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

to stop.

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

without them.

”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

were three-and-outs.

”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

on us.”

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

the turf.

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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