Illinois notched their second conference win with a 31-27 thriller over Michigan State. Similar to Indiana, this is the Fighting Illini’s first victory over the Spartans since 2006 and their first in the Mark Dantonio era.
The Big Ten reigning champions have now dropped their seventh straight game for the first time since 1982. Michigan State along with Rutgers are the only teams in the Big Ten with winless conference records. That will all change this Saturday as MSU hosts the Scarlet Knights in the battle of the bottom feeders.
Here are the takeaways from Illinois:
Despite dominating statistically, Spartans fall short
If any avid football fan were to look at the stats sheet without the score for the Michigan State-Illinois game, he/she would tell you that MSU won the game.
After all, the Spartans outgained the Fighting Illini in total yards (490 to 304), first downs (28 to 14), third downs (42 to 31 percent), and time of possession (41:36 to 18:24).
So how in the world could the score indicate that Illinois won? It’s a culmination of Michigan State’s ten committed penalties and their three total fumbles (Josiah Price with two; only one lost). But the biggest reason hands down was the Spartans failing to capitalize on opportunities with favorable field position, leading to:
Field goals instead of touchdowns
It’s safe to say that Spartan senior kicker Michael Geiger was on fire on Saturday. He was perfect as he made all four of his field goals with a long of 46 yards, who is now 10 of 14 for the season. Geiger’s four field goals tied his career high for made field goals in a game, when he struck four against Iowa back in 2013.
As great as that is, he made three of his four field goals in the red zone. This signifies that the Spartans were unable to punch their way into the end zone, forcing them to settle for three too many times throughout the game.
The first field goal drive featured two straight Incomplete passes. Next, they failed to convert a third down and long scenario. On their third drive, Price’s fumble restricted the Spartans moving the chains. Last but not least, a false start on receiver Felton Davis backed up MSU to another third and long situation.
Thanks to Michigan State’s miscues and errors, the Fighting Illini’s three second half touchdowns allowed them to remain in striking distance and eventually pull out in front with under two minutes remaining in the game. Speaking of which…
Another second half defensive collapse
Spartan Nation has seen this vicious cycle and pattern in all of their losses with the exception of the Michigan game.
Wisconsin outscored Michigan State 17-0 in the second half. Indiana prevailed in overtime after MSU shot themselves in the foot in special teams. BYU outscored MSU 24-7 in the second half. Northwestern stringed together three touchdowns in the second half and escaped with a win. Maryland outscored the Spartans 14-0 in the fourth quarter and surged to victory.
And most recently, Illinois scored the go-ahead touchdown on a four-play, 75 yard final drive with 1:35 left in the game. Just like the other heartbreaking losses, a culmination of breakdowns in coverage and penalties remained a burden for the Spartans and presented Illinois a golden chance to take the lead. And that’s exactly what they did, thanks to back-to-back pass interference calls on MSU cornerback Tyson Smith.
It’s pretty obvious that a team is not going to win ball games by conceding free yards with a crumbling defensive backfield that lacks severe communication. Coach Mark Dantonio and his staff have a lot of cleaning up to do if they want to add a one in the win column of their Big Ten record.