Here’s how Illini Inquirer graded the Illinois football position groups following a 19-17 loss at No. 3 Michigan.
Before we get into the position grades, I want to focus on a few plays I’ve seen fans discussing. First, the Illini’s penultimate drive. The Illini have the ball with 3:14 left and Michigan has three timeouts left. Basically, two or three first downs and the game is over. Many have said the Illini got conservative. Well, let’s take a look.
On the first play, Illinois runs 12 personnel and gives the ball to Chase Brown out of the pistol. Illinois runs against an eight-man box but has seven blockers. I don’t mind this because Illinois was winning a lot of these battles previously, and Illinois forces a Michigan timeout with a run. Illinois only gains two though, so it sets up a big second down.
This is the play call I would quibble with. Michigan is in man and Illinois has 13 personnel (three tight ends) and is running against basically a 10-man box with every defender within five yards of the line of scrimmage. This is a run all the way, but I wish there were some action for a tight end to slip out for a high-accuracy throw so DeVito could pull this. Brown is bottled for one yard forcing a 3rd-and-7, but Illinois does force another timeout.
But Lunney actually gets aggressive on the next down with a pass play with five wide receivers, and DeVito actually scrambles for close to a first down. But the Illini can’t protect DeVito and are called for obvious holding. It would’ve been interesting to see if Bielema would’ve gone for it on 4th and 1 and tried to end the game despite the risk of giving Michigan the ball in field goal range if they didn’t convert it.
Lunney actually was aggressive early in the fourth quarter, calling a deep ball up 7 when Illinois was running well. DeVito overthrew Hightower who had some separation. I didn’t mind the call then. So we could quibble about some play calls — and I didn’t like the second down call — but the Illini offense didn’t execute in the fourth quarter, including a few mental errors and penalties.
Is this down? His knee is on the ground when he first touches the ball. Is he possessing it? It wasn’t called on the field, so they needed indisputable evidence. But Bret Bielema called a timeout to try and plead his case. Instead of a 4th-and-13 from the Illinois 45, McCarthy completed a first-down pass which set up another Jake Moody field goal.
Is this pass interference? It’s hard to know after the last few weeks, but I think defensive backs should be able to fight for the ball in the air, and Michigan had a defensive back more noticeably pull on Brian Hightower and wasn’t called for a pass interference during the same game.
This is blatantly an illegal pick play. A player cannot intentionally make contact with an opponent to block an opponent for a pass. While some rub routes work in the gray area, this is blatant. Bielema was righteous to be as pissed as he was. His team played well enough to beat the No. 3 team in the country, and this was a terrible break for them in what was so close to being a monumental upset and meaningful game in the Big Ten West race.