Rapid Reaction: Michigan State capitalizes on Illinois' mishaps in upset victory
Eliminate Chase Brown, eliminate Illinois’ offense. Michigan State can hold its head high there.
Brown got his yards, but had to earn them and couldn’t break free for scores against Michigan State’s shorthanded but inspired defense.
That was difference as Michigan State upset the Illini 23-15 Saturday in Champaign. The Spartans (4-5, 2-4 B1G) keep their bowl eligibility hopes alive with the win, while Illinois now must fight to remain the front-runners in the B1G West.
From the start, Illinois’ offense looked off. Outside of a 60-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Devito to Isiah Williams in the 1st quarter, most drives ended in punts. The longest play from scrimmage following the touchdown until late in the game came on an 18-yard pass to Luke Ford. Brown totaled just 3 runs of over 10 yards.
Turnovers did little to help the Illini (7-2, 4-2 B1G) find consistency early. On 3rd-and-5, Brown broke free for a gain of 15 into MSU territory, but Xavier Henderson speared the ball loose, giving Aaron Brule a chance to recover. The turnover was the 2nd for Brown this season and 3rd of his career.
Payton Thorne picked up the pace by the start of the 2nd quarter following an opening-drive interception. Following a 21-yard field goal from Ben Patton, Thorne went a perfect 4-of-4 passing for 43 yards, including connecting with Jayden Reed for a gain of 34. Thorne would find Tre Mosley at the back right corner for the 1-yard touchdown, but Patton would miss the PAT to make a 2-point game.
Both defenses came to play in front of a packed Memorial Stadium. On the opening drive, the Illini elected to go for it on 4th down from their own 2-yard line, but DeVito couldn’t connect with Williams. Illinois went for it again with 19 seconds remaining
A 3rd quarter punt paid dividends toward the outcome. Illinois’ Hugh Robertson handled a high snap and barely set his feet before the punt traveled 6 yards, landing at the Illini’s 29. Michigan State capitalized on the short-field advantage, scoring on an 11-yard run from Jerek Broussard to extend the lead to 9.
After failing to pick up the first down on a 3rd-and-3, Illinois elected to go for it once more at midfield. DeVito and Brown whiffed on the pitch, leading to a fumble and eventual turnover. Thorne found Broussard for a gain of 21 before connecting with Reed for a 19-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 16.
A little trickery from Bret Bielema kept things close to begin the 4th quarter. A quick shovel pass from DeVito to Williams for a 7-yard touchdown put the Illini down by 10. A 2-point conversion to Ford made it an 8-point game. A controversial 3rd down call against a Reed catch led to a punt and another chance for the Illini to tie the game.
With another 4th down conversion, the Illini went back to their best player to pick up 2 yards. Like all night, the Spartans’ front 7 prevailed, stuffing the 4th-year runner for a gain of 1 and a 3rd turnover on downs. Michigan State trusted its combination of Broussard and Jalen Berger to run out the clock, though Illinois actually got a final shot.
Up next for Illinois
The Illini will look to guarantee their spot as B1G West champions next Saturday against Purdue (5-3, 3-2 B1G) at home. The Boilermakers are considered to be the “other” favorites to win the division should they pull off the top 25 upset in Champaign.
Up next for Michigan State
The Spartans will need to win out to become bowl eligible. The good news? Michigan State will return to East Lansing to face B1G bottom-dweller Rutgers (4-4, 1-4 B1G). The Scarlet Knights were set to face No. 5 Michigan on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.