After losing consecutive games to Nebraska and Wisconsin, the schedule didn’t get too much easier for Illinois with Michigan State in town for homecoming. The Spartans entered the contest allowing the fourth least points in the nation, holding opponents just under 14 points a contest. On Saturday afternoon, Michigan State didn’t need their stellar defense with Illinois practically giving the game away, losing by a landslide, 42-3.
In the second quarter, after the Spartans stopped the Illini twice at their goal line, Michigan State started their drive from their own one yard line.
The Spartans pushed the ball up the field with their passing game, with sophomore quarterback Conor Cook throwing for 81 yards on the drive. After Cook took two consecutive sacks for a loss of a combined 15 yards, he had a fortuitous turn of events to say the least.
The Illinois pass rush forced Cook to scramble to the outside and throw the ball into double coverage. Illinois freshman cornerback Jaylen Dunlap dropped an easy pick and Eaton Spence failed to corral the deflection, and the Spartans delivered on the Illini mistakes with Bennie Fowler collecting the 29 yard touchdown.
“The quarterback started scrambling out of the pocket so I stayed on it and he threw the ball and I should’ve made a play on it,” Dunlap said. “That I wish I could get back but I should’ve made that play. I had it, no excuses I should’ve made the play.”
Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who threw 13 of 21 for 103 yards and an interception, said the play drained the Illini’s morale.
“We had a chance to make a play there and they ended up being the ones to make it,” Scheelhaase said. “That’s the difference between a team that’s been winning games and nationally ranked, it’s been to some big bowl games and won some great games—and where we’re at right now. We’re not making plays when we need it and ultimately you can’t win games that way.”
The Spartans would put the icing on the cake at the start of the second half, as third down conversions continued to kill the Illini.
On third and long, Cook found wide out Keith Mumphery for a 27 yard pass.
Junior running back Jeremy Langford excelled all afternoon long, bursting for a 16 yard run to get the Spartans to the ILL 30.
Langford finished with 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns, his third straight 100 yard rushing performance.
Illinois didn’t do much better stopping the passing game.
A few plays after the Langford run, Cook connected with Josiah Prince for a 13 yard touchdown to go up 21-3 just five minutes into the half.
Cook finished 15 of 16 for 208 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with 11 straight completions for 185 yards.
Michigan State was successful on 14 of their 16 third down conversions, converting on 13 straight at one point.
With the game already decided, Cook and Co. didn’t make it any easier for the Illini.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cook threw a 47 yard touchdown pass to Mumphery.
Freshman running back Delton Williams broke out on a 42 yard run, stiff arming his way into the end zone for the Spartans final scoring play of the day.
Michigan State didn’t have to play like the best defense in the nation to win this one. Illinois made costly errors throughout the game.
On the Illini’s first drive, Scheelhaase threw a play action touchdown pass to tight end Evan Wilson, only to have a holding penalty against lineman Alex Hill bring the play back. Illinois would have to settle for a field goal for their first and only score of the game.
“We didn’t capitalize on some of the things we needed to,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Of course, if you look at the first quarter, the things like the turnover were huge in the first quarter for us. We had a holding on a touchdown that was called back. Again, you can’t do those types of things when you’re playing people like that.”
Later in the second quarter, Scheelhaase faked a handoff, reversed the ball to senior wide out Ryan Lankford, who lost the ball after taking a big hit from Marcus Rush.
Lankford attempted to flip the ball to Martize Barr as the play was designed, but the ball went astray.
Barr tried to scoop and run with the ball instead of jumping on it, leaving Rush to gather his own forced fumble.
Lankford, the Illini’s leading receiver, is likely done for the year after hurting his shoulder on that play. The loss of Lankford will is debilitating for an already struggling Illinois offense.
Langford cashed in after the Illinois fumble, scoring on a one yard run to give Michigan State a 7-3 lead with 12:40 remaining in the half.
Michigan State held Illinois to only 25 yards rushing and is the only team in the nation to hold each of their opponents under 100 yards rushing.
The Spartans have won four in a row and improve to 4-0 in Big Ten play. They will welcome rival Michigan next week.
Illinois has lost three straight games, allowing at least 39 points in each of those losses. The Illini have now lost 17 straight Big Ten games.
Illinois’s schedule gets easier with Penn State and Indiana on slate, but both games will be away from Memorial Stadium.
“You’ve got five games left,” Beckman said. “We’re 3-4; we’re not 0-7. We’ve felt success. I believe in every one of these football players that we have. Our job as a coaching staff and as a football team and everyone involved in this family is to move forward and know we’ve got ourselves getting ready for a Penn State football team.”