ANN ARBOR - Fresh from a record-setting 31-point fourth quarter against Minnesota, Michigan came out firing on all cylinders yesterday before 110,231 fans.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and four of their first six en route to a 56-14 blowout of Illinois.
“I think we did some things we needed to do in terms of improvement, and we came out of this game feeling good about an improved ability to stop the running game and run the football,'' Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
“I certainly think we made some progress, but we certainly have a ways to go with an outstanding football team in Purdue coming in here a week from today.
“So we needed to improve.''
First and foremost, the Wolverines' on-again, off-again rushing attack was definitely on. Chris Perry gained 140 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns, Jerome Jackson added 54 on eight carries, and Tim Bracken ran eight times for another 52 as part of 275 net yards.
“We blocked well. I like running at home,'' said Perry, explaining why he's gone over 100 yards every home game this season but not once on the road.
Then there's the defensive effort.
Michigan limited the Illini (1-7, 0-4) to 89 yards rushing and 163 through the air.
Those figures were 31 and 19, respectively, in the first half.
It certainly didn't help the visitors that they were without starting quarterback Jon Beutjer, out with a back injury.
But then, the Wolverine defense also felt it had something to prove.
“We wanted to come out and get things corrected and play hard,” said senior linebacker Carl Diggs, who had five solo tackles to lead a defense that ran several players into the game.
“We were challenged. Coach was very upset with our performance against Minnesota [which rushed for 424 yards].
“We wanted to show him that we could make the plays.”
The offense also made plays from the start.
The Wolverines marched 71 yards to a touchdown on eight plays with Perry going the final 25 after a terrific cut back to the left near the line of scrimmage.
Perry finished an 11-play, 61-yard march with a high jumper-like leap over the top from the 2 with 5:24 to play in the first quarter.
“We played well. We're going to take it and run with it,'' said quarterback John Navarre, who completed his first eight passes without missing a beat.
Navarre finished 18-of-27 for 203 yards.
“I think we had a great will,” Navarre said. “We were determined to run the football.
“We have great coaches and we have enough offensive weapons to counter what they put out of the field.
“We figured out what they were doing and we got a game plan together very quickly and were able to attack that.”
Then, after Michigan was twice forced to punt, Steve Breaston contributed his highlight play.
The sophomore speedster gathered in an Illinois punt on the right side at the 26, and with seemingly nowhere to go, took off to the left sideline, left the Illini front line grasping at air, found a wall of blockers in the middle of the field around the Illinois 40 and went untouched to the end zone for a 21-0 lead with 7:39 left in the half.
“It was scheduled to be a return left, but Steve saw things closed off, and that's the thing he can do,'' Carr said.
“He still had a lot of people working [on blocking].”
The rout was officially on when Navarre hit Andy Mignery with a nine-yard touchdown pass to cap an eight-play, 84-yard drive, and Perry went in from the 1 to finish a 10-play, 67-yard march just before halftime.
Backup back Bracken added a 27-yard TD run in the third quarter, and after Ernest Shazor intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 22 yards to the Illinois 23, backup QB Matt Gutierrez hit Tim Massaquoi with a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Jerome Jackson later scored from the 1.
Pierre Thomas scored twice for Illinois, on one and seven-yard runs.42.28188 -83.74848