‘We’re a better team than that’: DeVito heroics not enough to lift team as Illinois football falls to Michigan State, 23-15

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Sydney Laput

Senior defensive backs Sydney Brown (30) and Kendall Smith (7) celebrate Brown’s interception during the first quarter against Michigan State on Saturday.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 16 Illinois hosted Michigan State on a windy Saturday in Champaign. Despite having all the momentum possible, Illinois couldn’t execute their brand of football against Michigan State, losing their first game since early September, 23-15.

MSU started the game off throwing a pick, caught by senior safety Sydney Brown, giving Illinois favorable field position at the Spartan 41-yard line.

“It’s a momentum change… there’s nothing better than that,” Brown said. “That’s something we’ve gotta capitalize on. It’s about how we respond to those moments.”

Illinois started their drive with their bread and butter, hammering the ball down the middle with junior running back Chase Brown. Two early first downs and a few plays later, the Illini are knocking on the doorstep, with a third-and-three separating them from their first points of the game. Illinois would elect to go for it after a run didn’t place them in the end zone. However, miscommunication on the play resulted in a turnover on downs as the ball sailed incomplete. The Illinois defense would take the field, stopping the Michigan State offense from gaining the first down and forcing a quick punt.

Illinois struck quickly on the ensuing drive, with sophomore wideout Isaiah Williams moving 60 yards down the field.

Michigan State would start driving down the field, looking for an answer. They would get within the 5-yard line and attempt some shots into the end zone, however, none of the Spartan wideouts came down with the ball. MSU would settle for a field goal to get their first points of the game.

On Michigan State’s next drive they began to test the Illinois defense, first with a 34-yard pass to get themselves in field goal range, then with a 16-yard run to get them in the red zone. The Spartans would earn their points, hitting Tre Mosley for the touchdown. The Spartan kicker would hit the left upright on the point after, giving them only a two-point lead.

After finding a bit of a groove on offense, Illinois’ momentum crashed as a well-placed tackle forced a fumble on Chase Brown on the MSU 22-yard line. The defense would be called on again to put out another fire.

“When we’re on the field there’s an expectation for you to play at a certain level,” junior linebacker Tarique Barnes said. “Being our best at all times, regardless of who and what happens during the duration of the game.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Johnny Newton came up big on back-to-back plays, first stuffing MSU running back Elijah Collins for a loss of yardage. Newton then broke through the line, sacking MSU quarterback Payton Thorne. Sophomore defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr, the other half of the law firm, would cause pressure on Thorne, who threw an errant pass into the ground, effectively calling in the punting team.

Illinois would have the chance to score before halftime, however, a sack and penalty would eliminate their chances after getting pushed out of field goal range.

Both teams traded field positions throughout the third quarter. However, a bad punt by Illinois gave MSU the ball at the Illinois 29-yard line. The Spartans would punch it in a few plays later for another touchdown, giving them a 9-point lead.

After a horrendous fourth down call for Illinois, Michigan State marched down the field and Thorne hit a strike in the corner of the endzone for another touchdown. The Spartan lead extended to 16 points.

“You still have time until the time runs out,” Barnes said.

Illinois’ kickoff return would result positive, with junior Pat Bryant returning it for 21 yards down the field. Senior quarterback Tommy DeVito would start pushing the offense down the field, first with a short pass to senior tight end Luke Ford for 8 yards, then with two 10+ yard passes to Chase Brown and Williams to get Illinois back into the red zone. The drive would end with a Williams touchdown to close the scoring gap early in the final quarter. Illinois would attempt a two-point conversion to make it a one-score game, making it with a pass by DeVito to sophomore tight end Tip Reiman.

The Illinois defense would massively step up on Michigan State, forcing the three-and-out after a favorable overturned catch. The next drive would pose a challenge for Illinois as the punt would pin them on their own one-yard line. The drive would continue for a total of five minutes, capped by a turnover on downs after Brown came up just short of the first down.

The defense forced another Spartan punt with 3:43 left in the final quarter, giving the offense another chance to tie the game. The drive would not materialize as DeVito would be sacked on third and fourth down, turning the ball over on downs for the fifth straight time.

“At the end of the day, no excuses… we’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the endzone,” Williams said. “Just something we’ve got to get better at. Yards are cool but at the end of the day it’s all about the scoreboard.”

Illinois would attempt some deep shots on their final drive, finding junior Brian Hightower on the sideline, giving them a new set of downs. DeVito would hit another strike to junior Casey Washington to put them at the MSU 27-yard line. However, the late-game heroics was not enough to pull the Illini out of their hole as they lose their first game since September 2nd.

“You can really mesh those two games together,” Sydney Brown said. “We did everything to lose the game.”

“The focus doesn’t change… It’s about rallying back up, staying confident and keeping our swagger.”

MSU would find a way to win despite accumulating a net 294 yards to Illinois’ 386 and Chase Brown notching his tenth consecutive 100+ yard game.

Illinois (7-2) hosts Purdue for its last home game of the season in the deciding game of the Big Ten West. Illinois will finish out their season traveling to Ann Arbor to take on top-ranked Michigan before finishing out the year in Evanston against Northwestern.

“We’re a better team than that… We really felt like we left this one on the table,” Sydney Brown said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world… the focus is on Purdue. That’s all we can do.”

 

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