The Michigan State football team (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) will take their first place standing in the Big Ten Legends Division on the road this Saturday to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-3, 0-2).
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on both ABC and ESPN2.
Here is a breakdown of the game and the match ups to watch.
Michigan State Passing Offense vs. Illinois Passing Defense Advantage: Illinois
For the better part of this season, it’s been hard to think of a pass attack that could be much worse than this Michigan State passing offense is right now.
At the start of the season, the quarterback situation was an absolute mess. With three different quarterbacks having taken snaps in the first two games, the quarterback race was certainly a fuzzy one.
However, Michigan State finally found their guy in Connor Cook. And while Cook made significant strides in wins over Iowa and Indiana, he took a huge step back last week against Purdue, completing just 13-25 passes for 107 yards.
In short, it doesn’t take much to stop this pedestrian Michigan State passing game, which produces just 177 yards of offense a game.
While the Illinois passing defense isn’t exactly a powerhouse, a 1-6 football team last week held Michigan State to just 107 yards through the air. In this particular match up, the advantage always has to go to Michigan State’s opponent.
Michigan State Rushing Offense vs. Illinois Rushing Defense Advantage: Michigan State
For starters, this Illinois rushing defense has been outright awful as of late. On the season, they give up 211 rushing yards a game, including games where they allowed 289 yards on the ground against Wisconsin last week and 335 two weeks prior at Nebraska.
For Michigan State, junior running back Jeremy Langford has really been picking up steam the last couple of weeks, topping 100 yards in each of the Spartans’ last two games.
In addition, true freshman running back Delton Williams has also impressed as of late, rushing for 92 yards in the win over Indiana two weeks ago.
Come Saturday, expect this MSU Football team to continue the trend of running over the Illinois rushing defense.
Illinois Passing Offense vs. Michigan State Passing Defense Advantage: Michigan State
With the exception of giving up a big pass play here or there or getting called on numerous pass interference penalties against Notre Dame, this Michigan State passing defense has been stout this season.
While Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has shown the ability to make some things happen this season, he has struggled against the higher-caliber opponents on their schedule.
And as far as defenses come, this Michigan State defense is as high-caliber as it gets, allowing just 168.9 passing yards a game this season. Expect the “No Fly Zone” of Michigan State corners Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes to be in full effect against Illinois
Illinois Rushing Offense vs. Michigan State Rushing Defense Advantage: Michigan State
This really isn’t even a question. Earlier in this article, it was mentioned how Illinois gave up 335 yards on the ground three weeks ago at Nebraska.
To put this into perspective just how good this Michigan State rushing defense is, they’ve given up just 414 rushing yards all season. That’s only 59.1 yards a game, good enough to rank them number one in this category by a long shot.
The Illinois running backs will certainly have their work cut out for them when they got up against the likes of Shilique Calhoun, Max Bullough and company.
Michigan State Special Teams vs. Illinois Special Teams Advantage: Michigan State
For Michigan State, their special teams is all about one guy: Mike Sadler.
The junior punter has been absolutely clutch with his punts this season, time and time again pinning Michigan State’s opponents inside the 20, including a monstrous 69 yard boot a few weeks ago against Indiana, not to mention a 25 yard scramble off a fake punt to pick up a first down against Iowa a few weeks ago.
However, while Michigan State’s return game has been suspect at best this season, having muffed more than their fair share of punts, the Illinois return game certainly been rather impressive.
And sophomore return man V’Angelo Bentley has been much of the reason for this. So far on the season, Bentley has averaged 30.8 yards per kick return, including a long of 100 he took all the way to the end zone. As for punt returns, his average on those has been 15.8 per return with a long of 50.
Unfortunately for Illinois, their star return man and corner is officially ruled out for Saturday’s game, giving Michigan State the edge in yet another category.
Overall Advantage: Michigan State
At the end of the day, with a defense that gives up just 13.6 points a game, Michigan State is certainly the better football team in this match up. As long as Connor Cook can sustain something that resembles a few good offensive drives in the game on Saturday, they should find themselves 4-0 in the Legends Division with a big game against Michigan the next week.
But they must beware. This has all the makings of being a trap game for Michigan State. If the MSU Football team finds themselves looking past Illinois on Saturday, which also just so happens to be the Illini homecoming game, watch out for an upset.
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