stars)
Michigan went aggressive early, showing flashiness with its 10-play, 10-formation opening drive that included the “train” formation, made popular earlier this month in Michigan’s 14-7 win against No. 10 Wisconsin. Michigan has rolled through its first seven games, winning all but one by a margin of at least 33 points.
Now, the Wolverines prepare for intrastate rival Michigan State, who, despite its five-game losing streak, could bring a different level of intensity to the annual matchup.