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Illini will come close, but skid won’t end vs. Spartans

Sports reporter Steve Greenberg studio. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times.

Sports reporter Steve Greenberg in studio. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times.

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The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 560-AM.

The records: Michigan State 6-1, 3-0 Big Ten; Illinois 3-3, 0-2.

The line: Michigan State by 10.

Updated: November 27, 2013 6:11AM

What could the homecoming game Saturday against Michigan State be but another blowout loss for Illinois? Well, it could be a tightly contested loss. Maybe even — if the football gods are in the mood for Champaign — a victory for beleaguered coach Tim Beckman’s team.

But probably not.

Five things I don’t want to know yet about this matchup but am afraid I already do:

1. Steve Hull will continue to be a major factor for Illinois’ offense. The senior slot receiver, who seems to be better at this job than he ever was as a defensive back, ranks eighth nationally with 21.6 yards per reception. With MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard likely locking down Ryan Lankford, Hull and fellow slots Martize Barr and Miles Osei will have to beat inside coverage. Hull has displayed an uncanny ability to find open space well down the field.

2. The Illini can forget about running the ball. Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and the rest of the Spartans’ run-stuffers are just too good. Josh Ferguson, one of the most versatile backs in the Big Ten, will be erased. Nathan Scheelhaase won’t have room to maneuver. Really, it’s all on offensive coordinator Bill Cubit to game-plan unpredictably and on Scheelhaase to deliver on the pass plays that might make a difference. It’s a lot to hope for.

3. The Spartans will punt more times than Wisconsin and Nebraska did combined. That number totals four. It isn’t much to shoot for, but MSU’s offense is just bad enough to make this dream a reality for a terrible Illini defense.

4. With starting cornerback V’Angelo Bentley sidelined by an injury, true freshmen Jaylen Dunlap and Darius Mosely will get more snaps than they’ve gotten in any game. That makes this a prove-it game for Beckman, who’s in charge of the corners in addition to whatever else it is that he does. Watch closely, Illini fans. Beckman should be judged by this.

5. This game, for a welcome change, will be winnable for the Illini. They’ll be close in the fourth quarter. Will they be able to pull it out? In a word: No.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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