Illini Stifled by Spartans on Homecoming
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Michigan State shut down the Illini on a blustery Homecoming Saturday. Illinois held the lead after the first quarter but the Spartans stuffed the Illini at the goal line early in the second quarter and turned the tide with a 99-yard drive before cruising to a 42-3 win at Memorial Stadium.
"They've got great defensive personnel and do a great job with their defense," Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. "I'm disappointed, no question. We started out fast, but we, again, didn't capitalize on the things that we needed to. We came out in the second half and we didn't play the way we're capable of playing. I brought the seniors up to the middle [at the end of the game] and said that we're going to do whatever is possible among this football family to make sure that these seniors leave these last five football games proud of what they've accomplished."
"You've got to take care of the ball," offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. "I know I'm not real happy about it and I don't think any of our kids are, but that stuff will happen at times and, unfortunately, we just didn't play real well. A lot of it's going to go to the Michigan State defense. I don't know if I've run through a game plan and called that many types of plays just to get something going and then once you get one thing going, they shut it down. I think that's the value of a lot of older guys. There's nothing to do except go back and get to work again."
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase got Illinois' offense started after he completed a 22-yard pass up the middle to Ryan Lankford. Following a seven-yard gain by Josh Ferguson, Ferguson kept it on the ground to rush five yards for a first down. Taylor Zalewski finished the drive with a field goal with 9:41 left in the first quarter to put Illinois on the board, 3-0.
The teams exchanged possessions before some excitement was created by the Illinois defense. Spartan quarterback Connor Cook nearly made it over the goal line, before the ball was forced out of his hands by Jonathan Brown and the fumble was recovered by Illinois' Darius Mosely for a touchback to give the ball back to the Illini with under a minute to play in the first quarter.
Illinois tried to get their offense going to start the second quarter but Michigan State returned the favor and Shilique Calhoun caused Lankford to fumble the ball and it was jarred loose to give the ball back to the Spartans on the Illinois 23-yard line.
Cook put the ball into the hands of Jeremy Langford for three consecutive rushes and he completed a one-yard run for a touchdown with 12:40 in the second, giving the Spartans the 7-3 lead.
Illinois tried to answer, putting together its best drive of the day, and Jon Davis tried to sneak the ball over the goal line on fourth-and-one, but the Spartan defense held, forcing a turnover on downs. From there, MSU turned the tables with a methodical, 15-play, 99-yard drive to take control of the game
During that drive, the Illini defense made a stand before the end of the quarter with two huge stops to temporarily shut down the Spartans. Brown and Houston Bates collected sacks on consecutive plays to force third-and-25, but Connor Cook heaved a pass toward the end zone that was tipped before being caught by Bennie Fowler before he fell backwards into the end zone for the touchdown, giving the Spartans the lead at halftime, 14-3.
"I stayed on him [Cook] and then he threw the ball and I should have made a play on it, and I wish I could get it back," freshman Jaylen Dunlap said. "I had it. There's no excuse. I should have made that play. Any play that's missed, you wish you could have back and you wish you could have done better."
"You have to be positive," Beckman said. "I made the team promise the seniors to do everything that they can do to get better. And that's all you can ask the players is to get better. We made some silly mistakes. They're young, and they've got to have this experience and we've got to get better. There's only one way you can go. You've got to take the next challenge and move forward."
The Spartans' first drive of the fourth quarter ended in another touchdown pass by Cook to Keith Mumphery, giving Michigan State a commanding 35-3 lead. Spartans went on to find the end zone one more time before closing out the win, 42-3.