Final Word: Mosely ready for action
CHAMPAIGN — Darius Mosely will try to replicate V’Angelo Bentley’s production today.
With Bentley, the Illinois cornerback and kick returner who has started the first six games, out with a left ankle injury, Mosely will fill Bentley’s spot at cornerback and on punt returns. Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Mosely and another true freshman cornerback, Jaylen Dunlap, should see the same amount of playing time in the secondary.
“I think Mosely had a little bit of a better practice on Thursday,” said Beckman, who coaches the cornerbacks.
Mosely said he didn’t prepare any differently this week even if he has increased duties in today’s game. He’s keeping his punt-return approach simple, too.
“First and foremost, just catching and securing the ball,” Mosely said. “After that, make the first guy miss and just get as much as I can.”
Mosely, Martize Barr, Ryan Lankford and Caleb Day are all possibilities Illinois might turn to in returning kickoffs against the Spartans, with Miles Osei expected to start after he suffered a concussion against Wisconsin.
The large boot Bentley had on his left leg was removed late this week after he had it on during Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices.
“He’s getting better,” Beckman said.
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Illinois captains for today’s game are Zeph Grimes, Corey Lewis, Tim Kynard and Osei. Players vote on captains the Thursday before each game. This is the fourth captain honor this season for Osei, third for Lewis and Kynard and first for Grimes.
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The two charter buses carrying Michigan State players, coaches and other personnel arrived about 3:15 p.m. at Memorial Stadium after the team’s charter flight from East Lansing. Mich., landed at Willard Airport. The Spartans held a brief walkthrough at Memorial Stadium before they headed to the team hotel, the Holiday Inn in Urbana, for team meetings and dinner.
This is only the second time Mark Dantonio has coached the Spartans in Champaign and the first trip to Memorial Stadium for many Michigan State players. Michigan State defeated Illinois 24-14 in 2009, the last time the Spartans were in town. Michigan State won’t play Illinois again until 2016 when the two teams meet in Champaign, and Illinois — which hasn’t played at Michigan State since 2010 — won’t make its next trip to Spartan Stadium until 2019.
“I just show up,” Dantonio said with a laugh outside the visiting locker room Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. “We played hard in ‘09, and that’s what we have to do. The challenge will be great. Illinois has a great football heritage and tradition.”
The Spartans departed East Lansing a little later than anticipated after the charter flight from St. Louis was late arriving in East Lansing. But Dantonio didn’t seem to mind.
“We’re ahead of schedule, actually,” he said, “so we came in early.”
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Michigan State had its homecoming Oct. 12 and celebrated with a 42-28 win against Indiana. Today’s game marks the second homecoming game in an opposing Big Ten stadium for the Spartans this year. Michigan State defeated Iowa 26-14 on Oct. 5 in Iowa City to spoil the Hawkeyes’ homecoming. This is the eighth time Michigan State is Illinois’ homecoming opponent, and the Spartans are 4-3 in such games. The 2009 victory came on Illinois’ homecoming, and the previous meeting prior to 2009 between the two schools on Illinois’ homecoming came during the 1990 season when Illinois edged the Spartans 15-13.
“It doesn’t bother us at all,” Dantonio said. “We’re here for the party.”
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The Spartans have the No. 1 defense in the country coming into today. Their offense, ranked 95th, isn’t quite on the same level.
“We’re young,” Dantonio said. “We’ve got some redshirt freshmen playing and a young quarterback (in Connor Cook) that’s learning how to deal with different pressures and things of that nature that go along with playing quarterback. You’re going to move forward at times and then have some things where you transition back a step. The main focus that we have to do is continue to be supportive and allow him to flourish. When he flourishes, big things happen for us.”
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Illinois — which will wear its orange jerseys, white pants and orange helmets with the navy blue Block I — went through its usual pregame routine Friday. The team had a brief walkthrough early Friday evening at Memorial Stadium, followed by dinner at the Champaign Country Club before the team settled in at the Hawthorn Suites. The optional team movie Friday was “After Earth,” the science-fiction thriller starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith.
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Five-star basketball recruit Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curie is on campus for his official visit this weekend. Beckman said he and John Groce talk frequently. Both coaches utilize each other’s sports in their recruiting efforts, with Groce taking basketball recruits to football games and vice versa for Beckman with his football recruits.
“Whatever he needs,” Beckman said. “We’re all together. We talk about if there’s anything that John can do or I can do for John, we’re going to do it because it’s for this university.”
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The number of football recruits expected to attend today’s game isn’t as great as what Illinois had on hand last Saturday night against Wisconsin. But several important visitors are slated to attend.
Class of 2014 commits expected to attend include wide receiver Malik Turner from Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin and running back Matt Domer from Chicago Mount Carmel. Other key recruiting targets in the Class of 2014 scheduled to show up are Niles Notre Dame running back Chris James, Cincinnati Colerain High School defensive back Ryan Williamson, Brookfield (Wis.) offensive lineman Luke Rasmussen and Wheaton North wide receiver Matt Biegalski. James is the most highly coveted of the uncommitted players, with Michigan State, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Tennessee in strong contention for his services. Other priorities for Illinois expected to attend include Class of 2015 recruits Gabe Megginson, an offensive lineman from Jacksonville, CJ Stalker, a linebacker from West Chester (Ohio), Adam Solomon, an offensive lineman from Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, and Class of 2016 recruit Drake Spears, a defensive back from West Aurora.
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Illinois defensive line coach Greg Colby classified his unit’s play the first half of the season much like the rest of the team: up and down.
“We played better early,” Colby said. “The last two games we struggled against some of the better offensive lines in the conference and probably the country. Some of our inadequacies came out and were exposed a little bit. Our guys are working their tails off.”
Injuries to Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams, the two backups to starters Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe at defensive tackle, have not exactly made Colby’s job easier.
“The biggest thing was Teko (getting hurt),” Colby said. “I was starting to work him in on all the passing situations as he really understood what he was doing. All of a sudden after the second game, he was out for four weeks. Hopefully that foot will stay healthy. I think he’s going to be an impact guy for us.”
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The Illinois players were big fans of the new iPads the Illinois Quarterback Club purchased for the team in early August. Count the coaching staff among those fans, too.
“That’s the greatest thing about this technology and these iPads are they can immediately watch our film,” Beckman said. “We’ll go back (after practice), grade the film and I’ll go in one-on-one and I’ll be able to type (a player) on the computer, and they’ll be able to watch and see my comments on there. It’s unbelievable what technology has done.”
Matt Daniels and Bob Asmussen