Illinois Football: Three Things Learned Against Michigan State


Homecoming turned out very badly for the Illinois football team and its fans this past Saturday. There is not a whole lot to talk about from a positive perspective outside of the 3-0 lead the Illini held at the end of the 1st quarter.

From then on, things went downhill for the Illini and fans began streaming out of Memorial Stadium in droves well ahead of the clock reaching 00:00 at the end of the 4th quarter.

On Saturday morning I put together a post outlining the statistical reasons that Illini fans should keep the faith and hope that an upset could possibly be achieved against the Spartans. However, you can toss all the stats in the world outside the window once the game gets going, and as the game drug on through the 2nd half it became very clear that an upset was not going to take place on Homecoming.

So, what three things did we learn about Illinois Football this past weekend?

1. Illinois’ performance regressed on Saturday. 

There is no way to sugarcoat what took place on Saturday in the 2nd half.

Oct 26, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Delton Williams (22) runs for a touchdown during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Michigan State won 42-3. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, the defense looked disengaged and lifeless, as if they were simply going through the motions because they felt like they knew the game was lost.

We saw this tired act all of last season once the team got down by more than 3 scores, and if there is one thing that will make fans scramble for the exits as fast as if the stadium were on fire it’s when the fans have zero reason to believe a comeback is possible.

Don’t get me wrong, in no way am I only going to pile on the defense, because the offensive performance should be held just as accountable.

Yes, MSU came in to the game sporting the nations #1 defense, and therefore it was to be expected that the offense may struggle somewhat, but when Indiana can post 28 points in their loss to MSU there should be no reason for Illinois not to be able to do something similar. Unfortunately, we once again saw that there seems to be a concerted effort to try to limit the defenses exposure by employing a short ball control style passing attack.

At some point, Illinois has got to get back to the consistent medium-to-long range passing game that allowed the Illini to be so explosive earlier this season. Castrating the offense to protect the defense is inexcusable.

2. Even Bill Cubit can have a bad day.

The biggest reason for Illinois’ offensive renaissance is hands down Bill Cubit, and for the most part he has pushed the right buttons while rejuvenating the stagnant Illini offensive attack. This definitely wasn’t the case Saturday, however, as there were two glaring instances where he could’ve done things very differently.

The first instance was the double reverse called on 2nd and 10 during the first drive of the 2nd quarter with Illinois leading 3-0. The play was blown up by the MSU defense, resulting in a fumble, which MSU immediately turned into 7 points on the ensuing offensive series.  Up to that point, Illinois had done a good job offensively, controlling the clock and the pace of the game.

The second instance was actually two separate plays – 3rd and 4th and 1 from the MSU 1 inch line. First of all, I have zero complaints about going for it on 4th and inches. Rarely will you be in that position against a defense that good. So, cashing in for 7 when you have the chance should always be the play. That said, all season long Illinois has used Aaron Bailey in that situation. He keeps the defense off balance because he presents the option for Illinois to run or pass. For whatever reason, Cubit elected to keep Bailey parked on the bench and it cost them 7 points. Go for it, but also go with what got you there in the past.

3. After reviewing the stats, it’s fair to ask: Is Illinois a poor man’s Indiana?

There can be a clear parallel drawn that indicates MSU might be a poor man’s Wisconsin. A stouter defense, with a less spectacular rushing game and a less impressive passing game seems to outline the Spartans very well.

At this point it doesn’t seem far-fetched to draw the same parallel that indicates Illinois is a poor man’s Indiana. Comparing the 2 teams shows the following:

  • Illinois National Rush Ranking – 93rd (139.4 ypg)
  • Indiana National Rush Ranking – 63rd (171.3 ypg)
  • Illinois National Pass Ranking – 43rd (261.3 ypg)
  • Indiana National Pass Ranking – 10th (342.7 ypg)
  • Illinois Points Allowed Defensively – 104th (33.7 ppg)
  • Indiana Points Allowed Defensively – 113th (37.1 ppg)

Indiana is better offensively and slightly worse defensively than Illinois, just like Wisconsin is better offensively and slightly worse defensively than Michigan St.

What does all of this mean?

Illinois is most likely going to have a very difficult time pulling what surely would be an upset in Bloomington on November 9th, and it’s a sobering experience to realize that Illinois Football has fallen behind perennial Big Ten doormat Indiana as a program.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer