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Defense lifts No. 24 Michigan to win over Illinois

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A year ago, when Michigan defeated Illinois in football it was all about offense as the Wolverines won, 67-65, in triple-overtime in one of the greatest scoring shows in college football history.

On Saturday, in the rematch in Champaign, Ill., it was all about defense.

Michigan played its best defensive game of the season as the 24th-ranked Wolverines scored a 31-14 victory to improve to 8-2 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play.

How good was Michigan on defense? The Wolverines allowed just one first down in the first half and didn’t allow the Illini to get past midfield until late in the third quarter. Michigan held Illinois to just 37 yards rushing and 5-of-17 on third-down conversions (and was 0-for-8 at one point).

Michigan had four sacks, including 2.5 by Ryan Van Bergen and a key interception by J.T. Floyd, who had an outstanding day.

“J.T. played good football for us,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “I like how he’s competing for us.”

Michigan won despite committing three turnovers. And the Wolverines lost quarterback Denard Robinson, who suffered a wrist injury early in the third period. Hoke acknowledged that the injury was not serious and Robinson could have returned but the coach said he liked the play of backup Devin Gardner.

Robinson scored two running touchdowns and Gardner threw for a touchdown, a 27-yarder to Martavious Odoms.

But the biggest star on offense for Michigan was running back Fitzgerald Touissant, who ran for 192 yards on 27 carries and scored on a 27-yard touchdown run. Touissant exploded for a 65-yard run on the first series of the game that got Michigan going and the Wolverines never looked back.

Illinois, after starting the season 6-0, has lost four straight and is 2-4 in league play.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Illinois coach Ron Zook.

It was a big road win for Michigan, which has struggled away from the Big House. Michigan ends the road season at 2-2.

Michigan struggled in the red zone and had Hoke concerned.

“For one reason or another we couldn’t put the ball in the end zone like we wanted, we missed a block here, we miss an assignment or whatever it may be and Illinois executed. We need to be much better next weekend,” the coach said.

Michigan had 223 yards rushing to just 37 for Illinois and outgained the Illini, 362 to 214.

Michigan returns home to take on Nebraska next Saturday at noon at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines, who have won eight games for the first time in a season since 2007, will end the season at home against Ohio State.

For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn

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