Impact of Michigan State’s violent tunnel incident carries into matchup vs. Illinois

Around 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker addressed the media for a weekly news conference unlike any other during his time in East Lansing.

Tucker, whose team was beaten soundly by archrival Michigan last weekend, began by reading from prepared remarks to address the postgame attacks in Ann Arbor — attacks that appeared to portray two groups of Spartans punching and kicking two Wolverines’ defensive backs, with one MSU player swinging his helmet like a weapon.

By that point, Tucker had already suspended four players for their roles in the melee based on videos reviewed by he and athletic director Alan Haller. That number would eventually double to eight suspensions by the middle of the week.

Michigan, Michigan State postgame melee

Joel Klatt reacts to an incident at Michigan over the weekend that appeared to show groups of Spartans attacking two Michigan defensive backs.

“First and foremost, Michigan State football is about integrity, discipline, unselfishness, toughness and accountability,” Tucker said on Monday. “The incidents involving a small group of our players do not represent our culture. … The suspensions will allow the players to receive academic support and medical services, but they will not be able to attend any organized team activities, including meetings, practices, weight training or games.

“Our entire team will be cooperating with law enforcement and the Big Ten conference to further evaluate the events in Ann Arbor. These suspensions will remain in place until the investigations are completed. When we have a full report, I will address further actions if needed.”

Tucker went on to say his team is “laser-focused” for this week’s game against Illinois despite coast-to-coast coverage of the events at Michigan Stadium, despite the fact that Tucker himself hadn’t watched any film of the Illini prior to hitting the practice field Monday morning, despite the possibility that other players on the roster might be wondering if they’ll be suspended — or worse — when the university and police investigations are completed.

Even Illinois coach Bret Bielema acknowledged the incident would “have a huge effect on my team” even though his players were nowhere near the state of Michigan last weekend. And how Michigan State responds Saturday in its first public appearance since the violence will be scrutinized by fans, the media and the public.

“When you’re in these moments, we can learn from them, right?” Bielema said. “I literally was not oblivious to the fact of what started to get reported on Saturday night and I knew it would have a huge effect on my team. I know what Coach Tucker stands for, a tremendous person.  

“I think as a teaching moment, we go to Michigan in two weeks, right, so there’s things I’m filing away right now that I’ll bring up that week when that moment comes. But I think we do, as coaches, try to minimize what our outside voices are saying to our players, but the bottom line is in today’s world you can’t, right? I can (only) say and control what’s being preached to our players in the building.”

Here’s the Week 10 scouting report in the Big Ten:  

The matchups 

No. 2 Ohio State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (1-7, 1-4 Big Ten) 
Game time: Noon ET
Odds: Buckeyes by 38 (per FOX Bet, as of Thursday afternoon

Minnesota (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (3-5, 2-3 Big Ten) 
Game time: Noon ET
Odds: Gophers by 16 

Iowa (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) vs. Purdue (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
Game time: Noon ET on FS1 
Odds: Boilermakers by 3

Maryland (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten)
Game time: Noon ET on Big Ten Network 
Odds: Badgers by 4

No. 15 Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten)
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Nittany Lions by 14 

Michigan State (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 16 Illinois (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
Odds: Illini by 17

No. 5 Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten)
Game time: 7:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network 
Odds: Wolverines by 25.5

Game of the week: Michigan State vs. No. 16 Illinois

What a feeling it must have been for Illinois’ players when the initial College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night. Not only was Illinois included for the first time in school history, but the remainder of its schedule affords Bielema’s crew a path to the national semifinals, no matter how unlikely that might seem. Yet if the Illini keep winning from now through the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis — by which point they would have beaten Michigan on the road — there will be at least one shade of orange in the CFP.  

“For me, it’s awesome,” Bielema said. “But I think it’s great for the University of Illinois. I think it’s great for our fan base, for (athletic director) Josh (Whitman), for the people who have been here through all that stuff, for our players. … I think our team will enjoy being talked about, and it will be awesome to speak of it, but listen, we’re into Michigan State. We want to play Michigan State as strong as we can play them and let the cards unfold as they are. And then we’ll get into another game-week preparation against Purdue.”

Bret Bielema on Illinois’ impressive season

Illinois coach Bret Bielema joined Joel Klatt to discuss the season and look ahead to Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State.

For as much as Bielema and his staff want to home in on Michigan State, the reality of Illinois’ situation makes that difficult with several players beginning to earn national recognition as semifinalists for a handful of postseason awards. Atop the pack is running back Chase Brown, who has more rushing attempts (224) and rushing yards (1,208) than anybody else in the country. He’s run for at least 100 yards in every game this season and averages 160.6 yards against Big Ten opponents.

Brown’s head coach believes he deserves the Heisman Trophy.  

“Just in the last 24 hours, people from (television networks) and other groups that promote and organize that award are reaching out for information, footage, verbiage,” Bielema said. “It’s a positive sign in the right direction. Chase Brown for Heisman and every other award. I’d scream it as loud as I can. I think he’s playing at an extremely high level.”

And there’s a good chance that level of performance continues against an MSU defense ranked 97th nationally against the run, surrendering 168.6 yards per game. Michigan tailback Blake Corum — another potential Heisman Trophy candidate from the Big Ten — galloped for 177 yards and a touchdown in the win over Michigan State last week. It’s safe to say Brown is aware of the competition.

Player to watch: Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski

Two weeks ago, Ohio State edge rusher Zach Harrison was a menace in the Buckeyes’ dominant win over Iowa. He amassed five quarterback pressures, one sack, one forced fumble and one pass deflection in what might have been the best game of the former five-star prospect’s career.

Last week, Ohio State edge rusher J.T. Tuimoloau turned in one of the best defensive performances in recent memory during the Buckeyes’ come-from-behind win over Penn State. Tuimoloau, another former five-star prospect, racked up six tackles, three quarterback pressures, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumbles recovered and one forced fumble, and also scored a defensive touchdown.

One of the players tasked with impeding Harrison and Tuimoloau this weekend is Northwestern’s Skoronski, a projected first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and a contender to be the first player selected at his position. Skoronski has allowed just four pressures on 617 snaps this season, with only three of them coming against Big Ten opponents, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s well ahead of schedule relative to last year’s mark of 20 quarterback pressures. Maryland edge rusher Durell Nchami remains the only player to beat Skoronski for a sack in 2022. 

The game itself should be a lopsided affair in the Buckeyes’ favor, but NFL scouts will have their eyes glued to the matchups between Skoronski and Ohio State’s stable of edge rushers.

Unsung hero: Illinois QB Tommy DeVito

The two driving factors behind Illinois’ stunning turnaround this season are Brown, who leads the country in rushing, and a defense coordinated by Ryan Walters that ranks first in both scoring (8.9 points allowed per game) and total defense (224.5 yards per game).   

Third on that list is probably DeVito, the senior quarterback whose combination of poise, maturity and selflessness holds the offense together. DeVito transferred to Champaign after four years at Syracuse and quickly transformed into one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. He completed 20 of 22 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Nebraska while Brown played the starring role.

Performances like that are why DeVito ranks tied for third nationally in completion percentage at 72.5%, trailing only Henry Colombi of Marshall (73.2%) and J.J. McCarthy of Michigan (74.6%). He’s navigated the last five games without an interception and has an NFL passer rating of 107.5 this season.

“He’s just so engaged with getting better,” Bielema said earlier this week. “He’s got a good personality. He gets pissy when it doesn’t go right, and he’s kind of mad at himself, but he’ll get mad at the situation, too. He’s demonstrative.  

“I will tell you the thing that was really cool — I believe it was the first touchdown drive (against Nebraska — (when) Isaiah (Williams) took a catch-and-run for about a 4-yard pass play and turned it into a 45-yard-plus touchdown play, and the way the two (offensive) linemen ran at Tommy (to celebrate), you don’t do that if they don’t love your teammate, right? Tommy has a tremendous effect on our locker room.” 

Tommy DeVito tosses 40-yard TD pass

Tommy DeVito found Chase Brown down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown earlier this season against Minnesota.

Injury report 

— Ohio State RB Miyan Williams (arm): Williams exited last week’s win over Penn State with an arm injury and did not return. He was briefly evaluated along the sideline before heading to the Ohio State locker room. Head coach Ryan Day would not say whether Williams is available for Saturday’s game against Northwestern, though he assured reporters the injury isn’t serious.

— Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa (knee): Tagovailoa wasn’t available for last week’s game against Northwestern after injuring his MCL in the win over Indiana on Oct. 15, but backup Billy Edwards Jr. played well enough for the Terrapins to earn their sixth win. Head coach Mike Locksley said Tagovailoa is expected to play when Maryland visits Wisconsin on Saturday.

— Rutgers QB Gavin Wimsatt (undisclosed): Wimsatt dropped out of the 31-0 loss to Minnesota last weekend with an undisclosed injury and never returned. But earlier this week, head coach Greg Schiano named Wimsatt the starter for Saturday’s game against Michigan. The former four-star recruit will be making just the second start of his career.

Numbers game 

9: The number of receptions per game this season for Purdue wide receiver Charlie Jones, which ranks second nationally and first in the Big Ten. Jones also ranks second in receptions (77) and sixth in receiving yards (840) in his first year with the Boilermakers after transferring from Iowa. He’ll get a chance of revenge against the Hawkeyes this weekend.

16: The number of consecutive 100-yard rushing games for Minnesota tailback Mohamed Ibrahim dating to the Outback Bowl following the 2019 season. His streak is tied for the longest by any FBS player since Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey had a 16-game streak in 2012-13. Ibrahim is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 145.9 yards per game during this stretch.

40.3: The average points per game for Maryland in true road games since Nov. 14 of last season, which is the second-highest mark in FBS during that stretch behind UCLA (45.7 points per game). The Terrapins scored 40 points in a win at Rutgers on Nov. 27, 2021; 56 points in a win at Charlotte on Sept. 10; 27 points in a loss at Michigan on Sept. 24; and 38 points in a win at Indiana on Oct. 15.

4: The number of Big Ten road wins for Bielema in his first two seasons at Illinois, which are the most since former head coach Lou Tepper won five during his first two years in Champaign from 1992-93. In between, none of the following Illini head coaches won more than a single Big Ten road game in his first two seasons: Ron Turner, Ron Zook, Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit and Lovie Smith.

Plus-236: This year’s cumulative scoring differential for Michigan through eight games. The only teams with better differentials this season are Georgia at plus-250 and Ohio State at plus-256. Just twice in the last 50 years have the Wolverines had larger scoring differentials in the first eight weeks: plus-279 in 2016 and plus-294 in 1976.

Read more:

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13

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