(EAST LANSING) - Drew Stanton threw three touchdown passes and caught one from sophomore receiver Jerramy Scott propelling Michigan State to a 35-28 win over Illinois on homecoming day at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State jumped out to a 23-9 lead and had to hold off a Illini comeback engineered by backup quarterback Chris Pazan, who came on in relief of sixth-year senior quarterback Jon Beutjer.
Beutjer had been mostly ineffective despite posting 10-of-14 numbers on short passing routes. But when Buetjer fumbled the ball after being sacked in Illini territory, Coach Ron Turner had seen enough.
Pazan got immediate help from running back Pierre Thomas, who scampered 69 yards to the MSU 3-yard line and scored from one yard out on the next snap.
Thomas rushed for 188 yards against the Spartans on 21 carries.
Punter Brandon Fields continued his struggles, botching an extra point hold on MSU's first score. He attempted to run, fumbled and the Illini recovered for a defensive PAT.
Fields had another punt blocked which Illini recovered for a touchdown. All totaled, the Fighting Illini scored nine points off Fields miscues alone.
"The one thing I was disappointed in today was the punt block," said Michigan State coach John L. Smith. "That was terrible. We work on punts every day and that punt block is the one thing we cannot allow."
Smith said Fields took too much time getting off the punt. "Until I look at the film, you don't want to point fingers completely but they came up the middle and we should have had enough time. It looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll and the only thing was that his girlfriend wasn't with him. No, it looked to me like he took a long time on the blocked one but the other was a good play."
The block and score got the Illini to within 30-25 but Stanton put together a solid 7-play, 62-yard drive capped off by DeAndra Cobb's 12-yard touchdown scamper to answer the Illini uprising and finish the scoring.
Stanton (21-of-28, 199 yards three touchdowns), who is asserting himself as the leader of this years team, made a point of singling out as key the play of his former Farmington Hills Harrison teammate Agim Shabaj (5 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown), who had been in Smith's doghouse.
"I think it's important for receivers to have confidence. I think having Agim (Shabaj) out there - no disrespect to our other receivers - but he is a good player and I just tried to get the ball in his hands. All our other receivers did a really good job today."
Michigan State's receivers show marked improvement in holding on to the football, something that was emphasized throughout the week.
"We got so sick of hearing about dropped passes," said sophomore reciever Jerramy Scott (four catches, 45 yards, 1 touchdown catch, 1 touchdown pass). We have been working hard on it and we did it this week, I don't think we dropped a ball we should have caught. The receivers are starting to click with Drew (Stanton)."
Scott said MSU picked the perfect time to run the receiver option play which resulted in his touchdown pass to Stanton.
"We worked on that play a lot in practice. When it was called in the game I really was shocked, but everything turned out fine, the defense bit on the fake and Drew (Stanton) was wide open. I threw the pass pretty well in practice, but it turned out nice in the game."
While the Spartans coaching staff said they'd like to build on the win, the defensive effort left a lot to be desired. Shoddy tackling and poor coverage by the MSU corners nearly cost the team a win.
Smith agreed that the tackling has to improve.
"Our tackling was terrible. I think I'm going to quit practicing these things and maybe we'll get better at it. Our tackling was poor. We have to tackle better. I can't say anything more about it than that. Give them some credit for the guys carrying the ball but we have to tackle better. That poor tackling let them back in [the game]."
Senior linebacker Ronald Stanley (12 tackles) felt that they defensive was solid. "I think we did a good job. They had a couple or big plays and that was really the only bright spot they had. Their big plays go back to our lack of communication. But, I think we played a good game today and we made up our minds to come out and get the job done."
But senior safety Eric Smith was more critical of the unit.
"We had some good plays and we had some bad plays. We did pretty well overall, but that's not as good as we can play as a group. We gave up some big plays and that is something we need to work on."
Smith agreed with the coaches assessment on tackling.
"We need to wrap up a little better and prevent teams from getting yards after the first contact. Especially the way that Minnesota runs the ball, we need to tackle and play solid run defense next week."
Conversely,the Spartans were happy to compile 261 yards rushing behind the trio of freshman Jehuu Caulcrick, Jason Teague and Cobb. Cobb led the way with 93 yards on just nine carries.
"Our linemen were doing a great job today. I just get the ball and when they open up holes for me I make them miss. Hopefully we can bring the kind of running game we brought today next week."
Cobb said the trio never fight over who's getting the most carries. "We don't fight about who gets in. We call ourself `us' now. It's a group effort and it is all about who is getting it done at that particular time."
The Spartans now prepared to face previously unbeaten and #13 ranked Minnesota, who are smarting after a 27-24 loss to Michigan on Saturday.