Spartans Experience Worst Loss Of The Mark Dantonio Era In Epic Collapse
East Lansing, MI
Following a dismal month of October, Michigan State played host to Illinois on Saturday afternoon, but a promising start quickly became what could be described as Michigan State’s darkest hour under Mark Dantonio.
The Spartans quickly surged out to a 28-3 lead in the second quarter, seemingly making easy work of the Fighting Illini as they looked to coast to an easy, confidence-building win heading into next week’s rivalry game against Michigan, but instead another case of poor coaching, inept offense and unexpectedly bad defense led to a nightmarish Saturday.
Illinois slowly chipped away at Michigan State’s comfortable lead as they eventually trailed by just one, 31-30, late in the fourth quarter and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Peters to Daniel Barker with less than a minute to play, erasing Michigan State’s 25-point lead as Illinois knocked off the Spartans, 37-34.
The loss for Michigan State could and probably should be considered as the worst loss in the Dantonio era at Michigan State and a loss that falls directly on the Spartan head coach and his inability or unwillingness to fix the issues that have ailed the program over the past four years.
After the Spartans (4-5 overall; 2-4 Big Ten) put together a near-flawless first half, which included two Elijah Collins touchdown runs along with a Brian Lewerke 42-yard touchdown run and 18-yard touchdown pass to Tre Mosley, Michigan State, inexplicably began taking its foot off the gas, making the mistake of playing things conservatively.
Illinois (6-4 overall; 4-3 Big Ten) took back some of Michigan State’s momentum on the final play of the first half when Peters avoided the Michigan State pass rush and found Josh Imatorbhebhe in the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown, cutting Michigan State’s lead to 28-10 at halftime.
The only points of the third quarter came on a Matt Coghlin 23-yard field goal with 10:59 left to extend Michigan State’s lead to 31-10.
But the Spartans’ collapse was in full effect by the start of the fourth quarter.
The Fighting Illini scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, an 83-yard strike from Peters to Imatorbhebhe, who caught the ball near midfield and then raced past the Michigan State secondary to cut the deficit to 31-17.
Needing a response to keep Illinois at arm’s length, the Spartan offense instead sputtered with the no help coming from the conservative playcalling and went 3-and-out and Illinois almost immediately capitalized.
The Fighting Illini easily moved the ball into Michigan State territory and a 23-yard pass from Peters to running back Reggie Corbin set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Corbin with 11:05 left to play, cutting Michigan State’s once comfortable 25-point lead down to just seven, 31-24.
Michigan State’s offense continued to unravel as Lewerke fumbled the snap on the first play of the ensuing drive, giving Illinois the ball inside the Michigan State 10-yard line. But the Spartan defense preserved the lead three plays later, for the time being, as Shakur Brown intercepted a pass in the end zone, erasing what looked to be a costly mistake.
As Michigan State’s offense drove into Illini territory, Lewerke made another costly mistake, throwing his third interception of the game, this time into the hands of Illinois defensive back Sydney Brown, who returned the ball 75 yards for a touchdown. The Spartans’ lead had been cut to just 31-30 with less than five minutes left to play following a missed extra point.
Lewerke, who put together a strong first half, but a shaky second half with a couple of costly mistakes, finished 251 yards passing and a touchdown on 19-of-36 passing, and 96 yards rushing, but committed four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble). With Darrell Stewart Jr. out due to injury, Cody White led the way for the Michigan State receivers, tallying seven catches for 128 yards.
With yet another opportunity to put the game away, Michigan State used a 40-yard run from Elijah Collins to get into Illinois territory, but the coaching staff again made a puzzling decision to stay conservative and play for a field goal, rather than a potential touchdown to seal the win.
A 46-yard field goal by Coghlin with 3:17 left to play extended Michigan State’s lead to 34-30.
Collins finished with 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
On its final drive of the game, Illinois converted a 4th-and-17 with a 37-yard completion to Imatorbhebhe down inside Michigan State’s 20-yard line.
After Illinois had a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Michigan State looked like it had come up with a goal-line stop on fourth down, but a pass interference call gave Illinois new life with less than a minute left to play.
With just five seconds left in the game, Peters found Barker who settled in an open area in the back of the end zone with five seconds left to give the Illini the 37-34 win, marking their largest comeback in program history.
Peters finished the game with 369 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-44 passing. Imatorbhebhe recorded four grabs for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
In a four-game stretch where the Michigan State program has spiraled all the way down to rock bottom, the Spartans will head to Ann Arbor next Saturday to take on rival Michigan at the Big House.
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