ANN ARBOR, Mich. – On a frigid day inside The Big House, Michigan Wolverines kicker Jake Moody had ice water in his veins as he made a 36-yard field goal for a 19-17 victory to stave off defeat while improving to 11-0 on the season for the first time since 2006.
The field goal tied the all-time school record with Remy Hamilton for most field goals made in a single season at 25.
Moody had an unbelievable day as he went 4-4 in field goals which gave him the career record in Wolverines’ history with 65 field goals passing Garrett Rivas, who had 64 from 2003-2006.
“Just put it through the uprights,” said Moody. “I got trust in all of my guys up front. I got great snappers and great holders who make it easy for me. Shout out to this guy (McCarthy) for getting me down there and getting me in position to make the kick.”
The Wolverines were down a plethora of players Saturday (Nov. 19), including Mike Morris, Donovan Edwards, Luke Schoonmaker, and Trevor Keegan. But thanks to Moody, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, they were able to find a way to gut out a tough victory against a formidable opponent.
“I trust every single guy on this team, all 143 of us,” said McCarthy. “It’s just honestly staying in the moment like I always preach. Next play mentality in the moment, and we got it done. I got to give it to this guy (Moody) as I knew he wasn’t going to miss once we got it down there.”
McCarthy had some remarkable drives in the fourth quarter, be it good or bad, as he kept his team’s dreams alive. The leading man finished the day 18 of 34 for 208 passing yards and zero touchdowns, but he used his legs in pivotal moments to move the chains and keep drives alive.
His connections with the receiving core still need some fine-tuning, as their chemistry seems to be lacking. Cornelius Johnson led the team in receptions with five for 38 yards, and tight end Colston Loveland led the team in receiving yards with 50 on three catches.
But it was Ronnie Bell in the fourth quarter who not only woke the team up but also revived the fans sitting in the big igloo with a 38-yard punt return which set up one of four made field goals by Moody.
With the victory, Michigan has won 11+ games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1902 and 1903, which is a whopping 120 years.
But it seemed like the Wolverines’ offense couldn’t get back on track after their opening drive touchdown by Heisman hopeful Blake Corum.
Corum was off to the races early and often against the Fighting Illini as he scored his 18th touchdown of the season during Michigan’s opening drive.
But the main concern on everyone’s mind is his health status ahead of The Game, as he suffered an injury to his lower extremities in the second quarter.
He walked to the locker room under his own power and eventually returned to the field to start the second half, where he amassed one carry. His stat line from the first half was 17 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown, so it was safe to say, barring the injury, that he was on his way to another monumental game.
The Wolverines improved to 42-1 when leading at home at halftime, but their infamous third-quarter defense gave up 14 points after only giving up six points all year. But with their backs against the wall, they buckled their chinstraps and held their water as they got countless stops in the fourth quarter and ultimately pitched a shutout.
“Unfortunately, today we fell a little bit short, but it does set a precedent in that locker room that we can literally play with anybody in the country, and hopefully we can take this and can grow to where we are right now to where we were a year ago is astronomical,” said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema. “But, It doesn’t take away the feeling of what we’re experiencing right now.”
Everyone asked what would happen if Michigan couldn’t run the ball and were forced to pass. With the injury to Corum, the fanbase tasted that experience; for some, the taste was broccoli.
Not having the ability to be explosive while also being unable to score in the red zone has been some of the hidden flaws of this year’s team, but when you’re dominant in other phases of the game and you’re winning, those seem like bonuses.
The Wolverines could get most of their injured players back ahead of the battle of the undefeated down in Columbus When they take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for a chance to compete not only in the Big Ten Championship but to hold their spot in the College Football Playoff.
Although their record indicates it, no team is perfect, but if the Wolverines want to remain undefeated, they might have to make the proper adjustments ahead of the matchup, which McCarthy feels they’ll be ready for.
“We’re better than last year, and we’re hungry, and we want it more than anything,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to give it everything that we’ve got.”
The last time the Wolverines won in Columbus was in 2000. With the status of Corum up in the air, what chances do you give Michigan to end the regular season unblemished in the loss column?