Grading Michigan State’s loss to Illinois
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Grading Michigan State’s loss to Illinois

By Matt Wenzel | mwenzel2@mlive.com

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio yells in the third quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Illinois won the game, 37-34. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

EAST LANSING – Another week, another loss.

Michigan State (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) blew a 25-point lead in a 37-34 loss to Illinois (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) on Saturday in East Lansing.

The Spartans have now lost four straight, extending their worst losing streak since dropping seven in a row in 2016, which ended with a 3-9 record.

The Fighting Illini notched the biggest comeback victory in program history for their fourth straight win. They are now bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

Here are snap-judgment grades for Michigan State in the loss:

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) runs up the field for a touchdown in the first quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Quarterback:

Brian Lewerke made big plays early but also crushing mistakes in the second half. The fifth-year senior finished 19-for-36 passing for 251 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a career-high 96 yards with a 42-yard score on 11 carries. He also threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and turned over the ball on a fumbled snap. Lewerke’s first two interceptions came on tipped passes, the first of which was in the hands of receiver Tre Mosley in the end zone before he was hit to knock the ball loose. His third pick came one play after taking a knee to the head and looking dazed before staying in the game. Lewerke made highlight plays for the Spartans and also ones Illinois will celebrate rewatching film. Grade: D

Michigan State running back Elijah Collins (24) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Running backs:

Elijah Collins rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 28 carries. It was the redshirt freshman’s second 100-yard rushing game and first since picking 192 yards in his first career start, a 51-17 win against Western Michigan on Sept. 7. True freshman Anthony Williams Jr. had five carries for 19 yards and true freshman Brandon Wright had three rushes for five yards. Grade: B+

Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley (17) catches a touchdown pass in the second quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Wide receivers/tight ends:

With leading receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. out due to a left leg injury, Cody White stepped up to post season highs with seven receptions for 128 yards. He was flagged for pass interference to negate a 38-yard gain early in the fourth quarter, which killed Michigan State’s drive. True freshmen Julian Barnett and Tre Mosley made their first career starts. Mosley had three catches for 32 yards and his first career touchdown while Barnett had one reception for 19 yards. Matt Seybert led the tight ends with three catches for 27 yards while Matt Dotson had one grab for 18 yards before leaving the game with a right leg injury in the first quarter and not returning. Grade: B

Michigan State offensive lineman J.D. Duplain (67) tries to keep Illinois defensive lineman Jamal Milan (55) in the fourth quarter of their Big Ten football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Illinois won the game, 37-34. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Offensive line:

Michigan State used its fourth different starting offensive line combination of the season. That included a pair of true freshmen in center Nick Samac and left guard J.D. Duplain. Center Matt Allen, who started the first eight games, was out with an apparent leg injury while left guard Luke Campbell, who also started the first eight games, has been sick, coach Mark Dantonio said. Making their first career starts, Samac and Duplain held up well. The Spartans rushed for a season high 275 yards and didn’t allow a sack. It was the first game Michigan State didn’t give up a sack since a win against Indiana on Sept. 28. Grade: B

Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) tries to get in to the backfield against Illinois tight end Griffin Palmer (81) in the first quarter of their Big Ten football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Defensive line:

Illinois entered Saturday averaging 163.0 yards per game on the ground but was held to a season-low 36 yards on 27 carries. Defensive end Kenny Willekes had six tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. Defensive tackle Raequan Williams had a half-sack and a four hurries but the Spartans didn’t get to Brandon Peters as often as they would have hoped. Defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk had his streak of 37 straight starts snapped due to illness, Dantonio said, but the senior played and had a tackle and a pass break-up. Grade B

Michigan State linebacker Noah Harvey (45) tries to get in to the back field against Illinois offensive lineman Richie Petition (74) in the third quarter of their Big Ten football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Illinois won the game, 37-34. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Linebackers:

After 34 straight starts, Michigan State had to replace senior middle linebacker Joe Bachie, who was declared ineligible by the Big Ten last week for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Although redshirt sophomore Noah Harvey was expected to take his place, junior starting weak-side linebacker Antjuan Simmons spent the bulk of the game in the middle, with Harvey and Tyriq Thompson, a two-year starter at the strong-side spot, on the outside. Harvey finished with a career-high nine tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two pass break-ups to lead the team. Thompson had eight tackles and Simmons one stop while Jeslord Boateng made three tackles. Grade: C+

Michigan State cornerback Josh Butler (19) is called for pass interference against Illinois wide receiver Caleb Reams (13) in the fourth quarter of their Big Ten football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Illinois won the game, 37-34. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Defensive backs:

Cornerback Josiah Scott made big hit to break up a pass before leaving the game in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury and not returning. Cornerback Shakur Brown had an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Those were the few positives for a secondary that was torched on Saturday. Quarterback Brandon Peters was 22-for-42 passing for 369 yards and three touchdowns. That was the most passing yards allowed by Michigan State this season and most for an opposing team at Spartan Stadium since 2007. The Spartans gave up huge plays at critical moments, including a 46-yard touchdown from Peters to Josh Imatorbhebhe on the final play of the first half, and a 37-yard gain from Peters to Imatorbhebhe on fourth-and-17 on the game-winning drive. Cornerback Josh Butler was flagged for a questionable pass interference call on an incompletion on fourth down that extended Illinois’ game-winning drive. Grade: F

Michigan State kicker Matt Coghlin (4) celebrates with teammates after a field goal in the fourth quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Illinois won the game, 37-34. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Special teams:

After a disastrous special teams outing in a loss to Penn State, the group rebounded against Illinois. Struggling kicker Matt Coghlin made both of his field goal attempts, including a 46-yarder that gave the team a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Punter Jake Hartbarger rebounded from one of the worst performances of his career with a decent showing, although he averaged only 39.5 yards on six attempts. True freshman Tate Hallock forced a fumble on a kickoff return that was recovered by Davion Williams to set up a second-quarter touchdown. The Spartans didn’t do much at all in the return game and it’s unclear what the plan was on the final kickoff return with five seconds left in the game, when Barnett was tackled as time expired, but they were obviously highly unlikely to pull off a miracle play on offense at that point anyway. Grade: B

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio looks on in the first quarter of their Big Ten football game against Illinois at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Coaching:

Dantonio has been criticized heavily by fans recently and the complaints got even louder on Saturday. Blowing a 25-point lead at home against a mediocre team? That simply can’t happen. Sure, there were execution errors on both sides of the ball, but Michigan State also failed to make adjustments and allowed Illinois to mount the biggest comeback in program history. It’s arguably the worst loss in Dantonio’s 13 seasons leading the program and he didn’t help matters by responding “next question” when asked what indication there would be that this trend wouldn’t continue. There were plays to be made but being outscored 27-3 in the fourth quarter for a fourth straight loss with a pair of bye weeks baked into that stretch ultimately falls on the coaching staff. Grade: D-

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio watches players head to the locker room after Illinois defeated Michigan State, 37-34, in their Big Ten football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Michigan State is now 4-5 on the season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Overall:

Losing three straight games against teams that were all ranked in the top 10 at the time, by a combined margin of 100-17, was ugly. Saturday’s defeat against Illinois was worse. It’s the new low point in a season marred with disappointment. Michigan State needs to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible and limps into Ann Arbor next week. Grade: F

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