Rapid Reaction: Illinois completes biggest comeback in school history, earns bowl eligibility with win over MSU
Final score: Illinois 37 Michigan State 34
Brief recap: The chances of earning a bowl berth on this particular Saturday looked pretty bleak early on. Michigan State jumped out to a 28-3 lead in the first half, well on its way to snapping a three-game losing streak in the B1G. Brian Lewerke was running with serious speed, Elijah Collins looked good and the Spartans were completing passes down the field. The Illini appeared to be overmatched. But Illinois got a big interception in the end zone at the end of the first half, followed by a Hail Mary from Brandon Peters to Josh Imatorbhebhe to make the score 28-10 at the end of the half. That proved to be huge at the end of the game. The Illini still trailed 31-10 into the fourth quarter, but the Peter-to-Imatorbhebhe connection was in full force, helping Illinois complete the biggest comeback in program history. Trailing 34-30 with just seconds remaining, Peters hit Daniel Barker in the back of the end zone for a game-winning score to defeat Michigan State. Illinois is now bowl eligible.
Key moment: There are several to choose from in this one, but that Hail Mary touchdown catch to close the first half really proved to be a huge moment in the game, even if it didn’t result in Illinois ripping off a ton of points out of the locker room. Without that play, we may not see the big comeback.
Key stat: Would it really be Lovie Ball without the turnovers? Illinois forced four Michigan State turnovers, proving to be the difference in the game. The Illini have really been cooking defensively lately.
Key player: Peters struggled throughout the game, but ultimately made the plays necessary to get the win in East Lansing. He completed 22-of-42 passes for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He came through in the clutch, which was what mattered most.
What it means for Michigan State: Where do you go from here? This was a game marked as a “W” on Michigan State’s calendar, but now the Spartans are in really deep trouble with a game against Michigan on the horizon. The Spartans drop to 4-5 this season and Mark Dantonio’s seat is really starting to heat up now. Blowing a 25-point lead to Illinois is unacceptable in East Lansing.
What it means for Illinois: What a turnaround. After starting the season 2-4, Illinois has now won four straight games, sits at 6-4 overall and is bowl eligible for the first time under Lovie Smith. Who would’ve thought a few weeks ago this team would have wins over the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan State on its resumé? This feels like a program that is turning a corner.