What seemed like a game where the Spartans were to control the game and regain some much needed confidence after a tough loss to Notre Dame, turned into a shocker in Spartan Stadium.
Kicker Jason Reda's 39-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining lifted Illinois to a 23-20 victory on Saturday, pushing the Spartans to their second consecutive loss and a much painful one at that, also losing Drew Stanton for the game in the fourth quarter due to bruised ribs.
A very different Illinois offense showed up than the one that is near the bottom of almost every offensive stat in the Big Ten.
Illini runningback Pierre Thomas ran for 110 yards on 18 carries and freshman quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams scrambled for 103 yards on 17 carries, all while facing a Spartan rush defense that was second in the Big Ten entering the contest.
After showing little life in the first half, an interception taken back 62 yards for a touchdown by Demond Williams seemed to wake up the MSU sideline and the 75,000 fans in attendance. The score tied the game at 10 but wouldn't stay for long as Illinois responded with a 15 yard touchdown catch by E.B. Halsey.
Ron Zook, in his second year as Illinois head coach, did a masterful job of not allowing the new found momentum of the Spartans take control of the game, but rather his team responded by getting the 7 points right back.
The defining moment of the game came late in fourth quarter, when the Spartans were driving deep in Illinois territory, down 20-17.
MSU was moving the ball well during the entire series but suddenly came to a halt when the Illini stuffed the Spartan run in the backfield on third down and one.
Brett Swenson made a 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 20 with 2:46 left in the game.
That was plenty of time for the Illini, who rode Pierre Thomas and Juice Williams down the field via the ground game.
Throughout the game, the Spartans seemed unmotivated and just going through the motions.
"We didn't get the kids prepared to play the game," Smith said. "And if you go out unprepared emotionally and mentally, you're going to lose and you deserve to lose." Possibly the most emotion that the Spartan showed was after the game in defending their field as Illinois planted their flag on the 50-yard line, much like what MSU did last year at Notre Dame.
The Spartans rushed to mid-field and defended their home field, exchanging shoves and words before retiring to their locker rooms.