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Posted on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 6:37 p.m.

Like Michigan, Illinois and Ron Zook working on fixing slow starts

By Nick Baumgardner


For six weeks, Illinois' season was all big plays, stiff defense and happy endings. Now they've lost three straight heading into a game against Michigan on Saturday.

Associated Press file photo

The Michigan football team has struggled coming out of the gate of late, falling behind early in its last two games.

Its opponent for Saturday, Illinois, has been going through the same situation. The Illini have not scored a first-half point since beating Indiana on Oct. 8.

Much like Michigan coach Brady Hoke, Illinois coach Ron Zook has few answers for the issue.

"We have the first 12 plays that are pretty much scripted and they know what they're going to do and we've probably had more mistakes in those plays than we did once we got going," Zook said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "I wish I had an answer."

Losers of their last three, the Illini spent last week going over their early-game issues, trying to break down what's gone wrong.

Against Ohio State on Oct. 15, Illinois fell behind 17-0 before finally scoring a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. In a loss to Purdue on Oct. 22, Zook and company went down 21-0 before putting up 14 points in the game's final eight minutes. And two weeks ago against Penn State, Illinois did in fact score first, but not until the 3:32 mark of the third quarter.

"We went back and broke all those things down and wanted to make sure our guys come out of the gates loose and ready to play," he said. "We wanted to take the pressure off them and just let them go."

Michigan has had similar woes this season, falling into holes early against Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa.

The difference between Michigan and Illinois, though, has been the Wolverines' ability to rebound.

Michigan dug out of a 14-0 hole to beat the Fighting Irish, trailed by 10 at the break before knocking off Northwestern and allowed Purdue to score on the game's first drive before winning in a blowout.

The same can be said for the WMU (seven-point hole) and EMU (three-point hole) games. Michigan trailed early before ultimately recovering to win.

The only time Michigan hasn't erased an early deficit was last week, when it fell behind 17-6 early against Iowa in a 24-16 loss.

"This game's not going to be over until it's over," Zook said. "They had a chance (at Iowa) to win on the last play of the game. Every point you can get in this game, you're going to need to get it as soon as possible.

"But, again, it's not going to be over until it's over."

Zook said his lesson on playing a full 60 minutes shouldn't have to be harped on much this week, especially given last season's 67-65 triple overtime loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Illini led 45-38 with 11:35 to play in the fourth, but ultimately couldn't hang on, losing one of the more talked-about games in college football a season ago.

"It's not going to be over until it's over," Zook said. "(Michigan) is a football team that's come back several times, from the Notre Dame game on. They're not going to quit.

"And our team can't quit."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.


Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

Here's the only facts we need to know. 1.Michigan needs msu to lose two games. ............At Iowa, and At Northwestern? Possible, msu is not that good. 2.Michigan needs Iowa to lose at least one game. ...At Nebraska? Definitely possible, given their road record. and, 3.Michigan needs to win out. * * So with Kenny Demens, now reported injured, but playing, and Jordon Kovachs, similarly playing injured. How many others are knicked up. Face it, we just aren't going to get that information. Is Woolfolk really 100%, hmmm, I doubt it. On offense, we know that Koger, Lewan, and Fitz Toussaint, are all hobbled to some extent. OK, boys and girls, its' novemeber , in the big ten, and we have to make due, with what we have. None of the teams remaining on our schedule are overwhelming. ....Just ask Nebraska about Northwestern. I was not pleased with either the offense or the defense on saturday, at Iowa City. But I also believe, that we will see progress made by Denard, and Hopkins, (blocking), at Champaign. Interestingly enough, I think it will be the defense and not the offense that must IMPOROVE over the next three weeks. We simply cannot win, if the defense yields more than 21 points in ANY of these games. Think about it, Hoke came in here, in January, essentially proclaiming that defense wins championships. And I agree with him. But I'll add another one, teams win titles, NOT individuals....So now it's 'show time in Ann Arbor'. I still think there is a shot at title #43, this year. Sure, it'll be tough, and we'll need help, but I am definitley, NOT drinking, the Spartan or Hawkeye cool-aid. And, as they used to say around here in the 60's, and 70's, and 80's, ...Let's Go Blue!


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 7:25 p.m.

Good analysis and I know you did not overstate point number 3. A win at IL will only be the first step. It is winnable. The injuries concern me. (Let's) GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

Number 3 isn't gonna happen, we'll be lucky to win another game if they don't let Denard run the ball.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

These two teams match up as well as they did a year ago. That doesn't bode well, considering this is a road game for the Maize and Blue. Our defense is much better than a year ago but we are seeing more key players dinged up. Overall, it will be important to stop IL early in the game. This won't be a 45-45 regulation time shoot out as it was last year but it could be in the 30s. The Michigan defense is capable of doing better but comparing this IL offense to the IA offense, IL is better. They have been terrible as of late. They have encountered good defenses except Pudue but that was in West Lafayette. IL is coming off a bye week but I am not sure what kind of offense we will see from Michigan. It should be difficult for IL to really prep for this, since we even do not know what our offense is really like. I would bet Denard will run more if his recievers are not open. Yes, he risks injury but we will have to take our chances. This will be an exciting game and any kind of win, meaning by a point or two will be as good as double digits to me. GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 8:19 a.m.

Michigan's slow start is derived from trying to make Denard into Tom Brady. Then when Michigan gets behind, In the last quarter ,they open things up and sometimes he catches up, sometimes he doesn't (Iowa). I think Michigan should just play Gardner if they want to develop the new offense. they can always bring Denard and the spread "Nascar" offense in during the 4th quarter to try and catch up if it doesn't work. Watching Denard stand back in the pocket for long periods of time, passing up running lane after running lane and then throwing the ball out of bounds or into coverage is almost too painful to watch. I fear Michigan's tremendous improvement of Defense this year will all be for naught; we will likely finish with another 7 wins. That would be a remarkable achievement when one considers that virtually the entire offense is coming back from last year.

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 9:52 p.m.

Gardener is horrible. He's always thinking run first and trying to do way to much with his legs and his size. he needs to eat a little humble pie before he's ready to be QB. to be honest i dont know if he'll ever start with morris coming in 2013

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

yeah Illinois is for real. But i know what I am going to see Saturday. an awkward mix of an effective power game and an attempt at the deuces and trips gun. i mean, I don't blame anyone. its an attempt at balance (which is great) when there really is none. maybe ill be surprised and the offense will click in all formations. I wish we stayed under center the whole game. I've said it before and ill say it again, Hopkins is a beast at fullback. I hope he buys into the position 100%. I would also like to see Rawls get REAL carries at TB if Fitz isn't full go. If Michigan can get this win it would prove a lot. a solid 8th win would be ideal for heading into Nebraska. I'm excited for this game, but I fear its going to be same song different verse. prove me wrong, please :)


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 12:32 a.m.

This team scares me quite a bit. Zook probably more than any coach in the B10 has given Michigan fits over the last 3-4 years. Each year, try as they might, the defense did not really stop the Illini. I do credit the defense for last year, even though they gave up 65 points, they made some key stops, but Juice Williams lit us up 2 years in a row. (Has any team scored as many points against M defense in that time?) Sometimes when playing at home, teams get hot and I am quite worried about that. Their QB has shown he can hit some passes to that stud receiver. M better be ready to play.