Free Press sportswriter Tony Garcia breaks down the Michigan football players who helped or hurt their stocks after Saturday’s 19-17 win over Illinois in Ann Arbor.
Jake Moody: Jake Moody, who is undoubtedly on that list, cemented football’s “legendary status” in Michigan, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh. That came naturally as he made a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left to give the Wolverines the win and keep the perfect season alive. But even before that he had to be perfect. His first kick, 46 yards into a wind that blew up to 30 miles per hour, was his hardest.
Harbaugh wanted to be at least three feet closer, but Moody said he could do it. He added two more field goals alongside the winner in the fourth quarter, one from 41 yards, the other from 33 yards, in situations where keeping Michigan within striking distance was imperative. His final mark was his 25th of the season, tying Remy Hamilton (1994) for most in the program and Big Ten history, and 65th of his career when he tied Garrett Rivas (2003-04) for most all passed the times of the Wolverines.
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Mazi Smith: Earlier this week and, frankly, all season, coaches and teammates praised the defender for doing more than his stats indicate. He’s a block demolition specialist, one of defense coordinator Jesse Minter’s favorite keys to a successful centre-back. The team failed to generate a pass rush on Saturday and struggled for several quarters to slow the nation’s leading rusher Chase Brown. Smith increased with a team-high five tackles on 29 rushing attempts while on the field – only two other players (Mason Graham and Kris Jenkins) had more than one. Smith was the consistent force to limit Illinois to 17 points.
Ronnie Bell: Nobody had a good day in the passing game for Michigan. Quarterback JJ McCarthy and wide receiver seemed to be on different sides several times, and while that was the case with Ronnie Bell, two of the better passing plays came his way as well. McCarthy turned a pass on a flat route to Bell on the second play of the game, who took it 15 yards over the right touchline. After catching a six-yard pass two drives later, he was on the receiver end of the best passing play of the day — a 22-yard completion McCarthy fitted into open space along the touchline against what appeared to be a cover-2 . Bell went up and grabbed it with a fuse coming at him at full speed.
He finished with three catches for 43 yards on seven goals. But while he didn’t have reception in the second half, he returned a punt 40 yards early in the fourth quarter — his first game with special teams since tearing his ACL on a punt return in the 2021 opener — to give the Wolverines needed field position, resulting in three points.
Andre Anthony: It seems like almost every week there is a different recipient in the three down portion of this exercise. This week it’s East Lansing native Andrel Anthony. It’s well-documented that the Wolverines struggled to connect with deep ball in the Big Ten game, and Saturday was no different. The team completed 2 of 10 passes that went 10+ yards down the field, but Anthony had a shot at perhaps the most important passing game of the season.
Michigan had the ball in fourth and seventh place at the Illinois 37, trailing 17-10. McCarthy threw one of the two best balls of the day and put enough air on the deep pass for Anthony to run under. The ball bounced off his hands and fell to the ground as the defenders came together, resulting in a tied touchdown and resulting in a 2:41 turnover on downs to play in the third game. Anthony has not caught a pass for the second straight week and has had two catches for five yards in the past five games.
Braiden McGregor: Michigan’s no-star defense aims to be just that. No star on the team to change things up like Aidan Hutchinson did last year, but enough talent and speed across units to act as a dominant group. Well, apparently Mike Morris (long considered the best player in the group) was even more important than we thought.
Without the senior in the game after making changes to his lower body late in the Nebraska game, Michigan couldn’t generate a pass rush. Braiden McGregor started in his place and while the junior has been good at times this year, he wasn’t a factor against Illinois. He had no tackle or rush, and out of defensive players with at least 20 snaps, he finished second from the bottom (50.5), his second-worst performance of the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Roman Wilson: The speedster in the slot is said to create mismatches against linebackers and be smart enough to pry out a nickel or slot corner, but had a hook for nine yards. Granted, it was a big hit, fourth-ranked Illinois leading to Moody’s penultimate field goal, but it wasn’t enough production.
Sure, there was some bad luck when he caught a pass for 35 yards that was negated by a holding penalty, but there were also times when he fell short, like dropping a ball on the game’s third drive who hit him in the numbers. Michigan is desperate for a receiver to bolster and unlock that offense, but Wilson now has three straight games with a catch (19 yards total) and after scoring a touchdown in three of the first four weeks, he hasn’t netted since September .
This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Michigan Football Stock Watch: Pass Catchers down – again