Illinois coach Bret Bielema criticized the officiating following a 19-17 loss to No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, venting frustrations in his post-game press conference after the Illini came out on the wrong side of some controversial calls.
"I'm extremely pissed off. Very angry. Very upset," Bielema told reporters. "I think our kids did a lot to win the football game and to continually just have things go against us, very frustrated. You've got to stand up for your people that you believe in. I believe in our locker room big time and I know that they'll rise up to the challenge once again."
The most controversial call came on Michigan's final drive. Facing fourth-and-3 near midfield, the Wolverines called a short passing play to running back Isaiah Gash. However, a Michigan receiver appeared to block ahead of him and run an illegal pick play that sprung Gash free for an easy first down. Ironically, Illinois was called for pass interference one play later to help set up a game-winning 35-yard field goal by Michigan kicker Jake Moody.
After the game, Bielema took to Twitter to throw shade at the officiating error, sarcastically claiming that he would "work all week in practice to defend this play."
To all #ILL players, coaches and especially for our fans…. We will work all week in practice to defend this play especially on 4th down #famILLy https://t.co/bJhpShjbcY— Bret Bielema (@BretBielema) November 19, 2022
The Illini were also on the receiving end of a controversial holding call right before halftime when running back Chase Brown broke off a huge run on second down that would have pushed the Illini to the edge of Michigan territory. Instead, Illinois let the clock run out and went into halftime as Bielema let the refs have it.
"If there's a foul, there's a foul," Bielema told the broadcast. "I don't want phantom calls."
Illinois led 17-10 entering the fourth quarter, but allowed Michigan to string together three field goal drives for Moody, the reigning Groza Award winner as the best kicker in the country. The loss was the sixth straight for Illinois against Michigan dating back to winning back-to-back games in 2008 and 2009.
The loss also makes Illinois' path to the Big Ten Championship Game more tenuous. Illinois moves to 4-4 in conference play, one game behind Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota in the loss column heading into Saturday.
With a victory, the Wolverines stay undefeated and set up a pivotal matchup with Ohio State on Nov. 26.