Jeff George Jr. starts at QB in Illinois’ 41-8 loss at Michigan
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By Larry Lage
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Wilton Speight threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters before watching No. 3 Michigan finish off Illinois 41-8 Saturday.
The Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) were leading 34-0 in the fourth quarter when Harbaugh put backup quarterback John O’Korn in the game and rested Speight.
Speight, who completed 16 of 23 passes, threw a 3-yard TD pass to Jake Butt and a 21-yard pass to Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a score in the first quarter. Khalid Hill’s ninth touchdown and De’Veon Smith’s 4-yard run gave the Wolverines a 28-0 lead after their first four possessions.
Taking advantage of last week’s bye, Speight looked sharp — perhaps because of film study.
“I watched all the six games, every snap, and took a lot of notes,” he said.
The Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3) were relegated to starting their third-string quarterback with a familiar name. Jeff George Jr., son of the former Illinois and NFL quarterback, was 4 of 15 for 95 yards with a TD, an interception and a fumble in his first start. He played because Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch are injured.
“It’s tough, but everybody has to have a start,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “The running game could have helped him and other people had to play better.”
Illinois ran for 77 yards as a team — 113 below their previous average — and gained just 3.3 yards per carry.
After Michigan botched a fake punt near midfield in the fourth quarter with a 34-0 lead, George threw a 43-yard TD pass to Malik Turner on the next snap and followed with a 2-yard conversion pass to Zach Grant.
Karan Higdon scored on a 45-yard run on the ensuing possession and finished with 106 yards rushing on just eight carries for the Wolverines.
Illinois: George got off to an awful start, but bounced back with some good throws. He was 0 for 7 in the first half with an interception. “At one point, I looked up and there was zero yards passing,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. George fared better in the second half. He perfectly lofted a 43-yard pass to Turner in the third quarter and dropped another long pass to him just over safety Delano Hill early in the fourth for a TD. George’s father attended the game and gave his son a pregame pep talk. “He told me to get my mind right and get my emotions in check,” the freshman said. “He said I belong out there.”
Michigan: The Wolverines seemed to let up in the second half for the first time this season. They were up big, leading 31-0 at halftime, but didn’t continue to score at will as they did in other lopsided wins. Speight acknowledged that the team has to learn how to not “give the opponent any sense of life” after building a big lead.
The Wolverines will likely stay ranked No. 3, their highest spot in The Associated Press poll since 2006.
The Illini made big plays — a 45-yard run, a 43-yard pass and a fumble recovery — to have the ball at the Michigan 33 in the second quarter and to the Wolverines 32 and 30 in the third. A holding penalty, fumble and incomplete pass on fourth down ruined their chances of taking advantage of the opportunities to score.
JUST KICKING IT
Michigan’s Kenny Allen made two field goals from 23 and 27 yards after missing his previous three attempts.
Illinois: The Illini return home to host Minnesota.
Michigan: The Wolverines play at Michigan State, a game they’ve been looking forward to since a botched punt led to a stunning loss a year ago.
“Those last couple seconds are still boiling,” De’Veon Smith said. “We still taste it in our mouth.”