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Keeping the Focus: MSU 24, Illinois 14

Saying that we "took care of business" is to resort to cliche, but here it works: a week after a season-saving win, our Spartans went on the road, grabbed control of the game immediately, and never let go.  Our rush offense seemed to make major strides, the defensive line did a great job pressuring the quarterback (see: right), the secondary made a big play for the second game in a row and didn't allow Rejus Benn to drag the Illini back into the game, and the team as a whole looked superior in all ways.

The clearest takeaway from the game, however, is that Illinois is an atrocious football team.  Therefore, it's probably more useful to compare our performance to what Illinois' other 1-A opponents have done:


Missouri 37 117 1 35 26 325 3 0
Ohio St. 46 236 2 13 8 82 1 0
Penn St. 40 338 5 25 17 175 0 0
Mich St. 45 193 2 25 13 179 0 1



Missouri 35 110 1 37 22 215 0 1
Ohio St. 34 82 0 29 15 88 0 3
Penn St. 35 130 1 37 20 263 1 1
Mich St. 32 132 1 28 9 140 1 1


So perhaps it's encouraging that, at least from a statistical perspective, we didn't wildly underperform Illinois' prior opposition (three better-than-decent football teams, to boot). 

Our pass defense statistics jump off the page: holding the opposition to 9-28-140-1-1 is an exceptional effort, at least statistically.  Of course, those figures aren't easily comparable to previous Illinois games, because for the first two-and-a-half quarters, we faced the utterly hopeless Eddie McGee.  However, it's not as if we made life easy for him: we sacked McGee twice and pressured him many other times, blanketed the Illinois receivers, and ultimately forced three-and-outs on 3 of 4 Illinois drives in the first half (and 4 of 6 McGee-led drives overall).  Once Juice Williams came into the game, the signals were a bit more mixed: Williams was 7-17-109-1-0, but he missed at least two wide-open receivers, and those plays could have gone for big yardage.  Nonetheless, it's not as if Juice ripped us apart, and despite his mobility (which hasn't lessened even during his current horror-show of a season) we sacked him four times.

Which, um, wow: we finally got the performance we've been looking for from the lines.  The offensive line gave ample room for Caper and Winston, didn't allow any sacks, and routinely blew Illinois off the line.  As did the defensive line: 4 sacks (plus 2 by linebackers, which were helped by pressure from the d-line).  But, unhappily, the rush defense was a bit of a regression from last week; if you take away the negative yardage from sacks, Illinois gained 161 yards on 26 carries.  That's a bit of a concern.

Finally, in brief:

  • Bad Mark Dell re-emerged for the first time this year; his two third down drops in the second half would have gone for first downs, killed more clock, and possibly led to more points on the board.  Dell's been very good at points during this year, but when his head's out of the game, he's a real detriment to the team.  It didn't matter this week but it will at some point going forward.
  • Much has been written, of course, about Dantonio's conservative play calling in the second half of the Michigan game, and, if anything, it was even more apparent this week.  IMO, it was more defensible against Illinois, but how can you expect the team to develop the much-sought killer instinct if you don't trust them enough to let them try to twist the knife?
  • Danny Fortener, IMO, has really risen to the challenge posed by Trenton Robinson.  The overtime tip against Michigan and the pick-six this week were both huge plays, but he also had ten tackles (EDIT: two of which were on special teams; thanks CPT Hoolie) -- an especially remarkable number considering that he plays safety, and Illinois only completed nine passes all day.
  • It appears that Caper is all right.  That's huge, because even notwithstanding our sudden running back depth, he increasingly looks like the answer at running back.  As for Winston's injury . . . it sucks, because he and Caper were beginning to develop as a nice Ringer/Caulcrick-type combination, but, uh, karma?
  • Hope and hope and hope that Cousins makes it through next week's game unscathed.  I'd hate to burn Andrew Maxwell's redshirt.
  • Illinois-Indiana next week may be the least-watchable conference game, like, ever.

The post-Michigan letdown meme won't die easily, but we're now 3-0 the week after U-M under Dantonio.  There certainly are things to criticize about our performance, but this game was never in doubt.  Two weeks ago, there was despair.  No longer.  We're back on track, with a highly winnable game upcoming.

And finally, your animated drive chart (after the jump)!