“There will be a team that will come from nowhere and will have an outstanding year. We plan on that being us.” These were the words of Coach Lovie Smith at Big Ten Media Days this past July. Now, sitting at 2-4 including an ugly home loss to Eastern Michigan, one might wonder when that “outstanding year” will start.
After Michigan’s first touchdown early in the first quarter, I overheard one fan utter, “This is going to be a long day.” The massacre looked to be imminent as the Wolverines poured on three more scores stretching the lead to 28-0. Illini fans assumed the usual sulking position. Many left.
A late score for Illinois just before half gave patrons a reason to shake their orange pom pons, but victory still felt distant.
On a weekend when defensive legend, Dick Butkus, was in attendance and being honored with a statue outside the new football complex, the defense struggled to honor that legacy. However, few could have predicted the offensive frenzy that arose from the Illini in the third quarter. Big plays and tough redzone finishes had the band playing Oskee Wow Wow and the cheerleaders in push up mode. Illinois cut the lead to 28-25.
Hope surged on this chilly, but sunsplashed day. Questions began to rise about Michigan’s capabilities. Could this be the beginning of the “outstanding year” that Lovie Smith was forecasting?
No. A fourth quarter of Illini fumbles followed by short fields for Michigan to drive ended in a 42-25 Wolverine victory.
Managing through wins is not enough for Michigan right now. Dominance is the speed they covet. On the other sideline, Illinois showed flickers of Smith’s media day prognostication, but avoiding the Big Ten basement might be the new adjusted goal.