After a week of off-the-field distractions, the Michigan State football team traveled to Champaign to take on No. 16-ranked Illinois. The Spartans went on the road and shocked the Fighting Illini by a final score of 23-15.
Michigan State kept its bowl hopes alive, improving to 4-5 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten Conference play. Meanwhile, Illinois falls to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten.
Despite being down eight defensive players due to suspension following the tunnel incident at Michigan Stadium, in addition to players who are dealing with various injuries, the Spartans played very well and got the upset victory against the Fighting Illini.
Michigan State received the ball to begin the game, but didn’t have it for long. Quarterback Payton Thorne threw an interception to Illinois defensive back Sydney Brown on the first play of the game.
The Fighting Illini took over and running back Chase Brown ripped off two-straight runs for first downs. Illinois eventually marched all the way down to Michigan State’s 2-yard line, but MSU has been strong near its own end zone all year, and forced a turnover on downs after a goal-line stand.
The Spartans then proceeded to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Bryce Baringer punted the ball back to the Fighting Illini.
Illinois opened the scoring from there. On just a two-play drive, the Illini found the end zone when quarterback Tommy DeVito connected with wide receiver Isaiah Williams for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Williams did most of the damage after the catch and the Illini took an early 7-0 lead.
Michigan State responded with a score of its own on the next possession. The Spartans put together a long drive that saw 15 plays for 72 yards and took 6:27 off of the clock. MSU didn’t reach the end zone, but kicker Ben Patton knocked through a 21-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.
It was just the second time the Spartans have made a field goal this season, and Patton’s first make of the 2022 campaign (true freshman Jack Stone has the other field goal make).
Illinois was forced to punt on its next possession, giving the ball back to Michigan State at its own 39-yard line. The Spartans proceeded to drive 69 yards on seven plays — including a 34-yard connection from Thorne to wide receiver Jayden Reed — and eventually found the end zone.
Thorne hit wide receiver Tre Mosley for a one-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was missed by Patton and the Spartans took a 9-7 lead in the second quarter.
Illinois had success moving the ball on its next drive, but the Michigan State defense stepped up.
Chase Brown busted an 18-yard gain, but safety Xavier Henderson forced a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Aaron Brule. MSU took over possession at its own 22-yard line.
Michigan State could not capitalize on the turnover and was forced to punt. Baringer booted a 68-yard to pin Illinois at its 8-yard line.
Illinois drove down to Michigan State’s red zone, but an illegal block penalty sent the Illini 15 yards back. A couple plays later, likely due to the heavy winds, Illinois attempted to go for it on fourth-and-19, but did not convert.
Michigan State took a 9-7 lead into the locker rooms. It was just the second time Illinois had trailed at halftime this season (with the other time coming in the Illini’s only other loss this season to Indiana). It was also the first time since the Akron game on Sept. 10 that MSU held a lead at the half.
Illinois took possession to begin the second half, but eventually had to punt. The teams would trade a couple of punts early on in the third quarter, but it was a special teams miscue that ended up costing the Illini.
Illinois punter Hugh Robertson hit a punt off of his own player’s backside that went for a net gain of six yards. The Spartans took over deep over in Illini territory at the 29-yard line.
Six plays later, Michigan State found the end zone. The drive included a fourth-down-and-4 conversion on a well-designed play and an impressive catch by running back Jalen Berger.
Two plays later, running back Jarek Broussard scampered across the goal line for an 11-yard score. Patton hit the extra point this time, and the Spartans took a 16-7 advantage.
The Michigan State defense stepped up once again on Illinois’ next possession. The Illini would turn the ball over on downs on four straight plays after Chase Brown was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at Illinois’ 44-yard line.
The Spartans immediately capitalized after getting the ball back. It took just three plays for Michigan State to find the end zone once again, as Thorne and Reed hooked up for a 16-yard touchdown. MSU took a commanding 23-7 lead with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter.
The Illini responded with a touchdown drive, however. Illinois marched 56 yards in eight plays and it was capped off by another touchdown connection between DeVito and Williams. The Spartans’ lead was cut to 23-15 in the early fourth quarter.
On Michigan State’s ensuing possession, it appeared Reed had picked up a first down on third-and-7. After review, however, the officials overturned Reed’s catch and MSU was forced to punt. Baringer boomed one 68 yards and pinned Illinois at its own 1-yard-line.
That didn’t deter Illinois from marching into the red zone, though, helped out by some penalties. The Illini reached Michigan State’s 19-yard line, but the Spartans would come up big defensively once again, stopping Chase Brown on a fourth-and-2 run and getting the ball back to MSU’s offense.
Illinois would eventually force a punt and take over possession with 3:37 remaining. However, the Illini would then turn it over on downs. The Spartans sacked DeVito twice (Simeon Barrow on third down and Cal Haladay/Derrick Harmon on fourth down) to gain possession back.
Then Mel Tucker and the coaching staff showed poor late-game management (once again) on the next possession, which included a delay of game penalty. After Michigan State decided to throw it on third-and-14, Thorne’s pass fell incomplete, stopping the clock.
Patton then missed a 31-yard field goal attempt, giving Illinois some life with 1:06 left on the clock. The Illini would eventually get down to Michigan State’s 27-yard line, but went no further.
MSU’s defense held as the score went final at 23-15, and the Spartans earned a much-needed victory.
Illinois out-gained Michigan State in total yardage by a tally of 441-294, but the Illini converted just one of six attempts on fourth down.
This was also Mel Tucker’s fourth road win against a rank opponent — the most in the the FBS in the past four seasons.
Michigan State returns home to Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12 to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Kickoff time is at noon and the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.