With 2 straight victories over ranked Big Ten opponents, Michigan States sits atop the league at 2-0, tied with Ohio State. The road to a Big Ten Championship is now in place, as the Spartans know exactly what lies between them and their first league title since 1990. With a victory this weekend, MSU could have their first 7-0 start, since the National Championship year of 1966. I may be getting ahead of myself, but in order to win a league title, you must first begin to believe that you can do it and have the mindset of a champion. The next step for the Spartans is a home game against the Fighting Illini of Illinois. This will be another tough battle for MSU, as Illinois is coming off of their first victory ever in Happy Valley. They have some momentum from this win and also playing Ohio State very tough the week before. The Fighting Illini are definitely capable of the upset if the Spartans do not come to play their best ball this weekend. I will be looking for three keys in this game, which will keep the Spartan victory train rolling.
First, Michigan State must prove that they are here to stay, and a win against the Illini would prove this to Spartan fans everywhere. It has happened so much in the past, where MSU will win a big game, only to throw it away the next week by losing to an inferior opponent. If this is truly a team that wants to take the next step and become an elite team every year, then this is a must win game. Having the opportunity to go 7-0 for the first time in over 40 years is something that this Spartan team must relish in, and make them realize how special of a season they can have this year.
Second, Michigan State must continue to make big plays on both sides of the ball. Last week against Michigan, the Spartan offense had four plays of over 40 yards. Nothing kills the defenses’ confidence more than a 61 yard touchdown run, or a 45 yard pass completion. These types of plays completely take the wind out of an opponent and MSU must continue to find ways to make big plays on offense. The Spartan defense has also been huge in making opportunistic plays to get themselves off the field. They had three interceptions last week and forced Michigan into only two out of eleven third down conversions. The momentum of an offense is quickly zapped, when you turn them over or force them to punt the ball away. Along the same lines, the third key for the Spartans will be winning the turnover battle. It is a whole lot easier to win ball games when you take care of the rock and force the opposition into turnovers. It is no coincidence that the top teams every year have a positive turnover ratio, in which this year, MSU is ranked 13th nationally at plus five.
When Michigan State has the ball: MSU will be looking for its’ sixth 200 yard rushing game this weekend, against a defense that is ranked 20th overall in the country. Edwin Baker has compiled three 100 yard rushing games this year, while Le’Veon Bell has two. It will be up to the Illini’s top two tacklers, LB’s Martez Wilson and Ian Thomas, to stop this vaunted ground game for the Spartans. Wilson has 46 total tackles, 5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks, while Thomas has 34 total tackles and 4 tackles for a loss on the year. If Illinois is to have any chance of containing the run game, these two, along with the front seven for the Illini, must play very well. Kirk Cousins will continue to do what he does, in leading an offense that is burning on all cylinders right now. The Spartans have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the nation, which makes it very difficult for a defense to stop.
When Illinois has the ball: Michigan State’s defense should be on cloud nine after their stellar performance last week against the Wolverines. They held the 3rd ranked rushing offense to only 162 yards on the ground, or 162 below their season average. They played fast and physical and I look for them to continue to play this way for the rest of the year. You can just see the confidence growing each week in the defense, which should be a scary thing for opponents. MSU will face another powerful runner, in Illini bruiser Mikel Leshoure. He rushed for 119 yards against a solid Penn State defense last week, in which, this year he averaging 5.7 yards a carry and 119 yards a game. Michigan State must first stop the run game and force Illinois’ young and inexperienced quarterback to beat them. Nathan Scheelhaase has been a starter for 5 games, and has only 4 total touchdowns on the year.
Michigan State keeps proving that they are a team to be reckoned with this year…
Michigan State 38 Illinois 24
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Written by David Lesmeister