CHAMPAIGN — One team turned up for Illinois’ homecoming, unfortunately for the fans in Memorial Stadium, it wasn’t the Illini. Michigan State simply outclassed the hosts on Saturday, winning every aspect of the game in a 42-3 rout.
After taking the lead on the first drive, Illinois (3-4, 0-3) surrendered 42 straight points MSU (7-1, 4-0) over the final 54 minutes of play. The Illini wasted a few opportunities to score in the first half, but came up short and lived to regret those misses.
“We didn’t play well, that’s the bottom line,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “The thing that is continually hurting us is ourselves.”
Illinois was hurt by some inspired play from the opposition as well. Spartans’ quarterback Connor Cook went to the next level, finishing nearly perfect with 15 complete passes in 16 attempts, including 11 straight completions to end his game. The sophomore finished the game with 208 yards and three touchdowns, but he was not the only dominant aspect of MSU’s game. The Spartans dominated Illinois in first downs, total offense, penalty yards and turnovers, completely owning the game.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Beckman said with a hint of incredulity. “They were 14-of-16 on third down conversions. Are you kidding me?”
Illinois started the game working the ball around well through the air, with Nathan Scheelhaase finding Miles Osei for 13 yards and Ryan Lankford for 22. The Illini looked to have cracked the endzone on the opening drive with a 13-yard pass to Jon Davis, but a holding call brought the ball back. After the penalty, the hosts were forced to settle for a 31-yard Taylor Zalewski field goal.
Illinois looked sharp defensively in the first quarter, with Jonathan Brown forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Darius Mosely. But the turnover was quickly negated, as Lankford dropped the ball while attempting to hand off to Martize Barr on a double-reverse.
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After the fumble, MSU took over at the Illini 23 and it only took four plays for the Spartans to score the game’s first touchdown. Jeremy Langford scored his first shortly into the second quarter with a one-yard rush.
The response from Illinois was very positive. On the ensuing drive, Scheelhaase and Spencer Harris worked on their rapport, combining for 51 of the drive’s 63 yards. The drive stalled out at the one-yard line, however, as neither Josh Ferguson nor Davis could punch in a touchdown, forcing to a turnover on downs for the Illini.
On the following drive, MSU worked out of third down situations four times thanks to penalties and poor coverage by the Illini, getting to the red zone with one minute left in the half. The Illinois defense stepped up in a big way once in the red zone, notching back-to-back sacks; but on third and 24, Cook threw into double coverage and had the ball bounce off both defensive backs into the arms of Bennie Fowler for an absurd 29-yard touchdown completion. The touchdown capped a 99-yard drive and seemed to stick in the minds of the Illini.
“We get them out if we don’t have a penalty. But we had a penalty,” Beckman said. “Being a young team, I’m sure that took a little out of them.”
Illinois had time for one play before halftime, but Scheelhaase aired it out only to have the ball intercepted. After the pick, the Spartans went to the lockers ahead 14-3.
Michigan State received the ball to start the second half and chugged downfield with remarkable efficiency. On the drive, MSU had just two plays for a loss or no yards, scoring after 10 plays on a 13-yard Josiah Price reception with five minutes gone in the half.
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Illinois, who had been playing without receiver Steve Hull, played the second half without the services of Lankford and struggled mightily, managing just one first down and zero points. With so many replacements in the game on both offense and defense for Illinois, the final half of play was essentially noncompetitive.
Michigan State rolled over the reserve opposition in the second half, scoring on runs from Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams and a pass to Keith Mumphery.
“We didn’t play the way I think we’re capable of in second half ... there was not much positive out of second half,” Beckman said.
After the loss, Illinois begins a stretch of two consecutive road games, beginning with a trip to Penn State (4-2, 1-1) next Saturday and then at Indiana (3-4, 1-2) on November 9. Beckman hopes his team can turn things around with less imposing competition after three straight tough games.
“Only one way to go, take this challenge and move forward,” he said.