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Get to Know the Opponent: Illinois

Lovie Smith’s crew is in the midst of their longest winning streak in eight years.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a little while since the Spartans crossed over to play Big Ten West opponent Illinois. The last meeting between the two schools was three years ago, with another three year gap in between the last matchup. So here are some things to know about MSU’s next opponent.

School: University of Illinois

Nickname: Fighting Illini

Conference: Big Ten (West Division)

Location: Urbana and Champaign, Illinois

Head Coach: Lovie Smith (4th season)

Record: 5-4 (3-3 in Big Ten)

Mascot: None (Formerly Chief Illiniwek)

All-Time Series: MSU leads 26-18-2, Illinois won last meeting

Lovie Smith is in the midst of a nice little run right now, one that might ultimately save his job, or at least keep him off the hot seat for a little while longer. The Illini have won three straight games, their longest winning streak since the start of the 2011 season. They are one game away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

Team Stats

Illinois comes in at 61st in the country in scoring averaging an even 30 points per game. They are 69th in rushing offense at 163 yards per game and 85th in yards per carry at 4.06 yards per rush.

Through the air things aren’t so good. Illinois is 115th in passing yards at 162.8 yards per game, and 105th in the country at 6.4 yards per attempt. The passer rating is slightly better at 92nd overall, and they have 14 TD’s against only four picks.

Defensively, Lovie Smith’s crew is 48th in scoring allowing 24.8 points per game. After three straight games allowing 40+ points, the Illini have allowed an average of 13 points per game during their three game winning streak.

You can run against Illinois, as they are 96th in the country in total rush defense giving up 187.44 yards per game. They are 63rd in average yards per carry giving up 4.12 yards per rush.

Against the pass the Illini are 45th in the country giving up 209.1 yards per game through the air. However, they are just 92nd in opponent yards per attempt giving up 7.7 yards per pass attempt. Opposing QB’s have a 138.11 rating against them, which is 85th nationally.

Players to Watch

Brandon Peters, the former Michigan quarterback, is at the helm of the Illini offense. Peters has completed 55.8% of his passes for 1,117 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. He has 13 touchdowns against four interceptions.

While Peters isn’t exactly a dual threat QB, he isn’t a statue either. He has three rushing touchdowns and 73 yards on 48 attempts.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The two main running threats for Illinois are a pair of senior running backs. Reggie Corbin has 577 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 5.29 yards per carry. Dre Brown has 442 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 5.97 yards per rush.

Ra’Von Bonner, a junior, also gets some carries and has three rushing TD’s on the season.

None of the running backs are real receiving threats, with Brown leading the group with six catches for 49 yards.

The Illini do spread the ball around through the air a fair amount, but Josh Imatorbhebhe leading the way with 25 catches for 420 yards and seven touchdowns.

Ricky Smalling is second on the team with 24 catches for 225 yards, and tight end Daniel Barker has 12 catches for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

On defense Oluwole Betiku Jr. is the leader in sacks and tackles for loss with eight and 11.5 respectively. He has an additional six QB hurries to his name as well.

Senior linebacker Dele Harding already has himself a 100 tackle season, leading the team with 106 total tackles and averaging close to 12 per game. He also leads the team with three interceptions, two of which he has returned for touchdowns. Harding is having himself an All-Big Ten caliber season.

Junior defensive back Tony Adams has a pair of picks as well, including one for a touchdown.

Kicker James McCourt is 8-for-12 on field goals and 34-for-34 on extra points.