MSU routs Illinois on its homecoming, as Connor Cook sets some records.
In sports, a few moments can make all the difference.
Illinois was trailing 7-3 and facing 3rd-and-goal at the MSU 1-yard line. The Illini had been moving the ball on MSU's defense, and they were about to take a 10-3 lead. But MSU's defense would stuff two runs up the cut and turn the ball over on downs. The next time Illinois had an opportunity for an offensive drive they were down 21-3.
After the goal-line stand, MSU would drive 99 yards for a (double-deflected) TD, Illinois would throw a hail mary that was intercepted, and MSU would take the opening drive of the second half for a touchdown, crushing the home crowd and all but ending the game.
MSU has already matched the 2012 win total before November, and it came in dominating fashion. Saturday's 42-3 win was one of the best performances in the Mark Dantonio era, as Heck outlined.
MSU got to November without a conference loss, something no other Legends team could do.
Looking back at my three keys to the game.
Run, run, run - Illinois had one of the worst rush defenses in the country, and MSU took advantage. In total, 55 runs to 16 passes, though much of that was with the game in hand and MSU running clock. The running backs had a combined 40 carries for 252 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Get to the quarterback - Nathan Scheelhaase was one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the country. MSU had two sacks for 15 yards and three QB hurries.
Take care of the ball - When Connor Cook fumbled the ball reaching for the goal line in the first quarter, it looked like it would be a missed opportunity for an offense that doesn't get many. That would not be the case.
Big plays in the passing game - On the first play from scrimmage, Illinois threw deep, but it was incomplete. Their longest pass was 27 yards, and the longest run was 21 yards.
Home field - It was far from a sellout, but when Illinois sacked Cook twice late in the first half, the crowd did make a bit of noise. But Cook would throw a TD pass, and that would be it.
Stop the run - Illinois had 25 yards on 21 carries. It was 40 yards on 19 non-sack carries. Nothing doing.
Looking at all sides of the ball:
He's now "record-setting quarterback" Connor Cook. After going 15-for-16 for 208 yards and three touchdowns, Cook set an MSU record for quarterback rating and posting the sixth-best completion percentage in Big Ten history. He set his feet and he made the throws he didn't make a week ago against Purdue. When Cook plays like that, MSU is really, really good. When he plays like he did a week ago, MSU is not.
As a team, MSU went 14-for-16 on third down, which is the best of any team this season, and it was actually 14-for-15 before the final kneeldown to end the game on third down.
That's an unreal number, and certainly helped by Illinois' poor defense, but a big reason for the third down success was MSU putting itself in manageable situations. With the running game consistently picking up yards and Cook making the short throws, third downs were there to be converted. MSU's third down yardage faced: 3, 14 (fail), 1, goal at 1-yd line, 7, 6 (ILL penalty, "no play"), 6, 1, 25, 4, 1, 9, 4, 1, 3, 2, 9 (kneel). So, MSU converted 13 third downs in a row at one point, if you include the penalty.
The rushing numbers are above. Jeremy Langford went over 100 yards for the third straight game, had 4.7 yards per carry and is starting to look like one of the best backs in the Big Ten. The offensive line, as usual, deserves its props, but Langford had really hard runs where he broke a few tackles. Delton Williams only had five carries, mostly toward the end of the game, but one was a 42-yard touchdown. If Langford is doing well, they're sticking with him.
As usual, Cook's completions went to a large group of targets. Fifteen completions to 10 different receivers, led by Keith Mumpgrey's three catches for 77 yards, including a 47-yard deep touchdown. Bennie Fowler and Josiah Price each had two catches, one being a touchdown, and Tony Lippett also had two grabs.
Heck said it best.
This also seems the proper place for a shout-out to the wide receivers and their previously embattled position coach Terrence Samuels, as well as the tight ends and their new position coach Jim Bollman. Their performances have been light-years ahead of where they were last year, or even where they were a month ago. Drops have come down to one or two (or zero) a game, they're getting consistent open, they're often making the proper adjustment to the high ball Cook naturally throws, they're picking up yards after the catch, and they're throwing great blocks to help spring the run game. They are easily the groups that have shown the most growth from week one to eight, and I'd hate for them to get lost in all the (deserved) praise for Cook this week.
This is the best MSU defense since at least 1999, but their legacy will be determined by where this season finishes.
Lawrence Thomas played for the first time this season, so likely no medical redshirt, and he looked good at times. Tyler Hoover was out with an injury, so there is still depth at the tackle spot.
Illinois moved the ball on MSU early, like Purdue did, but once MSU starts bringing the pressure, opposing offenses are just suffocated.
One sack for Marcus Rush and one for Denicos Allen. Rush had two TFLs and Allen had 2.5. Shilique Calhoun had 1.5 TFLs and a forced fumble, blowing up a reverse before it could reverse. Kurtis Drummond, Denzel Drone and R.J. Williamson also each had a TFL.
Only one punt for Mike Sadler, which hurts his Heisman chances, but it was a hell of a punt, 54 yards and out of bounds at the 8-yard line.
MSU hasn't attempted a field goal since the Iowa game.
Macgarrett Kings nearly touched a bouncing ball on a punt return. Andre Sims Jr. was in there on the next return. He muffed it, but picked it up and went eight yards.