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Get To Know The Opponent: Illinois

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State continues its road stint as the Spartans travel to face No. 16-ranked Illinois at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday on the Big Ten Network.

Here is a bit about the Spartans’ next foe as MSU aims to earn bowl eligibility with just four games left.

School: The University of Illinois

Nickname: Fighting Illini

Location: Champaign, Illinois

Head Coach: Bret Bielema. In his second season at Illinois, Bielema posts a 7-1 record so far this year for a combined record of 12-8 at Illinois after going 5-7 in 2021. After seven straight winning seasons at Wisconsin from 2006 through 2012, Bielema — who was once considered a candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Michigan State in 2020 — went on to coach at Arkansas from 2013 through 2017 before ultimately returning to familiar Big Ten West territory in 2021.

Series History: Michigan State leads the series with a 26-19-2 record in the matchup dating back to 1955.

Things and Players to Watch

Illinois comes into the contest sporting the No. 1 defense in both yardage and points allowed, edging Boise State and Michigan for the top spot as the Illini have allowed just 224.5 yards and about 8.9 points per game. For reference, MSU ranks 109th in total defense, allowing 424.9 yards per game. The Illini have won six straight games after falling to Indiana by three points in their second game of the season.

Tommy DeVito

The senior quarterback, after transferring from Syracuse prior to this season, has enjoyed an efficient campaign so far, posting over 1,500 yards on 72.5 percent passing. He has taken good care of the ball, too, throwing just two interceptions compared to his 12 touchdowns.

Chase Brown

The Spartans don’t get a break with the opponent’s ground game in this one either. In fact, running back Chase Brown leads the nation with 1,208 rushing yards. This total isn’t earned by just brute force either, as the junior tailback has been extremely efficient, rushing for 5.4 yards per attempt.

The Spartans’ defense, while holding up better than most expected against Michigan, allowing 29 points, faces another balanced attack paired with a stiff defense.

Josh McCray

The sophomore running back sustained a leg injury in Illinois’ first win of the season versus Wyoming. Mihir Chavan of the Champaign Room expects McCray to present the latter piece of a nice on-two punch for Illinois. McCray has broken off splash plays when healthy and could prove detrimental for a Michigan State defense that could spend even more time on the field that it did last week.


This is probably the soundest Illinois team Michigan State has faced in years. Facing a solid offense and following the suspension of multiple players on the defensive side of the ball, the Spartans’ offense will likely have to keep up in order to have a shot in this game.

In Michigan State’s rivalry matchup with Michigan last week, the Spartans attempted to do the same, but they scored just seven points. This week, MSU faces a more formidable defense in Illinois. Sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman was the sole bright spot on offense last week, going for 155 yards and and the Spartans’ only touchdown. MSU may look to him once again to carry the load.

This one won’t get any easier for Michigan State. Illinois could very well cover the 17-point spread in a comfortable victory in front of its home crowd.