Well...here we are again.
Coming off a bye week that included the suspension of Joe Bachie and the injuries of Matt Allen and Darrell Stewart and the reintroduction of basketball season, MSU is coming into Saturday white hot.
Lovie Smith and Co. are riding a three-game win streak while MSU is riding quite the opposite. Let’s take a look at what we want to see and whatnot this weekend.
3 Things We Want To See
The run game getting going
If there was just one bright spot on this offense, well, he’s now on the sidelines. Of course, I’m talking about Darrell Stewart, who is seemingly the lone playmaker for the Spartans this year that is now sidelined with a foot injury.
MSU desperately needs something other than the passing game to rely on Saturday. And that leads us to (pause for dramatically long drumroll) THE RUNNING GAME! Yes, that same running game that hasn’t broken 85 yards in its last three games! WOOHOO!
Alright so now that the murderers row portion of the schedule is kind of done for MSU, this could be a good bounce back game. I say could with fancy italics because Illinois has a solid run defense, which is not what I wanted to type or you wanted to read. The Illini are middle of the pack in opponents yards per carry with 4.2, but what sticks out to me is their 23.7 percent stuff rate (runs stopped at or before the line of scrimmage). That’s good for 29th nationally, so seeing the MSU running game get going is easier said than done. But still, we need to see it have success to win on Saturday now that Stewart is gone.
The Noah Harvey Show
Joe Bachie’s suspension dealt MSU a loss during the bye week, so now it’s time for third year sophomore Noah Harvey to step up. Harvey’s action has been limited, sitting with six tackles on the season but playing in 19 games in his career (mostly on special teams). I’m not going to sit here and act like I know what to expect out of Harvey, but I do know this – replacing a third year starter and senior captain’s production probably won’t be possible. But can he fill in enough to make this defense contain the Illini enough to help get a win with the struggling offense? Stay tuned.
Containing Oluwole Betiku Jr.
When thinking of what we want to see, it’s impossible to not think of what could be bother the offensive line. And that person happens to be junior defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr., who comes into the game third in sacks amongst the Big Ten with eight and also has 11.5 tackles for loss on the season.
I’m not breaking you any news with talking about how much the offensive line has struggled this season. If there’s any way to take the edge off of facing a decent Illinois defense, it’s limiting the damage Betiku can do.
2 Key Stats
5.29 and 5.97
Yeah, I’m kind of cheating here and actually using two stats, but they go hand-in-hand. That is the yards per carry for Illini running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown, respectively. The split between the two is kind of even with Corbin getting the bulk of carries at 109 with five rushing touchdowns on the season with Brown getting 74 touches with four rushing touchdowns.
Now this isn’t the Ohio State offense with NFL players all over the field, Wisconsin’s offense with Jonathan Taylor or Penn State’s with Sean Clifford quarterbacking leading the way. However, Illinois does have some gamers on offense, and it starts with their running back tandem.
That’s Illinois kicker James McCourt’s clip from field goals longer than 50 yards. Excuse me for using an obscure kicker stat for the second key stat here, but kicking could come into play on Saturday. We’ve seen MSU’s woes. And while McCourt isn’t perfect on the season (8-12 on the season including 3-5 in his last three games) he still has a lead boot. Any time you have a kicker that can dial it up from 50-plus and hit consistently, that puts the offense in scoring range once they reach the 35 yard line. And with McCourt, who has nailed all of his tries at 50, 53 and 57 yards this season, the Illini have that potential game-changer.
1 Best Bet
MSU -14.5, over/under 45.5
Alright, so this is insane. Illinois is taking most of the public bets, but the line still keeps moving the other direction. That means the books LOVE them some MSU. This information is basically telling you to lay the points and take the Spartans.
However, there is no way I can trust MSU to do this. I’m walking into the trap, but I’m walking in with this information:
-MSU is without their best defensive player and now offensive player.
-Illinois is riding a three game win streak and is playing inspired football on the cusp of a historic season for their standards. Michigan State hasn’t played a game that’s competitive beyond the second half since September, and their season is essentially over for their standards.
-I’ve seen MSU’s offense try to operate the last three games. I’ve seen them attempt to kick field goals. I’m supposed to act like just clearing 14.5 points is a guarantee? With their best playmaker on offense now out?
I mean, man, I’m just hoping MSU wins this game. To be giving up 14.5 points is outrageous to me, so I’ll go ahead and take the 14.5 even though Vegas is telling me to do the opposite.
Pick: Illinois +14.5
Record: 5-3-1 (Memphis giving up 16 unanswered points last weekend to end the game to bust -6 was...just great)
What’s your best bet for Saturday?
This poll is closed