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MSU holds off late surge, upsets No. 16 Illinois

The Big Ten West race thickens.

TCR // Brad Repplinger

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois’ longest winning streak in more than a decade is over.

Coming into Memorial Stadium at 16.5-point underdogs, Michigan State rode QB Payton Thorne and its defense en route to a 23-15 win over No. 16 Illinois — snapping the Illini’s 6-game win streak.

Rough conditions spelled struggles for both Illinois and Michigan State on a windy Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. It was simply a question of which team would step up when conditions were toughest, and the Spartans did just that.

“They did enough to win this football game,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “[They] did a better job of handling the elements.”

However, poor clock management by the Spartans and a missed 31-yard field goal gave Illinois one last chance with 1:06 left in the game. QB Tommy DeVito took the offense all the way to the Michigan State 27-yard line with under 30 seconds left, but a fumble in-bounds secured the Illini’s fate.


It looked like it would be all Illinois (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) at first, as QB Tommy DeVito found WR Isaiah Williams on a 60-yard touchdown pass to give them an early first quarter lead 7-0.

Michigan State (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) came into Champaign after a postgame brawl against Michigan left 8 defenders (two starters) out from suspension. Watching this defense play on Saturday, you wouldn’t have guessed it.

Three turnovers on downs — one on the goal-line — and a fumble kept the Illini without another score until the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“Every time we tried to get ahead, something pulled us back,” Bielema said. “I told the guys in the locker room, ‘This is the definition of how to lose a game.’”

After the opening-play interception, Thorne took control. His 182 yards and 2 passing touchdowns gave Michigan State a 23-7 lead late in the 3rd quarter.

With the Illini facing their biggest deficit of the season, Memorial Stadium was dead silent. However, when the Illini needed it most, they regained some life as Williams scored his second touchdown on a 7-yard catch.

Unfortunately, that would be the final score for the Illini.

“It’s a very disappointed locker room,” Bielema said.

Illinois’ first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff rankings might be short lived. The loss also harms Illinois’ chances to win the Big Ten West, and there’s still some work to do for the Illini to get a trip to Indy next month.


GOAL LINE STAND: Following Sydney Brown’s interception on the first play of scrimmage, Michigan State’s defense returned the favor. The Illini took the ball down to the Spartan 3-yard line before turning it over on downs.

COSTLY MISTAKES: Halfway through the second quarter, the Illini drove into Spartan territory looking to take the lead back. On a crucial third-down play, Chase Brown rushed for a first down and more, but a hard hit by safety Xavier Henderson forced Brown’s second fumble of the year.

SHANK: Midway through the third, Illinois punter Hugh Robertson dribbled a punt off his foot to the Illinois 29-yard line. In what could’ve been a big punt with the wind at their backs, this mistake gave Michigan State great field position. They capitalized six plays later with a touchdown, extending the lead to 16-7.

“You’re gonna flip the field position game there,” Bielema said. “For that to happen, it’s a tough one.”

ANOTHER TURNOVER ON DOWNS: Down 23-15 early in the fourth, Illinois started a drive on its own 1-yard line and took the ball down to the Michigan State 20-yard line. The offense faced a 4th and 2, and a fifth straight rushing play resulted in Chase Brown falling just short. This was the closest the Illini would get to the endzone again.


Sydney brown picks off the first play from scrimmage.

Isaiah Williams gives the Illini some life.




With first place in the Big Ten West on the line, Illinois welcomes Purdue into Champaign for Senior Day next Saturday.

Kickoff time and TV channel are TBD.