Apologies for the relative short shrift we've been giving this game; it's been a busy week at TOC, Inc. In fact, Saturday's game deserves quite a bit of attention, as Illinois comes to East Lansing as perhaps the country's most dangerous two-loss team. The two defeats were close losses to Ohio State and Missouri, two undefeated teams; meanwhile, the Illini are five days removed from absolutely walloping Penn State in Happy Valley.
Prior to the season, I thought that this would be MSU's easiest conference game, because it seemed that freshman quarterback + offensive line attrition + Zook = impending Illinois doom. The jury's still out, to some degree, but it's reasonably safe to say that Illinois won't be the cellar-dwellers that I and many others expected. Looking at their statistical profile, it's easy to understand why:
Illinois (nat'l rank)
Michigan State (nat'l rank)
|Pass efficiency defense
The statistical comparison is certainly a little too close for comfort, especially given that Illinois' schedule has been, at the very least, MSU's equal. The Illini rush the ball very well -- led by Mikel LeShoure, 2nd in the Big Ten at 119 yards/game -- and are stout on defense. The good news is that this isn't a terrible game to be without Chris L. Rucker's services: the Illini are neither efficient nor prolific at passing the ball. Given those two characteristics, this looks to be a wildly different game than last week's tilt in Ann Arbor. Mark Dantonio has always said that he enjoys smashmouth, traditional Big Ten football; this week is a prime opportunity for his team to prove that it's up to the challenge.
We'll have a more complete preview tomorrow, along with other features on this game. But for now, I ask you: 46ish hours from kickoff, how are you feeling about this game?