Illini defense steps up against Spartans

Brad Vest The Daily Illini Illinois Kyle Knezetic pulls down Michigan States Terry Love after an Illinois kick. Illinois punted the ball away 5 times in Saturdays game September 30, 2006 and forced Michigan State to punt 6 times.

Brad Vest The Daily Illini Illinois’ Kyle Knezetic pulls down Michigan State’s Terry Love after an Illinois kick. Illinois punted the ball away 5 times in Saturday’s game September 30, 2006 and forced Michigan State to punt 6 times.

By Staff Report

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Going into Saturday’s contest, Illinois’ defense knew a tough task lay ahead of them.

Even after a tough loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 23, the Spartans led the Big Ten in rushing offense and ranked fifth in the NCAA. They averaged 255.5 yards per game.

Against Illinois, they rushed for just 82 yards.

“We’re not shocked because we’ve been playing well every week,” junior safety Kevin Mitchell said. “We’ve been playing as a team, and we keep fighting.”

The Illini effectively shut down the Spartans offense, holding them to 177 yards passing compared to an average 221 per game.

“I don’t know that we didn’t want to be out there, we just came out a little flat,” Spartans quarterback Drew Stanton said of his team’s offense. “It was a wet day, but we cannot make excuses for anything. We have to come out with emotion, like every day is the last game we’re going to play.”

Linebacker J Leman led Illinois’ defense with 4 solo tackles and 7 assists. Safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison followed with 8 and 6 tackles each.

But Mitchell said it was the work of Illinois’ defensive line that really kept Michigan State in check.

“We don’t have to cover all day; Deion Sanders can’t even cover all day,” Mitchell said. “The D-line played tremendously. They helped us out with the back end, and we just got it done.”

RECORD BREAKER

Saturday’s win was the first time Illinois has beaten Michigan State in more than a decade. The Spartans won the last nine matches, and Illinois hadn’t won at East Lansing since 1989.

In 42 meetings between the teams, Illinois has won just 17 times including this weekend’s victory.

MILLINGTON MISSING

Starting left tackle Akim Millington made the trip to East Lansing but sat out Saturday’s contest, still nursing an ankle injury suffered against Iowa on Sept. 23. Millington’s status for the Indiana game next week is still uncertain.

Derek Walker, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury, did play Saturday. Walker recorded two solo tackles and assisted on two more. He also had a pass break-up and a key sack.

The Illini suffered no major injuries against the Spartans.