Crazy OT loss haunts Illini with Michigan in town
Michigan spent the past week talking about last Saturday’s upset
loss at Iowa, a bad surprise they vowed not to let hurt them this
week at Illinois.
But for the Illini (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) the loss that dominated
talk this week in Champaign happened a year ago, a 67-65
triple-overtime heart-breaker in Ann Arbor that the Illini can’t
quite let go of.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase remembers getting knocked to the
ground as his pass attempt for a two-point conversion failed. The
roar of 111,000 fans confirmed for him that the game was over.
”You remember it and you do what you can to not feel that way
again, that’s for sure,” the sophomore said. ”It’ll be fun to
look back on in 20 years, but not so much a year later.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, a 23-year coaching veteran,
puts the loss to the Wolverines among his two worst days in the
game, alongside a 66-14 loss to Texas Tech when he was an assistant
two years ago at Kansas State.
”Mind boggling,” he calls the games, remembering score after
score after score that his usually stubborn defenses were powerless
One of the architects of Koenning’s maize-and-blue nightmare
will be running the offense for No. 22 Michigan (7-2, 3-2) Saturday
at Memorial Stadium.
Denard Robinson threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns and ran
for another 71 on a day when the teams combined for more than 1,200
yards. This season, he’s averaging 97.8 rushing yards – fifth in
the Big Ten – and is passing for 179.7 a game.
Koenning spent the past week scheming to find a way to stop him,
as well as running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
The coordinator has prepared the Illini defense for an offense
that, in some ways, he says, has few tendencies. The information
he’s gathered on Michigan, Koenning said, doesn’t point to any one,
two or three things the Wolverines like to do.
”Page after page after page of they run this one time; it’s
just a maze of one time this, one time this, one time that.”
And he talks, and has for weeks, like a man genuinely worried
that somehow this Saturday could turn into a replay of the one last
But on Saturday, Illinois will see a very different Michigan
team than the one they fell just short against in 2010.
First-year head coach Brady Hoke this week sounded like a coach
whose offense isn’t capable of the kind of outburst that won last
year’s game over Illinois. He answered questions about Robinson’s
limitations this season as the offense has changed, and about a
lack of big Wolverine plays and whether or not the team can win
”I think sometimes, you can. It depends on what kind of game
you’ve got going on,” he said.
In Hoke’s offensive system, Robinson’s big-game run threat has
been limited. Nine games in, the quarterback’s 880 yards are nice,
but less than half of the 1,702 he had in 2010.
”I think it’s a combination of what people are giving us and
allowing us to do,” Hoke said. ”But he’s still a major
While the offense isn’t likely to score 67 points, this
Wolverines defense doesn’t look as if it has a 65-point day in it,
Michigan this season is allowing about 15 points a game, less
than half of last season’s 35. And it’ll be facing an Illini
offense that hasn’t scored in the first half in three games – all
losses that have dragged Illinois down from unbeaten and nationally
ranked to also-ran within their own conference.
The defense, defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said, has made big
stops a priority this season and it’s paid off.
The 24-16 loss to Iowa offers a good example.
Down 17-6 at halftime, Michigan had little room for error in the
second half. The defense responded, giving up one second-half
touchdown and quickly shutting down the Hawkeyes on their four
other possessions. None of them lasted more than five plays and two
”I think our mentality is just different than what it has been
in years past,” Van Bergen said. ”Coaches kind of allow us as
defensive linemen, me and Mike (Martin), to pin our ears back and
”When we get to third and short, fourth and one,” he added,
”we feel very confident that no team is going to run for that yard
In last season’s win over Illinois, the Wolverines didn’t have
many of those kinds of stops, but they did have the one that
mattered most, at the goal line on the last play of overtime.
After a touchdown run pulled Illinois within two points,
Scheelhaase dropped to throw on the conversion attempt but, under
heavy pressure, wound up flinging a desperation pass that fell to
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino says now he knew Michigan
would come with an all-out blitz, and called a play with that in
mind and saw a receiver pop open in the back of the end zone. But
Scheelhaase never had time to find him.
The Illini didn’t have a better day offensively in 2010, but it
didn’t count for a thing.
”That two-point play probably haunts me more than anything,”
Petrino said. ”It feels like crap if you lost – it doesn’t matter
how many points you score.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this
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