Well, that certainly wasn't pretty. 17-10 against a formerly 2-7 Illinois team is not what you expect to see from a #1 team. But, I suppose, if you're going to have a bad week, it's better to do it now than two weeks from now.
Offensively, that was clearly the worst game this team has played. I always say that good things will happen if you get Antonio Pittman 20+ carries. Well, he got 32, and things did end up fine, but you couldn't give much credit to the rushing attack, as Pittman only got 58 yards. I don't really blame him, as he did the same thing he's done all season: hit the hole if it's there, and cut back if it isn't. The holes often weren't there, for which the offensive line should take a lot of blame, and the cutbacks were ineffective, for which the Illini defense should be given a lot of credit.
But at least Pittman held on to the ball. For the second straight week, and the fourth (maybe? I'm not sure. Someone help me out.) time this season, Chris Wells fumbled. Woody Hayes once said that "no back in history ever has been worth two fumbles a game." I think Jim Tressel has adapted that to "no backup in history has ever been worth one fumble a game." Once Beanie fumbled, he was done. It's certainly important to keep a guy's confidence up, but until he learns to protect the football, he's going to limit his playing time.
Troy Smith had a bad day, too. He started reasonably well, but things went steadily downhill. He threw an interception, which is rare and also bad, but he also had some bad throws and bad reads. It wasn't entirely his fault; the line played its worst game of the year. Illinois shut down the run and consistently got pressure on Smith. They certainly deserve credit for that, but the line deserves some blame as well, as does Troy, for holding onto the ball too long a couple times. The long and short of it is that he probably just opened the door to get Brady Quinn right back into the Heisman race.
I don't really have any complaints about the defense. They had a few lapses, but for the most part, they shut down Illinois. They forced a couple turnovers and held them to 233 yards of total offense, which would have been a lot better if the offense picked up 400 or so instead of just 224 yards. There isn't a lot to say about them; they continue to get better each game, which is all you can ask of them.
The special teams were up and down. The return game wasn't really a factor. Aaron Pettrey made a 50-yarder, which, like most of his kicks recently, looked like it would have been good from five or ten yards further out. A.J. Trapasso looked pretty good on some punts and pretty bad on some other ones, but that last punt of his was huge. So overall, no major complaints about the special teams.
Coaching was decent. This wasn't their best effort on the offensive end. They gave Michigan a few new things to look at, but seemed to play the entire second half in prevent mode. That normally wouldn't be a problem, because normally Pittman, Wells, and Wells (that sounds like a law firm. Pittman, Wells, and Wells, LLP) would have run all over the defense. However, that didn't happen. Illinois didn't get tired, didn't get pushed around, and our running game didn't work. At that point, Tressel probably should have opened things up a bit. Overall, though, it was a problem of execution more than coaching.
Overall, what should we take from this game? Well, that Illinois is better defensively than expected. A friend of mine from Penn State mentioned that this was a pretty good defense and that the game might be closer than expected. "Nonsense," I thought, "They're still Illinois, and our offense is really good." I probably should have looked at the stats. They came in 3rd in pass defense, 6th in rush defense, and 5th total. From watching this game, I think the Illini are even better than that. True, some of our offensive woes were our own doing, but no defense makes an offense that good look that bad without being at least decent. If they keep improving, the Illini could contend for a Big Ten title in a year or two.
Other than that, I'm not too worried about the outcome. It was a bad game, but they happen. The team got out with all title hopes intact, and they get a little motivation going into Northwestern. We all knew that complacency was the biggest threat until November 18th, and this game should pretty much eliminate that.