The Big House turned into The Big Washtub for Homecoming, a steady, cold rain sweeping over well-chilled alums. Illinois proved coldest of all, soaking up a 45-0 loss like an inoffensive sponge.
The Illini couldn't score with elusive quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the game. When he got knocked from the contest early in the second quarter, Illinois saw its chances swirling down the Michigan Stadium drains along with the excess rainwater.
"I really thought this was a complete game in a lot of ways," U-M coach Brady Hoke said. "This was probably the most complete we played, running the ball with the running backs, and Denard [Robinson] obviously had some great runs in there. Defensively, after the second or third series, we started playing Michigan defense."
In fact, Michigan demonstrated complete domination, against an Illinois crew that looked like it would have trouble scoring against the U-M alumni band. The Illini managed 134 total yards against Michigan's 527, and a mere 29 through the air.
The Illini recorded seven first downs, completed seven passes, and sank into ineffectiveness like a triathlon swimmer with concrete flippers.
"Give credit to Coach Hoke and his staff and the Wolverines -- they did a great job today," assured Illini coach Tim Beckman. "Our players are disappointed and hurting and our coaching staff is too -- and I'm sure Illini nation is, too."
Illini Nation's football team found itself outgained by one man, Denard Robinson, who rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns while connecting on 7 of 11 passes for 159 yards and two more TDs. He topped the 10,000-yard mark for his career in the game, a mark Beckman's crew would need about 10 seasons to reach at their present level of production.
Meanwhile, those not named Robinson accounted for more than 200 rushing yards, Thomas Rawls busting out for 90, Justice Hayes 66 and Fitzgerald Toussaint 62 in the runaway.
For the second straight week, Michigan showed off big-play, quick-strike ability early. Robinson fired laterally to Jeremy Gallon in the left flat on Michigan's opening possession, and Gallon left the Illini empty handed.
Picking up strong blocks from Roy Roundtree, Taylor Lewan and Ricky Barnum, Gallon fired out, slashed to his right and sprinted away, leaving a FieldTurf rooster tail on a 71-yard touchdown bolt.
Brendan Gibbons added an 18-yard field goal minutes later, but only after some major lineup subtractions. Barnum went down to a leg injury on the 65-yard drive leading to the score, and after gunning a 33-yard pass to a leaping Roy Roundtree, Robinson himself departed.
The senior quarterback kept for eight yards to the Illinois 1, but took a shot to the right hand that left in him obvious pain. He departed, backup Russell Bellomy entered, and two straight runs by Toussaint into the middle of the Illinois defense netted nothing but a headache.
Gibbons made it 10-0 with 54 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but the bigger news involved Michigan's offensive tsunami (No. 16) standing idle in the cold rain.
"Just a boo-boo," Hoke shrugged. "Any time any guy gets dinged up with boo-boos and stuff, you always worry about it."
The Illini made it an even quarterbacks swap moments later. The Wolverines blitzed Scheelhaase heavily, but came up with a swing and a miss. The Illinois QB raced out of the pocket for 23 yards, but U-M definitely connected at the end of the run.
Scheelhaase appeared knocked cold, and was helped off the field. Illinois' drive stalled, and placekicker Taylor Zalewski barely missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.
Robinson returned after missing one full possession, and a Michigan Stadium crowd of 110,922 collectively exhaled relief. The senior took no time at all to show everyone he was okay.
Robinson burst out on a 33-yard sprint, the key play in a 68-yard touchdown drive. He slid out of bounds at the end of the run, wiping out a Michigan alum cheerleader
and the Illini were soon to follow.
The senior speedster finished off the drive himself, dropping back to pass then sprinting in six yards for the touchdown to make it 17-0 Michigan with 4:41 left in the half.
Backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole finished off the half for the Illini, who didn't like the forecast - bracing drizzle and a zero percent chance of scoring. They managed just 121 first-half yards, Michigan's defense rising up to ensure a pointless effort.
"It's a great accomplishment," linebacker Desmond Morgan said of the eventual shutout. "When you can hold a team to zero points, especially a team that has converted as well as they have on third down, and they've been explosive and put points on the board, it's a great accomplishment."
Robinson looked quick enough to dodge the raindrops starting off the second half. On Michigan's first possession, he drove the Wolverines from their own 26 to the Illinois 49, then finished the drive himself in dynamic fashion.
The senior bolted through the line of scrimmage to the right, but appeared hemmed in. He made a brilliant jump cut to his left, bolted out to the western sideline behind running back Thomas Rawls, and left the Illini literally floundering in his wake.
Forty-nine yards later, Robinson had eclipsed 10,000 total yards in his career, U-M led 24-0, and it quickly got worse.
Middle linebacker Kenny Demens picked off O'Toole on the very next snap from scrimmage, and the Illini were living anything but the life of Reilly.
Michigan took over on the Illinois 27, and Robinson found himself living the high life - 6-4, to be exact. After a 15-yard screen pass to Toussaint, Robinson lofted an eight-yard floater to the back of the end zone.
Freshman tight end Devin Funchess soared over a hapless Illinois DB like a skyscraper over a two-story townhouse, snatching the TD pass easily to make it 31-0.
Illinois remained helpless on offense, O'Toole dodging a blitz by linebacker Jake Ryan, only to discover Ryan had slid down behind him, scrambled back and smacked him from behind to force a fumble. Freshman Mario Ojemudia pounced on it at the Illinois 6, and two plays later, Toussaint crashed over from two yards out, keeping the floodgates open at 38-0.
Rawls finished things up with a 63-yard touchdown bolt late in the game, and Michigan fans began immediately dreaming of retribution against Michigan State, one week away.
The Wolverines assured they'd wait one more night before looking ahead. It's safe to assume, though, they'd like to see another storm brewing.
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