Magnificent Comeback Upsets No. 9 Michigan
Oct. 23, 1999
By HARRY ATKINS
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Defense, long a staple at Michigan, has seemingly cost the Wolverines any chance for a national title this season.
Behind the passing of Kurt Kittner and the running of Rocky Harvey, Illinois reeled off four straight second-half touchdowns for a 35-29 upset of the No. 9 Wolverines on Saturday.
"I have no idea how this team will rebound," coach Lloyd Carr said after the Wolverines' second straight loss.
The Wolverines, favored by 24 1/2 points, built a 27-7 lead midway through the third quarter but the Fighting Illini (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) reeled off four unanswered touchdowns.
"We certainly build our program around a solid defense that plays collectively and hustling," Carr said. "I didn't see much of that in the second half. They just ran through us.
"We're certainly anything but a good defensive team."
Kittner threw four touchdown passes - one to Harvey - and Harvey ran 54 yards for an insurance touchdown for the Illini, who had been forced to practice on Sunday after a lackluster loss to Minnesota a week earlier.
"This is why I came to the Big Ten," said Kittner, a sophomore who had never been in Michigan Stadium before. "It's the best conference. To play teams each week like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, we're trying to get where they are now - in the Top 10 and consistently in bowls."
The Wolverines (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) had two chances to take the game back in the fourth quarter.
The Illini took a 28-27 lead on Kittner's short pass over the middle which Harvey turned into a 59-yard touchdown play with 2:42 left.
"It wasn't that easy," Harvey said. "The play was designed for Mike Dean, but he slipped. Kurt looked around and saw me open in the middle. I thought I was going to get hit, so I ran."
Tom Brady's passing drove Michigan to the Illinois 28, but a high snap from center Steve Frazier sailed over Brady's head from the shotgun formation and he fell on it for a 25-yard loss. Brady's pass was picked off at the Illinois 46 by Trayvon Waller two plays later.
"I think there's definitely disappointment now," Brady said. "Every guy in that locker room, I'm sure, feels terrible."
It seemed the Illini would be content to run the remaining 1:15 off the clock, but Harvey - on the second snap - bolted through the line and outraced everybody to the end zone for another TD.
"The name of our defense the last two games: Big Plays," Carr said.
Brady, fighting the clock by hitting sideline passes, drove the Wolverines from the Michigan 20 to the Illinois 16. His third-down pass was intercepted near the goal line by Tony Francis, who fumbled into the end zone. Illinois safety Muhammad Abdullah fell on it, giving Michigan a safety.
Kittner completed 24-of-33 passes for 280 yards with no interceptions and Harvey rushed 17 times for 106 yards. Brady was 23-of-38 for 307 yards with two interceptions.
The Wolverines, off last week after a 34-31 loss at Michigan State, looked sluggish in the first quarter and Illinois made them pay.
Michigan went three-and-out on its second possession and the situation was made worse when Cory Sargent shanked a punt that traveled only 29 yards to midfield.
With Kittner completing 3-of-3, including a 33-yarder to Lloyd Brandon, the Fighting Illini went 50 yards in five plays with Kittner hitting Jameel Cook from 6-yards out for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
That apparently was the wakeup call Michigan needed as the Wolverines scored on their next three possessions for a 20-7 halftime lead.
It looked like the lead might be even more when Michigan recovered a fumbled kickoff return at the Illinois 17, but the Wolverines failed to convert the turnover into points. A holding penalty, an incompletion and an 11-yard sack by Seth Tesdall pushed the Wolverines back to the 29. Fred Wakefield then blocked Jeff Del Verne's 46-yard field goal attempt with 4:22 left in the half.
Brady engineered Michigan's comeback from the early deficit with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Walker with 1:43 left in the first quarter and a 31-yard scoring strike to Marcus Knight with 9:14 left in the second quarter.
Sophomore Drew Henson replaced Brady for Michigan's second possession of the second quarter, but wasn't much of a factor. Henson handed off to Anthony Thomas three straight times. Thomas, who rushed for 128 yards on 21 carries, reeled off runs of 5, 10 and 25 yards for the touchdown. Wakefield blocked that PAT attempt and the Wolverines settled for a 13-point lead.
Thomas scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 88-yard, 15-play drive, putting Michigan up 27-7 with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
With Kittner hitting 4-of-7 for 73 yards, the Illini answered with an 80-yard drive touchdown drive that closed the gap to 27-14. The score came with 2:41 left in the third quarter when Kittner hooked up with third-string quarterback Walter Young in blown coverage for a 31-yard touchdown pass play on fourth-and-3.
The Illini used up 7:11 on a 77-yard, 17-play drive, closing the gap to 27-21 on Kittner's 3-yard TD toss to Brian Hodges with 6:25 left in the fourth quarter.