Michigan State football ventures to Champaign, Illinois this Saturday for a matchup with the No. 14 Illini. The Spartans are looking to move on following a 29-7 loss against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines last weekend that ended in a postgame physical altercation in the tunnel of Michigan Stadium.
The incident resulted in eight suspensions for the Spartans, all coming from the defensive side of the ball.
Senior linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon, redshirt junior cornerback Justin White, senior defensive end Brandon Wright, freshman cornerback Malcolm Jones, redshirt sophomore cornerback Khary Crump, redshirt sophomore linebacker Itayvion 'Tank' Brown, freshman defensive end Zion Young and junior safety Angelo Grose have all been suspended following the altercation.
The Spartans are looking to move on from the incident as they continue their season.
"We're all we got in the room," redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne said. "No one's coming in to save us. It's all of us, moving forward together and if we decide to start separating and unravel, nothing good will happen for anybody. We're focused on sticking together and moving forward."
Here’s a look at how the two teams stack up ahead of the matchup.
Obviously being down eight defensive players will be a huge disadvantage for the Spartans. Windmon’s loss will certainly be felt this weekend. The UNLV transfer leads the FBS in forced fumbles with six and has stepped up as a defensive leader who can make big plays when the team needs him, whether it is at linebacker or defensive end.
Grose, who has started in every game thus far, will also be difficult to replace given the lack of depth at the safety position. Head Coach Mel Tucker will no doubt be using the “next man up” mentality and keeping his eye out for who will step up.
Offensively, the team needs a serious revamp. The running game was completely stopped by the Michigan defense, while the passing game only managed one touchdown despite countless opportunities.
While the offense has been able to show signs of life throughout conference play, a recurring theme has been inconsistent timing. Meaning, they’ve shown that they have the ability to string together plays, but just not in consecutive plays that result in scoring.
Because the run game has been wildly inconsistent and has become borderline irrelevant in Big Ten play, the Spartans will likely need to look to the air.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed and sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman are the best chance the Spartans have at creating offense against Illinois. Reed has proven time and time over again he’s a veteran leader who can step up to make plays, and he’s one of the players MSU will be looking towards as they attempt to bounce back.
Coleman, while having less experience, has seemed to have taken after Reed. The two work well together and it’s clear he’s picked up a few things from the veteran receiver. In fact, Coleman’s performance was one of the few bright spots against Michigan. He led the team in rushing yards with 155 and came down with the team’s lone touchdown of the game. He currently leads the team with 548 receiving yards on the season.
Illinois appears to be having a season comparable to Michigan State's last season. The Illini currently post a 7-1 record, with the one loss coming against Indiana. Other than the Hoosiers, they've been able to cruise by other conference teams such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. It's wins like these that have helped the Illini jump in the rankings.
A big part of their success has been playing "complementary football" as Tucker would say. The Illini have been consistent on both sides of the ball as seen on the stat sheet.
Junior running back Chase Brown currently leads the FBS in rushing yards with 1208 and will certainly cause problems for the depleted Spartan defensive line. Largely thanks to Brown, the Illini are ranked 27th in the nation when it comes to rushing offense. They've scored 10 rushing touchdowns this season with five coming from Brown and are averaging 197.6 yards per game.
"We've played some good backs," fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson said. "This kid, he does a really good job of being patient. I think the one thing about this kid is he is real patient at the line and then his jump cut ability and his vision is why he gets the numbers he does and why he's up for the accolades that he has, so good test for us this weekend."
Illinois' passing game isn't as highly ranked. In fact, Michigan State is the higher ranked team when it comes to passing offense. Illinois is ranked 97th, averaging 212.1 yards per game, while Michigan State is ranked 69th, averaging 239.4 yards per game. However, these stats don't account for the timing and whether the yardage resulted in a scoring drive, and these will play a huge part in the result of Saturday's game.
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Not only will the Illini pose a threat on offense, but its defense is also nationally recognized as well. Illinois currently leads the FBS in scoring defense, averaging 8.88 points allowed per game. Because of the strength of the Illini defense and the depletion of the of the Spartan defense, Illinois will likely have the edge.
Kickoff from Champaign is set for 3:30 p.m. ET with streaming available on the Big Ten Network.
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