Losers of six straight games, the Michigan State Spartans look to right the ship against an Illinois team that is seeking to end their own two-game skid. Michigan State’s streak happens to be longest of Mark Dantonio’s thirteen-year career, and the longest in Michigan State program history since a losing streak that started in the 1981 season and rolled into the 1982 season.
For Michigan State, a familiar face will be under center this weekend after Brian Lewerke broke his left tibia in last Saturday’s game against Michigan. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor stepped in last week in the Spartans’ 32-23 loss to Michigan and completed 50% of his passes, throwing an interception and a touchdown. Another player to keep an eye out for is Damion Terry, who provides the Spartans a more versatile option at quarterback if O’Connor struggles. No matter who’s under center for the Spartans, the key is to simply manage the offense and allow the running game and defense to wear down an inferior Illinois team.
One bright spot for Michigan State is sophomore running back LJ Scott; the Ohio native torched Michigan’s No. 1 defense by rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown on only 22 carries. The biggest key for the Spartans in this game is to wear down the Illinois defense by going right at them with LJ Scott. If Scott continues his success, then it could also open up the passing game for either O’Connor or Terry.
The Spartans’ preparation this week has been thwarted by uncertainty. The Illini have not disclosed who will be their starting quarterback for this game as Wes Lunt has been out for the past three games with a back injury, and Chayce Couch is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Lunt has taken some snaps during practice this week, however Lovie Smith has yet to comment on Lunt’s progress. Jeff George Jr. has started in place of both Lunt and Couch and has struggled immensely; against Minnesota, George was a dismal 16 of 34 and only threw for 156 yards. A major key for the Spartan defense this week is to develop a gameplan that creates opportunities to get after the Illini quarterback. The Spartans have only recorded seven sacks in their eight games, which ranks them 123rd out of 128 total FBS schools.
Both Michigan State and Illinois will be looking for an elusive victory on Saturday, and while it may not count for much this Fall, it can perhaps establish some momentum heading into the offseason.