CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Tyler O’Connor didn’t take a chance at a quarterback sneak on a fourth-down play against Michigan last week when he had the opportunity. It cost Michigan State a potential first down. He took that chance twice Saturday against Illinois and picked up first downs both times.
The second sneak proved costly, however, as it forced O’Connor from the game in the fourth quarter of an eventual 31-27 loss.
O’Connor was 23-of-35 passing for 265 yards but it was up to backup Damion Terry to lead a comeback attempt that fell short. Terry attempted to scramble out of the pocket on a fourth-and-2 play from the Illinois 15-yard line with 19 seconds to play but was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Illinois took possession and needed just one kneel-down by QB Jeff George Jr. to complete Michigan State’s seventh consecutive defeat.
DE Malik McDowell also had to leave the game after suffering a left ankle injury in the third quarter. Those are the top two names on a substantial injury report for the Spartans.
- LT Kodi Kieler was on the sideline dressed in sweats. David Beedle started in his place but had to leave the game because of injury.
- S Montae Nicholson dressed but never put on his helmet as he watched from the sideline. Sophomore Matt Morrissey started in his place.
- Senior WR Monty Madaris traveled but did not play.
- TE Jamal Lyles did not make the trip. Coach Mark Dantonio intimated that it was for a violation of team rules when it was noted that Lyles and freshman S Kenney Lyke didn’t travel. “It’s internal. Team violation, team rules on one and you’ve got to play better on the other. You’ve got to make the travel team on the other,” said Dantonio. “Certainly Jamal would be on the travel team.”
The Spartans trailed 24-17 and faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 40 when Dantonio made the decision to go for the first down. O’Connor took the snap from C Benny McGowan and immediately surged forward to extend the drive. He stayed down on the ground after the play was over. Trainers came out to attend to O’Connor while the rest of the offense huddled and Terry started warming up his arm.
O’Connor was seen talking with medical personnel on the sideline after leaving the field but he never put his helmet back on his head.
“I don’t know his status but he seemed fine on the sideline,” Dantonio said. “I don’t know his status but I know he couldn’t go back in.”
Losing McDowell hurt immediately. The junior was helped off the field and one play later Illinois RB Kendrick Foster found a gaping hole through the middle of the line. He was never touched as he went 64 yards for a touchdown that put the Illini ahead, 14-9.
“He’s explosive up front and he can make anything happen,” senior LB Riley Bullough said. “Losing (McDowell) definitely hurts the defense but I’m sure he’ll be back ready to go next week, definitely.”
Michigan State hosts Rutgers next Saturday. Dantonio hopes the injury list gets smaller.
“Somebody’s going to play,” said Dantonio, “but we’ve got some guys banged up, there’s no question.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo