Michigan State (6-1)(3-0 B1G) at Illinois (3-3)(0-2 B1G) (3:30 p.m. ET, on ABC)
Line: MSU -10 (Bovada)
Last Meeting: 2010: 26-6 Michigan State
3 Players to Watch:
1) Connor Cook (QB, MSU): Well the week that I praise the Spartan QB is the week that he really struggled. I fully expected Connor to have a good game against a sketchy Purdue defense, but it did not happen. Cook only completed 13 of his 25 attempts for 107 yards, while completing 52% of his passes. We know and I am sure that he knows that 107 passing yards is not going to cut it against tougher competition, luckily I do not believe the Illinois defense will be much “tougher” than Purdue was. That is not to say that this game is not important, with Michigan having an extra week to prepare for MSU, Connor must get back on track this Saturday. If I were to set some goals for the young quarterback, I would be happy if he could complete 65-70% of his attempts for at least 200 yards in the air. A game like that should give him the confidence needed moving forward, not that he is lacking confidence, but a good game would really help.
2) Jeremy Langford (HB, MSU): If watching Wisconsin destroy Illinois last week taught us anything, it taught us to run the ball against the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin was able to bully Illinois on the ground and ended up with 289 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. Langford has really started to emerge along with freshman Delton Williams as a solid running back combo. Jeremy has topped 100 yards in his last two outings while racking up 3 touchdowns on the ground and one receiving touchdown. All of the scores came against Indiana, but Langford was able to rush for 131 yards against Purdue. Mark Dantonio should establish the running game early and often Saturday. The Spartans have the offensive line and the halfbacks to expose this Illini defense. If MSU does follow the game plan set by the Badgers we should expect a big game out of Langford in the backfield.
3) Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, Illinois): A few weeks ago there were people wondering if Nathan was the best quarterback in the B1G, but after two straight losses the talks have died down a bit. Scheelhaase is still having a great year and most likely the best year of his career if he continues to complete passes. On the year he has completed 115 of his 175 attempts for 1,546 yards, 12 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Despite the loss a week ago, Nathan completed 74% of his passes for 249 yards but did not throw a touchdown or interception. If he hopes to lead the Fighting Illini to a homecoming win he will need to have an outstanding game. He surely is capable of having such a game, but the Spartan defense will be the toughest he has faced all year. If he can avoid turning the ball over and find the end zone a few times, Illinois may win this one.
Remember me talking about all the hope that Connor Cook was giving the Spartan faithful? Well that hope may have lessened after last weeks performance, but again Cook will be given the opportunity to prove the haters (myself included) that he will be the guy to bring MSU to a Rose Bowl. He has the defense, he has the running game and even the wide receivers have seemed to step up. He is the missing piece. The problem is that he goes missing way to often. The Spartans do not need him to be great, though they do need him to be competent. Cook has done a great job avoiding turnovers, but has turned the ball over on downs to often. Connor needs to keep the chains moving and maybe he should actually try using his legs to do so, as the coaches have continued to stress that he has the ability to make plays with his legs.
I am not sure I even need to talk about this defense anymore. What more can they prove? The Spartan defense scored yet another TD last week and continue to impress me week in and out. Oh, well I guess I could criticize them for allowing more than 17 points, which they did at Indiana, but they followed that up by shutting out Purdue. I have no complaints and fully expect them to have another great performance this week against Illinois.
If the Spartans want the Legends Division title, they must continue to win the games that they should win. This weeks game is exactly that; a game that they should win. A loss could cripple MSU’s chances at getting to the B1G Title game and thus the Spartans cannot look ahead this week. Sure, they host the Wolverines in a week, but they should not and cannot overlook Illinois, especially on their homecoming game. I do not believe they will and expect MSU to win this one to stay undefeated in B1G play.
My pick: Michigan State 27, Illinois 17