HQ prediction: MSU 31, UI 17

HQ prediction: MSU 31, UI 17

QUARTERBACKS
2    Nathan Scheelhaase    6-3    205    Sr.    Kansas City, Mo.

18    Connor Cook    6-4    218    Soph.    Hinckley, Ohio

Edge: Illinois. Cook has provided a calming influence for the Spartans. Ditto for Scheelhaase. Cook struggled, though, last Saturday against Purdue, completing 13 of 25 passes for 107 yards. Yes, it was rainy and cold, but those weather conditions might apply the rest of the season. Mark Dantonio will want the same type of performance from Cook he exhibited against Iowa and Indiana, but not the efforts he had versus Notre Dame and the Boilermakers. Cook still is learning what it takes to quarterback a Big Ten team, while Scheelhaase has plenty of experience in that department. The trick plays Bill Cubit unveiled against Wisconsin did not go over well. The throws downfield from Scheelhaase, though, were on point. Keep more of the latter in the playbook against the Spartans and Scheelhaase might do just enough to help Illinois pull off an upset.

RUNNING BACKS
6    Josh Ferguson    5-10    195    Soph.    Naperville

33    Jeremy Langford    6-0    206    Jr.    Wayne, Mich.
37    Trevon Pendleton    5-11    248    Soph.    Lucasville, Ohio

Edge: Michigan State. Jet sweeps and double reverses worked when Illinois utilized those two plays against Cincinnati. More of the same might have to come out of the woodwork against the nation’s stingiest rush defense. Ferguson wasn’t able to get going against Wisconsin. Chances are he could have similar difficulties against Michigan State. Donovonn Young’s struggles are evident. He’s not getting upfield quick enough and isn’t holding on to the ball, two elements running backs never want to hear about themselves. No one really knew in the offseason who would replace the production current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had the last two seasons for the Spartans. Langford has answered some of those questions. He rushed for all of 23 yards last year, all against Central Michigan in the second game of the season, and has eclipsed 100 yards in each of his last two games.

RECEIVERS
12    Ryan Lankford    6-0    175    Sr.    Jacksonville, Fla.
8    Miles Osei    6-0    195    Sr.    Mount Prospect
80    Spencer Harris    6-3    205    Sr.    Greenwood, Ark.

14    Tony Lippett    6-3    191    Jr.    Detroit
13    Bennie Fowler    6-1    212    Sr.    Bloomfield, Mich.
3    Macgarrett Kings Jr.    5-10    186    Soph.    Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Edge: Illinois. Both teams lack that elite, game-changing wide receiver. Steve Hull looks like he could possibly step into that void for Illinois after his solid game against Wisconsin. Lankford woke up after getting shut out receptionwise at Nebraska. It’s uncertain how much Osei, a good outlet for Scheelhaase when he’s scrambling or needs a safety valve, will play after he suffered a concussion against Wisconsin. Harris quietly had four catches for 58 yards, including a rather impressive 29-yard touchdown catch late against the Badgers. Kings is the Spartans’ best pass catcher, having hauled in 25 for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Fowler (18 for 238, three TDs) and Lippett (17 for 183) are other options Cook looks to once Michigan State establishes its run game.

TIGHT ENDS
3    Jon Davis    6-3    240    Jr.    Louisville, Ky.

94    Michael Dennis    6-7    299    Jr.    Carey, Ohio
Edge: Illinois. The Illini have the better pass catchers. That’s a cinch. Davis, Matt LaCosse and Evan Wilson have combined for 26 receptions for 318 yards and seven touchdowns this season. The four the Spartans might roll out against Illinois — Dennis, Andrew Gleichert, Jamal Lyles and Josiah Price — have 11 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown. Dennis hasn’t caught a pass. Watching a 300-pound tight end go up high for a pass isn’t exactly pleasing to the eye, but his role is vital. He’s essentially a sixth lineman. In fact, right tackle was the position Dennis played prior to switching to tight end in preseason practices. As long as he clears the way for Langford to run the ball and gives Cook enough time to spot his receivers, Dennis has done his job.   

OFFENSIVE LINE
68    Simon Cvijanovic    6-5    310    Jr.    Cleveland
74    Michael Heitz    6-5    305    Jr.    Vermont
52    Alex Hill    6-3    315    Jr.    Slidell, La.
69    Ted Karras    6-4    300    Soph.    Indianapolis
70    Corey Lewis    6-6    315    Sr.    Cresco, Pa.

74    Jack Conklin    6-6    326    Fr.    Plainwell, Mich.
64    Blake Treadwell    6-3    304    Sr.    East Lansing, Mich.
66    Jack Allen    6-1    297    Soph.    Hinsdale
59    Dan France    6-6    312    Sr.    North Royalton, Ohio
51    Fou Fonoti    6-4    298    Sr.    Lakewood, Calif.
Edge: Michigan State. Four starters from last year anchor the Spartans’ line. The only newcomer is Conklin, a former high school teammate of Illinois freshman tight end Tyler White at Plainwell (Mich.) High School. Treadwell, who starts at left guard, is the son of former Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell, so Pops probably passed on his scouting report to his son. The Spartans have given up four sacks all season, second fewest in the Big Ten. The progress of Illinois’ starting five has Tim Beckman pleased. Illinois has given up 15 sacks, tied for ninth in the Big Ten, but not all those are the fault of the offensive line. They’ve given Scheelhaase enough time to throw consistently but could have difficulty against a stout Michigan State defensive front.

DEFENSIVE LINE
59    Tim Kynard    6-3    270    Sr.    Toledo, Ohio
95    Jake Howe    6-3    300    Jr.    McHenry
44    Austin Teitsma    6-2    290    Jr.    Glen Ellyn
55    Houston Bates    6-3    250    Jr.    Covington, La.

89    Shilique Calhoun    6-4    250    Soph.    Middletown, N.J.
91    Tyler Hoover    6-7    290    Sr.    Novi, Mich.
60    Micajah Reynolds    6-5    307    Sr.    Lansing, Mich.
44    Marcus Rush    6-2    245    Jr.    Cincinnati
Edge: Michigan State. Calhoun is what Illinois craves. A pass-rushing defensive end who is adept at capitalizing on turnovers created by other members of his defense. Hoover is a big, big man, and he’s a big, big difference-maker, too, with 3.5 sacks. Kynard is seventh in the Big Ten in tackles for loss and, if you had to pick one, is the most consistent pass rusher Illinois has. Which doesn’t say much for a team that has five sacks this season. Howe and Teitsma, try as they might, aren’t able to create much of a dent in clogging up the run game, so expect a heavy dose of Teko Powell against the Spartans.

LINEBACKERS
45    Jonathan Brown    6-1    230    Sr.    Memphis, Tenn.
43    Mason Monheim    6-1    235    Soph.    Orrville, Ohio
34    Mike Svetina    6-2    230    Soph.    Brunswick, Ohio

34    Taiwan Jones    6-3    250    Jr.    New Baltimore, Mich.
40    Max Bullough    6-3    245    Sr.    Traverse City, Mich.
28    Denicos Allen    5-11    218    Sr.    Hamilton, Ohio
Edge: Michigan State. Brown and Monheim are among the Big Ten’s leading tacklers. That’s all well and good. But the trio Michigan State has is a key reason the Spartans are so dominant on defense. Bullough is the calming influence. Allen is a playmaker, as he showed with his scoop and score on a fumble that resulted in a 45-yard touchdown against Purdue. And Allen leads the Spartans in tackles with 43, one fewer than Bullough. Jones is steady, too, with 30 tackles. Michigan State should expect its linebackers to drop into coverage more so than they have all year (with maybe the exception of Indiana). If Tim Banks could clone Brown and utilize him at the other two linebacking spots, the Illinois defensive coordinator most certainly would. Monheim hasn’t gotten off to the start he wants to in Big Ten play, so he’s due for a big game.

SECONDARY
28    Jaylen Dunlap    6-1    175    Fr.    Glenwood
9    Earnest Thomas    6-2    210    Jr.    Orchard Lake, Mich.
21    Zane Petty    6-1    190    Jr.    Corning, Calif.
27    Eaton Spence    6-0    185    Soph.    Belle Glade, Fla.

15    Trae Waynes    6-1    185    Soph.    Kenosha, Wis.
27    Kurtis Drummond    6-1    200    Jr.    Masury, Ohio
9    Isaiah Lewis    5-10    208    Sr.    Indianapolis
31    Darqueze Dennard    5-11    197    Sr.    Dry Branch, Ga.
Edge: Michigan State. Petty played well in his first career start against Wisconsin. The junior college transfer, who made plays during his two seasons at American River College in California, should make a few more against the Spartans. If he does, it looks like Taylor Barton will continue to fill the backup strong safety spot. Dunlap should make the first start of his college career with Bentley out. The true freshman missed a few tackles against Wisconsin, a sore spot for the Crete-Monee product, who expects to make meaningful contributions each game. He’ll most certainly have his chance against the Spartans. Dennard, Lewis and Drummond have combined for four interceptions this year, with Dennard the most recognizable name in the group.

SPECIAL TEAMS
17    Taylor Zalewski (K, KO)    6-3    220    Soph.    Orland Park
18    Justin DuVernois (P)    6-1    190    Jr.    Plantation, Fla.
54    Zach Hirth (LS)    6-4    220    Fr.    Eureka, Mo.
86    Tim Russell (Holder)    6-6    235    Sr.    St. Charles
12    Ryan Lankford (KR)    6-1    175    Sr.    Jacksonville, Fla.
8    Miles Osei (KR, PR)    6-0    200    Sr.    Mount Prospect

4    Michael Geiger (K)    5-8    186    Fr.    Toledo, Ohio
3    Mike Sadler (P, Holder)    6-0    192    Jr.    Grand Rapids, Mich.
17    Kevin Muma (KO)    6-0    206    Sr.    Troy, Mich.
52    Taybor Pepper (LS)    6-4    200    Soph.    Saline, Mich.
12    R.J. Shelton (KR)    5-11    204    Fr.    Beaver Dam, Wis.
41    Kyle Elsworth (KR)    6-1    225    Sr.    Goodrich, Mich.
3    Macgarrett Kings (PR)    5-10    186    Soph.    Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Edge: Michigan State. If Bentley and Osei can play, this might swing in Illinois’ favor. But Bentley is out with a left leg injury. Osei should play after starting the week in a purple practice jersey (which indicates he is injured and can’t take part in contact drills) but was in a green, limited-contact practice jersey Wednesday. Zalewski has made his last two field goal attempts, and on a day in which the breezes might kick up, continued accuracy is vital for him if he wants to keep his job. Muma and Geiger split the field goal responsibilities for the Spartans. On the season, they’re a combined 10 of 13. Geiger handles anything longer than 40 yards, where he is 3 for 3, while Muma handles intermediate to short field goals. Sadler is third in the Big Ten in punting average (42.8) and has landed almost half of his 41 punts — 18 to be exact — inside the 20-yard line. No one particularly stands out in the return game for the Spartans, but Kings has a 30-yard punt return next to his name this season.

COACHES
Tim Beckman    At UI (5-13)    Overall (26-29)

Mark Dantonio    At Michigan State (57-29)    Overall (75-46)
Edge: Michigan State. Dantonio has relied on a proven philosophy since taking control of Michigan State in 2007. Play good defense and produce a solid run-oriented offense. Those are two hallmarks of what Dantonio has accomplished in East Lansing. This might be considered a trap game for Michigan State. The Spartans host Michigan next Saturday. It might feel more like a trap game if the Illinois defense had stymied Wisconsin at key times last Saturday. But the Illini didn’t. Beckman still is trying to pin his coaching identity on one aspect or another during his time at Illinois. The defensive struggles have hurt Beckman’s reputation as a defensive-minded coach. Having capable players who will make plays and inspire confidence in the fan base is one item, among many, plaguing Illinois’ defense now. Until it gets corrected, expect Beckman’s five wins at Illinois to stay put for some time.

PREDICTION
The Spartans are on the cusp of the Top 25. Once they depart Champaign, they should feel good about finding themselves in the Top 25 come Sunday. It’s a hard argument to make in keeping teams with 7-1 records out of the Top 25 at this point. Michigan State should hold down that record after its defense gets done stifling Illinois and delivering physical hits all game. Few of the defensive starters Illinois will have against the Spartans were even born the last time Illinois beat Michigan State in Champaign (1992). The tackling improves, slightly, but the pressure continues to build on Tim Beckman. And the Big Ten losing streak reaches 17 games after Illinois falls 31-17. (N-G record: 5-1)
 

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