Spartans set to face Illinois in crucial conference game

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Spartans set to face Illinois in crucial conference game

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Brian Lewerke/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Henry Menigoz, General Assignment Reporter

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EAST LANSING – Michigan State football will return Saturday afternoon, as the Spartans take on head coach Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) in East Lansing. 

This game will feature two teams whose paths have been very different of late. MSU is on a three-game skid, suffered at the hands of three of the best teams the Big Ten has to offer. They also will be without linebacker Joe Bachie after the midseason All-American was suspended for banned substance use. 

Illinois, on the other hand, has been exceptional recently, enjoying a three-game win streak that included a shocker over No.-16 ranked Wisconsin and was preceded by a second-half scare against No. 14-ranked Michigan. The Illini now come into this game looking for a win that will help to secure their first bowl game since 2014. 

Here’s what to look for in the matchup. 

Offense 

The Illinois offense is led by junior Brandon Peters at quarterback. The Michigan transfer has played well at times in his debut season for the Illini, throwing for 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions and well over 1000 yards. He’s exhibited potential in big games, including a 174-yard and two touchdown showing in the victory over Wisconsin. 

His wide receiving corps includes junior Josh Imatorbhebhe, who has hauled in seven touchdowns on the year. Questionable for this week’s game is junior Ricky Smalling, who was the second-most receptions on the Illini offense. 

On the ground, the charge is led by a duo rushing attack in running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown. The two have combined for nearly 1000 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, with Brown coming off of a two-touchdown performance in a 38-10 beat down of Rutgers last week. 

For MSU, the offensive struggles have persisted. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was benched for the first time in their obliterating home loss to Penn State two weekends ago, before returning later in the game. 

Running back Elijah Collins has been struggling of late as well, after what was a very promising start to the season. The Spartan offense will also have to go into this matchup without leading receiver Darrell Stewart, after losing the wide receiver due to injury. 

Defense 

The bright spot on MSU’s season has become significantly dimmer in recent games, as the Spartan defense has begun to deteriorate against tougher opponents. After starting the season as one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation, the Spartans have allowed over 30 points in three of their last four games. 

As they now head into this matchup without Senior captain Joe Bachie, the MSU defense will continue to have a hard time reversing this downward trend. 

The Fighting Illini are battling through some personnel issues of their own on the defensive side of the ball. An injury-riddled defensive line has created problems for head coach and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, likely resulting in some new faces on the Illinois front. 

Regardless, the defense will be lead by National Defensive Player of the Week Dele Harding at linebacker, in a season where he has racked up 106 tackles, the most in the Big Ten. 

Prediction

Michigan State has dominated the series in the history between these two teams, taking 12 of the last 14 and claiming a 26-18-2 record in the overall matchups. However, it was Illinois who walked away victorious in their most recent meeting, a 31-27 contest back in 2016. 

Despite the recent trends, Michigan State will bounce back after a week of work and rest during their bye week, and overcome internal adversity and a hot Illinois team to take this game 24-13.