- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan put together its second consecutive dominating performance Saturday, shutting out Illinois 45-0 and putting together what Michigan coach Brady Hoke called the most complete game of his team’s season.
Almost everything worked for the Wolverines. The offense had more passing (174) and rushing (353) yards than Illinois had total yards (134). The Wolverines’ defense held Illinois to 29 passing yards and was dominant for the majority of the game.
1. Michigan’s defense: The Wolverines haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown in four games. They haven’t let an opponent score more than 13 points over that span as well, culminating in Saturday’s 45-0 shutout of Illinois. It also intercepted a pass for the third consecutive game and has become the type of stingy unit defensive coordinator Greg Mattison aspires to have every year. Multiple Michigan defenders said Saturday that they felt this season’s defense was reaching the level of the one from last season, which was one of the more improved units in the country.
2. Jake Ryan: The redshirt sophomore linebacker is turning into Michigan’s best defender. He has shown elite instincts and the ability to move from the box to the sideline with ease. He is also good as a rusher and has the versatility to be able to play as a rush end in certain packages and then as a stand-up linebacker. Against Illinois, he had 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while also forcing a fumble on a strip-sack of Illinois quarterback Riley O’Toole. The play has become just another in a litany of big plays in the pass rush for the Ohio native.
3. Denard Robinson: Robinson put together another efficient game with two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and 287 all-purpose yards, boosting him to more than 10,000 yards in his career. He also passed the 40-40 barrier in career touchdowns and now has 49 passing touchdowns and 41 rushing touchdowns. His 49 passing touchdowns is fourth on Michigan’s career list, passing Rick Leach. Robinson likely will finish his career there as No. 3, Elvis Grbac, had 71.
1. Michigan’s potential health: While significant injuries didn’t happen Saturday against Illinois, other than Vincent Smith’s hamstring, the health of the Wolverines at key positions is starting to become a potential factor with opponents becoming more difficult. Robinson missed his first plays of the season due to injury. The offensive line, where depth is non-existent, could become a concern. Guard Ricky Barnum missed some time with an injury against Illinois but returned, plus midseason is when wear and tear starts to linger with linemen. The Wolverines are one offensive line injury away from having some major issues.
2. Creampuff no more: Michigan had a good warmup the first couple weeks of the Big Ten with a struggling Purdue team and Illinois, the worst team in the league. Wins will be harder starting Saturday against reeling Michigan State, one of the Wolverines' biggest rivals and a team desperately in need of a win to try and salvage its season. After that comes a trip to Nebraska, and November ends with games against Northwestern, Iowa and at Ohio State. All of those games will be difficult for one reason or another.
3. Penalties: Michigan had some issues in the first half with it, to the point Michigan coach Brady Hoke mentioned penalties in his press conference after the game. Michigan had five penalties for 45 yards, including a kick catch interference penalty where Josh Furman laid out an Illinois returner and two offsides calls on Desmond Morgan in the first quarter.