If the Spartans can put in a workmanlike effort against the Illini, they start the Big Ten season 1-0 in preparation for a trip to Ann Arbor. Here are the keys to a Spartans homecoming game win:
1. GET OVER THE HANGOVER-The Notre Dame game is over, there is nothing the Spartans can do now about such a devastating and emotional loss now. The time is right to go to the field and try to put a game plan together and execute it.
The quicker they put that game behind them and look ahead at what could be a good year, the better. Last year, that did not happen after they spun out of control after tough losses to Michigan and Ohio State.
This game will determine how much character this team has in coming back.
2. PLAY 60 MINUTES - The Spartans haven't put four quarters together in the same game in a long time, either starting slow or finishing slow. Somehow there apparently is too much distraction to focus on the task at hand. As soon as this team matures and realizes that no game is over, the better football team they will become. They simply do not have the secondary play to stand up to teams in critical situations if they don't focus.
3. EXECUTE, EXECUTE, EXECUTE - If ever there was a time to work on fundamentals, this is the game. The Spartan offensive linemen need to understand what they can do with their hands so they won't get caught with more holding penalties, and what to do so there are no more false starts.
Defensive backs need to start looking back for the ball so they won't be called for pass interference, and work on tackling while there at it. Drew Stanton needs to work on decision making ability and not forcing situations at critical times. This could be a time for MSU to work on improvement if they choose to do so instead of moping around and feeling sorry for themselves.
4. SECONDARY STEP UP - This is one area where the Illini will test them as they have hit the long ball for touchdowns, which happens to be the Spartans weakness.
5. FORCE TURNOVERS/ATTACK ON DEFENSE - Nothing is better for taking a hangover away than attacking an Illini offense that has been prone to turnovers, penalties, and sacks.
This Illini team has thrown seven interceptions, fumbled eight times (while losing the ball on five of those fumbles), have been sacked fourteen times, and have been been inconsistent in moving the ball offensively. After an emotional defeat, the best thing you can do is turn the defense loose and let them make plays, and this Illinois team is the perfect team to do that against.
6. MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN ON SPECIAL TEAMS - The Illini have been prone to getting a punt blocked, and perhaps a return or two by the guys in green could get them motivated again. Kick coverage needs to be solid for MSU since we are mentioning special teams anyway.
7. DEVELOP CONTINUITY ALONG THE OFFENSIVE LINE -The Spartan offensive line has a motto they like to play by, and that is, "play fast and play physical." They now need to add another wrinkle to this strategy, and that would be "play smart."
The strength of this Illini team could be their front wall led by Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher, and Chris Norwell, and they will test the Spartans if they are not ready. The Spartans offensive line also needs to work on cutting out the offensive holding and false start penalties so they can become more cohesive.
MSU should win this one in convincing fashion and move to 4-1 on the season.
PICK: MSU 37 - Illinois 17 Editor's note: Editor Mike Fowler contributed to this report and made the pick of MSU by 20.