It felt like one of those “here we go again” scenarios on Saturday afternoon as Michigan State football’s first play from scrimmage against Illinois was a floated interception.
People were immediately jumping off the Payton Thorne bandwagon and calling for Noah Kim to take over. Illinois would go down and score the first touchdown of the game to make it 7-0 in the blink of an eye and Michigan State was already doing what had killed it through the first eight games of the season: playing from behind.
Self-inflicted mistakes led to this early deficit and without a handful of key players on the defensive side of the ball, including Jacoby Windmon and Zion Young, the Spartans didn’t give up.
In fact, this was probably the gutsiest performance from Michigan State all year with the season on the line in a road game against the No. 16 team in the nation.
Mel Tucker and his guys deserve a ton of credit and the magnitude of this early-November win simply cannot be overlooked.
What was on the line for Michigan State football
While it still would have been possible to make a bowl game after losing to Illinois and dropping to 3-6, that would have required Michigan State to win out, including a season-ending road game at Penn State (very tough place to win). This win takes some pressure off the team as it can now go 2-1 in the final three games and become eligible for postseason play.
This is impressive considering Michigan State was 2-4 and staring at a three-game stretch of Wisconsin, Michigan, and a ranked Illinois team, the latter two on the road, and came out with a 2-1 record. The Spartans could do that again with Rutgers, Indiana, and Penn State — the first two at home.
So a bowl game was on the line and a serious cultural statement. The program was not going to be defined by that ugly post-game tunnel incident and the team responded by picking up one of the most impressive wins of Tucker’s coaching career.
Tucker proved himself (albeit not without some poor clock management late) and showed that his guys have bought in and don’t just roll over when the season looks hopeless.
Beating Illinois was huge for this season’s bowl hopes and also the future.