BY JIM COTTER email@example.com
---- — CHAMPAIGN— For Fighting Illini head coach Tim Beckman, that day may have already passed.
Illinois took a huge step backwards on Saturday afternoon, as they were thoroughly dominated by the Michigan State Spartans 42-3 for Homecoming at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The loss extended the Illini’s Big Ten Conference losing streak to 17 games, dating back to the 2011 season.
Michigan State came into the game with the nation’s top ranked defense, allowing just less than 200 yards of offense per game, and the Illini’s offense has been more productive as of late.
However, the Illini could not muster much of anything either on the ground or through the air, as they amassed only 128 yards of total offense.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with our effort today, being Homecoming and everything,” Beckman said. “We started out fast, and were it not for the turnover in the first quarter and the penalty on an early touchdown that was called back, things could have gone differently.”
The Illini jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on the game’s first possession on a 31-yard field goal by Taylor Zalewski, and it would remain that score until early in the second quarter on an Illinois fumble deep in their own territory that led to a Michigan State touchdown.
Nathan Scheelhaase completed 13-of-21 passes for 103 yards on the afternoon, and also threw an interception.
Penalties and mental mistakes — two key areas that plagued the Illini last season — came back to haunt the Illini against the Spartans and on a couple of occasions, were instrumental in keeping the Illini out of the end zone.
“Obviously the holding penalty and the fumble were two key plays, but to keep this from snowballing in a downward spiral, you have to implement the 24 hour rule, which is to think about it for a day, and then move on,” senior guard Corey Lewis said.
Michigan State quarterback Caleb Cook finished the game completing 15-of-16 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns, but the Spartans are much more reliant on their defense, which came up big once again, including a key goal line stand that prevented the Illini from scoring.
“They (Michigan State) don’t give you much, and they are extremely well-coached,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “They have six seniors on the defensive unit, and they play like it”.
The Illinois rushing attack was basically non-existent, with Josh Ferguson doing most of the work, carrying the ball 10 times for just 26 yards.
“We just didn’t get the job done on offense today, and not being able to get in the end zone on that goal line stand was a huge momentum swing for Michigan State,” Illinois tight end Jon Davis said.
The Illini defense, which has been suspect all season, continued that trend against the Spartans, allowing 477 yards of total offense.
“It basically boils down to hammering out the fundamentals and working on each detail that it takes to be a good defense,” Illini defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.
Michigan State improves to 7-1 overall and remains undefeated in the Big Ten at 4-0, while the Illini fall to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play.
Illinois travels to Penn State next Saturday looking to snap their long conference losing streak, in a game that will have an 11 a.m. central time kickoff. The game can be heard on WDAN AM 1490 and WDNL 102.1, as well as the Illini Radio Network.
Jim Cotter is a freelance writer for the Commercial-News, and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.