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Spartans falter late again, drop seventh straight game 31-27 at Illinois

A pair of underwhelming Big Ten programs, in different ways, hooked up in Champaign on a simply spectacular November afternoon for football. The Michigan State Spartans were desperate to get back in the win column, something they haven’t done since all the way back in Week 3 against Notre Dame.

MSU was opposing the Illinois Fighting Illini, who have allowed at least 31 points in all six of their losses this season and offensively have struggled to pile up yardage through the air (167.5 passing YPG – 113th in the country).


1ST QUARTER

After forcing a three-and-out from the Illini, MSU took their opening drive 30 yards into Illinois territory and settled for a 46-yard field goal from kicker Michael Geiger to take a 3-0 lead.

It was the only scoring play for either team in the first quarter. The Spartan defense forced a total of three three-and-outs. Offensively, they got into Illinois territory on their second drive but had to punt it away.

(THRU 1ST: MSU LEADS 3-0)


2ND QUARTER

Both teams exchanged two empty possessions to open the second quarter. For MSU, they forced yet two more three-and-out drives from the Illini.

On MSU’s third drive, again they got into Illinois territory. All five of their first-half drives ended up on the Illinois side of the field. Their final possession of the second half finished again with yet another Geiger field goal, this time from 34 yards out. The drive totaled nine plays and 46 yards.

Having just amassed 21 yards on their first five drives, Illinois miraculously on their sixth possession not only managed to finally get their first 1st down of the game, they collected three 1st downs, also converting on a pair of 3rd downs, including a 19-yard scamper on 3rd and long deep in MSU territory from tailback Kendrick Foster to get in the end zone and give Illinois a 7-6 lead just before halftime.

So MSU totaled 134 yards in the first half, had all five drives go into Illinois territory but had to settle for two Geiger field goals. Illinois meanwhile totals 94 yards in the first half, 73 coming on their sixth and final drive and takes the lead.

(HALF: ILL LEADS 7-6)


3RD QUARTER

MSU got the ball to open the second half. Again, no problem moving the ball as they went eight plays and 64 yards to get to the Illinois-11, but the drive stalled and Geiger was called upon once more. He splits the uprights from 28 yards out to re-claim the lead for the Spartans, 9-6. Through this point, the Spartan offense snapped it more than a dozen times inside the ILL-30, unable to find the red zone.

Picking up all these small battle victories by holding MSU to field goals, Illinois seemingly with the momentum and having scored on their recent drive used that as fuel to garner a 1st drive on their first second-half possession. Then it was Foster again breaking loose for 64 yards to the end zone, re-capturing the lead for Illinois 14-9.

MSU on the ensuing drive fumbles on the first play from scrimmage, running back LJ Scott was the culprit. The defense picked up a small victory of sorts forcing a three-and-out inside the MSU-30 as Illinois had to settle for a field goal, inflating their lead to 17-6.

After exchanging empty drives, MSU AGAIN moved the ball deep into Illinois. This time however, a 10-play, 84-yard drive was capped by a 6-yard touchdown run from Gerald Holmes. A successful two-point conversion from quarterback Tyler O’Connor to R.J. Shelton knotted it up at 17’s.

Illinois on their ensuing drive got the ball back and moved into MSU grounds, but not before the third quarter ended.

(THRU 3RD: TIED 17-17)


4TH QUARTER

Illinois continued that drive that closed out the third quarter and turned it into another touchdown, a 1-yard passing touchdown from quarterback Jeff George Jr. to wideout Ainslie Johnson, giving Illinois the 24-17 lead.

MSU on the ensuing drive was faced with a 4th-and-short after just three plays. O’Connor on the QB-keep converted, but was shaken up on the play. He was removed from the game in place of redshirt junior Damion Terry. He kept the drive alive only to set Geiger up with MSU’s fourth field goal of the game, cutting their deficit to 24-20.

After forcing an Illinois three-and-out, MSU got the ball back at about midfield. Back in Illinois territory not surprisingly and facing 4th down inside the ILL-15, Terry lobbed one up to Shelton in the back of the end zone for a spectacular catch, giving MSU the 27-24 lead with under three minutes to go. Shelton effectively bailed out tight end Josiah Price, who dropped a wide open pass from Terry on the 3rd down before.

Illinois got the ball back and wasted no time getting into the red zone, thanks in part to two pass interference calls on the MSU defense and some busted coverage. They exhausted only a little more than a minute to find the end zone again. George Jr. completed his second TD pass of the game to put Illinois back on top, 31-27.

MSU with one last gasp got right back into Illinois territory, rather fittingly given how many times they did so in the game. Terry began to manufacture a drive deep into Illini territory, inside the 25-yard line. On a 4th-and-3 from the Illinois-15, the pocket collapsed on Terry and he took a sack, preserving a victory for Illinois and handing MSU a seventh straight loss.

The loss for the Spartans will put them outside of bowl eligibility and snap a streak of nine straight seasons going bowling.

FINAL – ILL 31, MSU 27


NOTABLE PERFORMANCES

  • T. O’Connor (MSU): 23/36, 265 yards
  • D. Terry (MSU): 6/12, 50 yards, TD
  • R.J. Shelton (MSU): 7 rec, 80 yards, TD
  • G. Holmes (MSU): 12 car, 78 yards, TD; 3 rec, 15 yards
  • K. Foster (ILL): 17 car, 146 yards, 2 TD
  • J. George Jr. (ILL): 13/29, 140 yards, 2 TD
  • GAME: 13 total points scored in first half; 45 in second half
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