Next Up: The Illinois Fighting Illini

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)
Passing offense
135.4 (114)
248.17 (38)
Pass efficiency
117.71 (89)
168.25 (6)
Rushing offense
217.6 (19)
225.0 (14)
Scoring offense
24.40 (81)
35.83 (22)
Passing defense
187.8 (37)
225.33 (77)
Pass efficiency defense
121.09 (56)
110.84 (23)
Rushing defense
117.0 (32)
111.33 (25)
Total defense
304.8 (20)
336.67 (42)
Scoring defense
17.0 (21)
18.33 (26)
Turnover margin
-0.6 (93)
0.83 (13)
Penalty yards
56.60 (55)
71.17 (101)

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?

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