Illinois football looks for seven straight against short-handed MSU

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Sydney Laput

Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Alex Palczewski runs on to the field before the Homecoming game kickoff against Minnesota on Oct. 15.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

No. 16 Illinois (7-1, 1-1) hosts Michigan State (3-5, 1-4) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

The forecast at game time calls for scattered rain with up to 40 mph gusts of wind. The Illini have been fortunate with the weather all season long, but true Midwestern elements will be prevalent by kickoff.

Poor weather, especially strong wind, affects the passing game, benefiting the Illini. Although offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.’s unit has ramped up the passing game in recent weeks, the Illini remain a run-first offense led by junior running back Chase Brown.

Brown has rushed for 100+ yards in nine straight games, giving the Illini reason to believe that they can lean on him once more to assume a significant role on a crummy day. On the other hand, the Spartans lack a star running back this year and miss their beloved Kenneth Walker dearly, now a star for the Seattle Seahawks. Alternating backs at times this year, the Spartans have struggled to get yards on the ground, with their top back averaging just 4.3 yards per carry.

Brown isn’t the only Illini whose strengths the weather will play into, as they still have the number one statistical defense in the country. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and his group have been stellar so far and will benefit from showers and wind gusts.

Passing the ball against the Illini secondary is risky no matter the day, with the Illini totaling 15 interceptions through eight games, and the uncertainty of a ball in the air this weekend will only add to the threat of a turnover. With passing sure to be limited and the Spartans not having much of a run game, the dominant Illini front seven is set up for even more success.

The Spartans have struggled defensively all season long, allowing 424 yards per game and nearly 28 points per game. While the conditions would also be advantageous to them, they will be short-handed due to an incident that occurred at their previous game in Ann Arbor.

Tensions were high between in-state rivals when the Spartans visited the Michigan Wolverines. As the teams retreated to the locker rooms after the game, a fight broke out in the tunnel, leading to the suspensions of eight players Michigan State players. Five of the suspended players are in the top 13 tacklers on defense, including senior linebacker Jacoby Windmon who leads the team in sacks and fumbles forced. With the loss of these key players, the Spartans will have to rely on inexperienced defenders to slow down this hot Illini offense.

The final factor that could influence the outcome is the crowd. With Dad’s Day on Saturday and the recent play of the Illini, Memorial Stadium figures to be near a sellout and could give the Illini a massive home-field advantage. It’s been a long time since a sellout in Champaign, but the program has earned it and will look to notch its eighth win for the first time since 2007.

 

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