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Video shot by: Josh Hilkemann
Despite their robust start to the 2011 season, which included wins in their first six games, the Wolverines were still dealing with a fairly significant element of doubters. There were those who were not convinced that Michigan had made a substantial turnaround, but instead had benefited from the grace of good scheduling.
Maybe the most-recent road win against Illinois will bring about a few more converts, and push the Michigan bandwagon to standing-room-only status.
In that 31-14 victory over the Illini, there was the distinct flavor of traditional Michigan football -- relentless rushing attack, dominant defense and controlling life in the trenches.
The result was a Big Ten road win that puts the Wolverines at 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Legends Division with two games remaining in the season. Those two will be difficult ones -- Nebraska and Ohio State -- but both will be played in Michigan Stadium.
First-year Michigan coach Brady Hoke tried to rein in the euphoria a bit and keep his team grounded since a division title, a trip to the conference championship game, and the Wolverines' bowl future are still very much in play.
"Believe me, there are times in there where we need to play Michigan football, which means we need to play better," Hoke said in the moments after the win at Illinois. "We left a lot of points on the field in the first half. We missed a block here, we miss an assignment or whatever it may be ... next weekend, we need to be much better than we were today."
That forward-focused approach, and the constant banging on the drum for improvement, is likely what has gotten Michigan to this point. With two games remaining, the Wolverines do not control their destiny in the Legends Division race, but they do have the ability to post the best season of Michigan football since the 2006 Wolverines went 11-2
--The Wolverines outgained the Illini 172-13 in the first quarter alone, and posted a 249-30 advantage for the first half. The final totals showed Michigan with 362 yards and Illinois with 214.
--Michigan converted its opening drive into points for the sixth time in its past seven games.
--The Michigan defense held Illinois to just 37 rushing yards, and recorded four sacks against the Illini.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Devin Gardner -- With starting QB Denard Robinson injured and struggling, the backup was called on and Gardner threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to help put the game away. "He made plays, and that's why it's so important to have that second guy who can come in," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said about Gardner. "He kept his composure, which was part of it, he was poised, and he did a nice job stepping up on the touchdown pass."
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Wolverines failed to get any points on three trips to the red zone in the second quarter, with Illinois stuffing a fourth-and-one, a missed field goal, and a fumble by QB Denard Robinson. Michigan was able to survive those blunders, but in the coming weeks against Nebraska and Ohio State, the Wolverines might not be so fortunate.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Up front is where we executed well. They did their job and opened up holes, and we were able to explode through them." -- Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for 192 yards in the win at Illinois, talking about his offensive line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Junior Hemingway had three receptions for 43 yards against Illinois and now has 1,496 career receiving yards. That puts Hemingway 19th all-time at Michigan.
--RB Fitzgerald Toussaint had career highs in carries (27) and rushing yards (192) as he put together a dominant performance against Illinois. Fitzgerald broke the 100-yard barrier in the first quarter, finishing the period with 121 yards on nine carries.
--QB Denard Robinson gave up the ball three times in the first half at Illinois, with a pair of fumbles and an interception. Robinson has thrown 13 interceptions this season.
--QB Denard Robinson injured his wrist in the first half of the Illinois game and was replaced by QB Devin Gardner. Robinson's injury is not expected to keep him out of this week's game against Nebraska.
--WR Kelvin Grady made his first start of the season in the Illinois game.
--WR Martavious Odoms made his first start of the season at Illinois and had two catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
--FB John McColgan, an important special teams player for the Wolverines, recovered a fumbled punt at the Illinois 32 yard line and the turnover led to a Michigan field goal.