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Illinois defensive back Tony Adams (6) recovers the fumble by Michigan State running back Elijah Collins (24) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)Illinois defensive back Tony Adams (6) recovers the fumble by Michigan State running back Elijah Collins (24) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

WHAT HAPPENED

Illinois rallied from a 25-point deficit to stun the host Spartans. Brandon Peters got hot in the second half, finding open receivers on a chilly afternoon/evening. It extended the Illini win streak to four games.

WHAT IT MEANS

The Illini are going bowling for the first time since 2014. Where will be determined after the completion of the regular season, but after Saturday it’s hard to believe the team was once 2-4.

WHAT’S NEXT

A chance to rest. The Illini have their second open Saturday and first since Sept. 28. The break will give injured players a chance to rest up before the Nov. 23 trip to Iowa. In case you forgot, the last game against the Hawkeyes was 63-0.


Handing out grades

Player of the game | Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters

Talk about a fourth quarter to remember. The Michigan transfer threw for a career-high 369 yards, completing 22 of 42 passes for three touchdowns. He made up his costly interception near the Michigan State goal line with Illinois down 31-24 with his poise and composure on the final drive of the night. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but he made the throws when he needed to. That’s all you can ask for.

Offense

Illinois A | Michigan State B-

Brian Lewerke practically carved up the Illinois defense early and often until late in the first half. Brandon Peters did the same in the fourth quarter. Three interceptions by Lewerke, though, overshadowed a strong performance by Michigan State running back Elijah Collins (170 rushing yards, two touchdowns on 28 carries). But the Spartans didn’t have an answer for Josh Imatorbhebhe. The Southern Cal transfer hauled in four receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns, giving him nine TDs for the season. Two more and he’ll pass Brandon Lloyd and David Williams for most by an Illini in a single season.

Defense

Illinois A- | Michigan State C

Take the ball away. Repeat. Take the ball away. Score a touchdown. Repeat. Lovie Ball is currently in vogue by the Illinois defense, who were plus-two in the turnover margin thanks to three interceptions and one fumble recovery. Sure, the run defense was susceptible at times, but that’s the type of style Smith is willing to sacrifice if his defense can come up with takeaways. And they did again on Saturday night, a key focal point during this current four-game Big Ten win streak the Illini are on.

Special teams

Illinois B- | Michigan State B

Blake Hayes had a good game for the Illini. The Illinois punter was seen early and often (nine times total) but hardly once the Illini started their comeback. James McCourt will replay that missed extra point over and over in his mind, but he did drill a 40-yard field goal for the Illini’s first points. Jordan Holmes also chipped in with some solid punt returns before he crumpled to the Spartan Stadium grass after a 17-yard return in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury.

Coaching

Illinois A- | Michigan State C

The Illini didn’t come to play in the first half. That’s on the coaches. They certainly did in the fourth quarter, though, and Lovie Smith’s players performed their best under pressure. The talk in East Lansing not only turns to the Spartans possibly missing out on a bowl berth — they should still get to six wins with Rutgers and Maryland still on the schedule after playing at rival Michigan next Saturday — but Mark Dantonio’s status moving forward.

Overall

Illinois A | Michigan State C

A win is a win is a win. Simple as that, right? Borrowing one of Smith’s most used phrases, the Illini turned a forgettable first three quarters into an epic fourth quarter. One that the Illinois players and fans will be talking about for decades to come. Magic was in the air on Saturday night in East Lansing. And it all went in favor of the Illini when they needed it the most, allowing them to beat the Spartans for the second time in Lovie’s tenure.

News-Gazette