Michigan State football picked up a huge win over No. 16 Illinois on Saturday night to keep bowl hopes alive.
Don’t lie, when Michigan State football was winning 23-7, you had slight flashbacks to the Illinois game in 2019 when the Spartans led the Illini 28-3 in the second half and still lost.
You know that thought crossed your sick Spartan mind.
Because it crossed mine, too.
I was thinking to myself “please don’t let it happen again” and despite Jay Johnson’s best efforts, it didn’t happen and the defense stepped up to shut the door on Illinois.
Michigan State still gave up a touchdown early in the fourth and a two-point conversion to make it 23-15 and I had some cold sweats going.
But never did I think I’d be praising Scottie Hazelton for calling a great game and leading the Spartans to a huge win at No. 16 Illinois. Yet here we are.
I have some thoughts about this huge win. Surprise: they’re not all positive.
1. Jay Johnson’s play-calling has been egregious
I’m not sure who had the final say on the last Michigan State drive that started inside the Illinois 10 and fizzled out, ending in a missed field goal, but yikes. That was horrid.
Calling a pass play on second down that nearly went out of bounds and then another pass on third down with no Illinois timeouts left that fell incomplete was criminal. That type of play-calling is going to end up losing this team some games and it almost did on Saturday.
Johnson had some nice calls, but the constant first-down runs up the middle, setting up second-and-longs have gotten old. In my opinion, he needs to be coaching for his job in this final month.
2. Scottie Hazelton called a great game
I’ve been harsh on Scottie Hazelton all year long, but he called a great game on Saturday.
Blitzes, schematic advantages, and fourth-down stops really won the Spartans this game. The defense still gave up some yards, but Hazelton’s defense was as clutch. Hats off to Hazelton because he’s really stepped up his game lately and the defense hasn’t been a problem since the Ohio State game.
3. This team has some guts
Once again, I have to admit that I was wrong. I’ve questioned this team’s mental fortitude all season long and they proved me wrong on Saturday.
Down a handful of key players and facing a media circus all week long for the ugly events that transpired in the tunnel last weekend, Michigan State stepped up thanks to the leaders (Payton Thorne, Cal Haladay, and Xavier Henderson) and picked up a massive, gutsy road win.
This team is tough and you can tell Mel Tucker has these guys buying in despite what happened last weekend. These guys just don’t go down easily.