Michigan State vs. Illinois Scouting Report and Prediction

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Michigan State vs. Illinois  Scouting Report and Prediction


A look at this week’s opponent…

The Illini come in reeling. They had a team projected to be much better record wise than they are. Other than Ohio State, this team has the most raw talent in the Big Ten, top to bottom. Ron Zook is a tremendous recruiter, but this season has made it clear that he lacks game day adjustment skills.


The Spartans this week get a wounded tiger by the tail. Coming into the season I fully expected ILL to have a better record right now (I had thought 2-2) as well as to beat the Spartans. Not because I didn’t believe in the Spartans and the staff, it was because of the Spartans youth and the Illini’s huge talent gap advantage.


When MSU has the ball…

Dan Roushar concurred with me on Thursday that some of the Spartans’ best success has come when they have used the pass to set up the run rather than the usual vice versa.


The Illini have an excellent DT combination and their defensive philosophy is to use them to tie up defenders and let their LBs roam. They are very athletic, and although the record isn’t good, and the coaching is suspect, this is a team that has plenty of ability to beat the Spartans.


They, like every other team the Spartans have faced, will attack the line of scrimmage and try to stop the Spartan running attack. The question is will the Spartans go to the air immediately to open up the run or will they stick with the power attack and see if they can impose their will.


Based upon the tendency of this staff, I expect them to try to impose their will. The Spartans aren’t playing the Illini’s record. They are playing a very talented group of proud young men. Because of that, it is imperative for the Spartans to have early success. Caper and Winston cannot afford turnovers that will give the Illini and their new QB good field position and a chance for some early momentum.


If Kirk Cousins’ ankle is less than 100%, Keith Nichol’s running talents will come in nicely by giving the athletic Illini the added headache of accounting for his running talent.


When MSU is on defense…

The Spartans have to show incredible gap patience and stay home and let the play come to them. The Illini will throw in a myriad of misdirection and passing out of running formations, running out of pass formations, running on passing downs, and passing on running downs. They have a great scheme for the talent that they have, but their coaching deficiencies can hamper that talent.


The Spartans need to get pressure from the their front four and allow their backs to read more than being forced into blitzing. Which D shows up? The CMU defense or the UM defense for the first 3 and ½ quarters?


If the Spartan D that played UM shows up, they can contain the Illini. That D swarmed and was athletic. They were able to get pressure out of their base scheme and not have to bring the house all the time. If that group doesn’t show up and the Illini get any early momentum this game could get ugly and the Spartans get trounced.



There are three big ones.


#1 Under Mark Dantonio you haven’t seen an emotional let down from this team. I don’t expect it, because they have exorcised that demon from this program. Being around the team this week you don’t see the resolve of last week, but you do see a confidence (not arrogance) that wasn’t there either. Until this team demonstrates an emotional let down, I will believe that they won’t.


#2 A talented team, like the Illini, are injured. They are very talented and I certainly don’t know all of them, but I do know some and they are some good kids. They have pride. Just like last week the Spartans were on the edge, they are this week. Juice Williams is an immensely popular young man on that football team and you have to wonder if the team will enter the game discouraged and angry that their guy was benched. Juice will play, but what is the mood of the team?


#3 The Illini fans are a great group. They have given and have done all that is asked of them to return this once proud program to glory. They are in the mindset right now of the Spartan Nation in 2006. There is blood in the water. If the Spartans have a fast start and can kill any emotion or momentum, they will take this depleted and emotional spent crowd out of the game. If the Spartans are on fire, this crowd will turn and it will get real ugly. If the Spartans let them stick around, or get a lead and go to conservative and let them come back, and their crowd fires up, this team is too good and there may be problems for the Spartans.


The Spartans need to come out fast and strong and keep their foot on the gas. If they don’t the Spartans could lose this and lose big. This isn’t a team lacking talent and it is important to have them saying, “Here we go again.” The Spartans have to go all Dantonio and act like the Illini are a WJR radio host. They have to win the battle of the wills.



In 2005 the Spartan Nation was down, but stuck in with their team. Even though they folded. In 2006, the Spartan Nation was spent. They supported their players, but the last breath of hope was out of their lungs and they had turned on the staff. That is the condition of the Illini nation.


This game scares me. If the Spartans go conservative they lose and that crowd comes alive and so do the emotions of those spent Illini players. I never expected this team to be where they are. I do, however, go back to the fact that Mark Dantonio led teams at MSU that haven’t had the emotional let down. I expect him to have this team ready to put a stake in the Illini’s heart.


Because of that, I think the Spartans go down to Illinois and beat the Illini 27-17. I never expected MSU to win this game at the start and I am worried about it now, but that mindset has a huge impact on a team. Don’t we know Spartan Nation?


On a side note, if the Illini lose on Saturday, Ron Zook will not be back in 2010 and I expect the Illini to make a strong push for CMU head coach Butch Jones.