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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois at Michigan State

Almost all of us are predicting wins.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: Illinois 27, Michigan State 13

I’ve been waiting a long time to put together some bowling content.

I feel like that time is finally here. My short preview again: Brandon Peters does just enough, Dre Brown rushes for another score, Casey Washington makes a big grab, as does Navarro. Jake Hansen forces a fumble and Nate Hobbs has a big impact on the secondary again. James McCourt with a big day too. Illini are 6-4.

Michael Berns: Illinois 31, Michigan State 27

Michigan State’s offense is woeful. They insist on running the ball when in fact, they stink at running the ball. Mark Dantonio is an old-school, my-system-or-the-highway type of coach, and his inability to adjust to his personnel and a bad o-line has manifested itself in a combined score of 100-17 in 3-straight losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. Sparty’s ship is sinking fast. How they respond from a bye week, and how they respond after losing one of their best defensive players to a PED suspension, will say a lot about Dantonio and his future as head coach of Michigan State.

Illinois is on a roll. They feel the momentum. They feel invincible. This one is close and back-and-forth. Good guys come through and win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

Matt Rejc: Michigan State 24, Illinois 17

MSU is going to be motivated to get back on track at home after a bye week. Dantonio’s squad has been gashed in three straight games against a trio of top-10 teams, and are going to look to regain a portion of their pride. The Spartans are still a talented squad even without their top inside linebacker, and it’ll be tough for even the well-motivated Illini squad to overcome them. MSU’s rush defense will largely shut down the Illinois running attack and force Brandon Peters to pass. Peters will hit Casey Washington and Josh Imatorbhebhe for a pair of touchdown passes, but also throw two picks, including a late pick six that locks up the game for the Spartans.

Thumpasaurus: Michigan State 16, Illinois 6

Well, I have to be consistent with these. Illinois has outperformed my official predictions for four weeks running. You want me to mess with a good thing here? No you don’t. This game is ugly and horrible on both sides, with the Spartan offense collapsing in on itself every time it crosses the 20 and the Illini unable to beat the pressure by the Spartans front seven. This becomes a kicking-and-punting battle, which normally favors the Illini, but a couple of Illini turnovers are the difference here as one is returned for a touchdown and another sets up one of the longest drives of the day for either team: a 3 play, -2 yard field goal drive. Total yards are way under 400. Nobody’s happy about this game.

Drew Pastorek: Illinois 23, Michigan State 16

Michigan State has been outscored 100-17 the past three games, though it’s worth pointing out those three games were against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Sparty has traditionally done pretty well under Mark Dantonio but things have unraveled quickly this year. There has been a mass exodus of players, and MSU just lost linebacker Joe Bachie to a PED suspension. Somehow, the Spartans are a 15-point favorite this Saturday. Maybe it’s just out of habit? Maybe people haven’t been watching Illinois the past month? I’m not sure. But even if the Illini lose, I don’t think Michigan State has the oomph to blow them out. The Spartans love running the ball, despite not having a dominant runner — leading rusher Elijah Collins has 545 yards on 115 carries (4.7 yards/rush). Not bad. However, 192 of those yards came in Week 2 against Western Michigan. His highest mark since then is just 76 yards. The reliability in the ground game simply isn’t there. Brian Lewerke has been a steady, capable quarterback but hasn’t consistently had the skill players around him to amp up the offense. Oh...which reminds me, the Spartans’ best skill position player, Darrell Stewart Jr., is out for Saturday’s game.

As for Illinois, it’s no secret that Brandon Peters has struggled making plays. The Michigan transfer has certainly had his moments, but they’ve been few and far between. Peters hasn’t had a game with double-digit completions since September (the infamous EMU game). Thankfully, Illinois’ run game has more than made up for it. Reggie Corbin has been his usual self, but the emergence of Dre Brown as a second option has helped fuel the Illini’s three-game win streak. They’ll be challenged by a stout Michigan State defensive front.

Could this be — dare I say it? — a defensive struggle? I think so. Control time of possession, win the turnover battle. That’s been the formula for Illinois the past month, and I don’t see that changing this weekend. Let’s go bowling!

Raul Rodriguez: Illinois 21, Michigan State 10

In my MSU preview article, I laid out four different possible scenarios going into this game. The “Happy Scenario” is the one that applies so that will be my prediction:

‘The Happy Scenario’

If MSU does not look Big Ten Championship caliber, but the Illini are realistically in bowl contention, then Illinois wins 21-10. At this point, Lovie would be 2-0 against Dantonio and the protests from MSU fans to nab current Cincinnati HC and former Ohio State DC, Luke Fickell — before another Big Ten school grabs him — will be loud and boisterous.

This season has been very underwhelming for Michigan State and it could potentially be disastrous. Meanwhile, Illini are coming with momentum and confidence. Expect Lovie and the Illini Defense to shut down MSU’s offense. The Illini offense, on the other hand, will do just enough.

Jacob Rajlich: Illinois 28, Michigan State 14

I don’t have any idea as to what’s going on anymore. If you told me after the Nebraska game that’d we 5-4 going into this week, I’d call you crazy. But college football is crazy, and the Illini have performed in weeks where they need to. Winning this game this week is huge, guaranteeing the Illini a bowl berth. If Illinois can keep the momentum going I think they can win against a tough Michigan State team. But it’s

Steve Braun, unofficially: Illinois 24, Michigan State 20

Now that I’ve made my “official pick” to keep in line with winning trends, let’s get weird. I’m going to be driving the Magic Hatchback to East Lansing for this game. Illinois is 3-0 since I bought that car, and my first trip with it was to Champaign for Homecoming. Furthermore, my friend Derek will be with me, which is important because in 2015, I drove him up to East Lansing in a manual transmission car to watch an Illini hoops team with several suspensions and injuries play a ranked Spartans team on the road. I busted my ankle at halftime, stayed to watch a narrow, bizarre win, limped through the parking lot, drove out through gameday traffic because Derek couldn’t drive stick, then eventually ended up at the hospital. Derek flipped his car going back to Chicago the next day. If calamities start befalling us this weekend, we’ll be delighted.

As for practical ways this could happen? Simple. Michigan State is very very stubborn on offense, and they go into games with the assumption that they can Establish The Run and Pound It Down Their Throats and Punch Them In The Mouth and Smash Mouth Football. But hey now, there’s no all stars on that offensive line. They’ll get the show on, but they won’t get paid. The point I’m trying to make is that Michigan State will run an offense similar to Iowa’s, but will do so with the hardheaded refusal to adapt that Wisconsin employed against us. This means that if it turns out Illinois is well-prepared for the basic arsenal of MSU rushing plays, they have a great chance to win because Mark Dantonio would rather Establish The Run than Win The Game. Add to that the ball security issues every Spartans back since Jeremy Langford has struggled with and you have a recipe for a minor meltdown.

Illinois has been remarkably effective at converting turnovers into points. The offense really does seem to do their best work when the defense gives them the ball. Peters is going to need to continue to run the ball; his reluctance to do so was a big reason the offense slowed down in the second quarter against Rutgers, but then he finally kept the ball and damn near ran for a 60 yard touchdown. The loss of Joe Bachie will hurt the Spartans, but their defensive line is still very good, and there will be a lot of plays that go for negative yardage. Peters is going to have to shoulder a lot of the load in this one because all four of the Spartans D-linemen are very good and may be the stiffest challenge the Illini OL has faced.

I think you’re going to see a defensive front seven for Illinois that seems to finally have great confidence create all kinds of problems for a subpar Spartans offensive linemen. Lewerke will make some plays happen and there’s probably at least one long touchdown for the Spartans here, but ultimately turnovers rule the day again.

This is all unofficial, mind you.