Michigan State stuns No. 16 Illinois in ugly 23-15 affair

No. 16 Illinois suffered an unexpected defeat in a 23-15 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.

The Illini turned the ball over on downs three times inside Michigan State territory as the Spartans held Chase Brown to 136 yards on 33 carries. Michigan State entered the game as a 16-point underdog as it had lost five of its past six games.

Michigan State stopped Illinois 2 yards from the end zone on its opening drive and then on a fourth-and-long at the MSU 29 just before the end of the first half. Michigan State scored the first two TDs of the second half to take a 23-7 lead in the third quarter and then stopped the Illini again on downs in MSU territory.

Trailing by eight, Illinois got to the Michigan State 20 with 8:11 and faced a fourth-and-2. It was clear that Brown would get the ball and Michigan State stuffed him a yard short of the line to gain. After Michigan State took more than four minutes off the clock, Illinois had a chance to tie the game with a TD and two again. But that drive didn’t even gain a first down and lost 4 yards.

The Spartans somehow gave Illinois another chance to get a tie with 66 seconds left thanks to a missed chip shot field goal, but Illinois ran out of time without any timeouts.

Illinois was 1-of-6 on fourth downs and also fumbled. Both teams struggled on third down, going a combined 9-for-27. The game also featured this memorable moment as an Illinois punt went off a blocker. The kick helped set up what turned out to be the game-winning score.

Illinois still has a path to win the West

The good news for the Illini is that it’s still in control of the Big Ten West thanks to the division’s mediocrity.

Illinois has Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern to end the season. If Illinois beats Purdue and Northwestern and loses to No. 5 Michigan, it will have the tiebreaker over everyone else in the division by virtue of a 6-0 division record. If Illinois loses to Michigan and splits its games with Purdue and Northwestern, then it’ll need help from others in the division.

Michigan State’s rebound win

The win is a big one for a Michigan State team in the midst of a disappointing season and a criminal investigation. Eight players have been suspended as investigations continue into alleged assaults against Michigan players in the tunnel after the Wolverines’ win over the Spartans in Week 9. All eight of the players suspended are on the defensive side of the ball and the Spartans also didn’t have DE Jeff Pietrowski as he missed his sixth straight game due to injury.

At 4-5, Michigan State needs two wins over the final three weeks to get to a bowl game. With home games against Rutgers and Indiana ahead of a road trip to Penn State, a bowl game isn’t out of the question.

Michigan State's Jarek Broussard runs the ball as Illinois defender Sydney Brown tackles him during the game on November 5, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)