Michigan State Football: What went wrong vs. Illinois

What went right and wrong Saturday for Michigan State football against the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Michigan State football traveled to Illinois in hopes of not only ending it’s losing streak, but also to keep it’s glimmer of hope at a bowl game alive. However, the Illini turned the Spartans away in the final minute.

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It was a tough showing for the Spartans as well as difficult game to watch for fans. What shocked me the most as the game wore on were the lack or breakdown of fundamentals from even seasoned vets like Malik McDowell.

On one play late in the fourth quarter, McDowell charged up field from his defensive end position as the running back zoomed past him. The number one job a defensive end is to keep outside contain, therefore, do not over-pursue.

It might sound like I’m finding little things and picking on MSU, however, it is the breakdown of these minor assignments that has led to their defensive struggles.

There are other more glaring mistakes like missed tackles and over-pursuit, like when Riley Bullough over-pursued on the Illini’s Kendrick Foster’s 64-yard touchdown run. Veterans have been making these basic mistakes all season long. In the past, the Spartans could overcome them with their high caliber offense, but they don’t have that luxury anymore.

It was fascinating to watch the many seniors drop passes in critical moments. R.J. Shelton dropped a sure first down on the opening drive. Josiah Price dropped an easy touchdown pass late in the fourth. It is one thing to watch freshmen make these mental mistakes, but it’s another to have your senior leaders “drop the ball.”

Saturday’s loss is a glaring reminder of what MSU has lost from last season. LJ Scott appears to take one step forward in weeks and then two steps back in others. His fumble was in a huge momentum-swinging play for the Illini. Coach Mark Dantonio wants him to be “the guy” at running back, but he has got to stop coughing up the ball.

The offense did what I expected from them, because that is what they have done all year. One could be mad at the play calling, however, the offense does need to execute the plays. It was surprising to see the adjustment the Illini defense made in the second quarter and the Spartans had no answer for their pass rush.

The TV commentators threw out suggestions the entire time the Illini were in the backfield as to what MSU could do to stop the bleeding yet the Spartans continued to run their offense.

Michigan State will need to do some soul searching in the off season and possibly make an adjustment. It was the off season of 2012 that led to MSU not renewing defensive line coach Ted Gill and the hire of Ron Burton. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens going forward.

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