Illinois has not found it easy to score this year. When they finally did, the refs were not sure it actually happened. It did. And the Illini won.
Illinois has been offensively challenged throughout the season. The 2-6 Illini averaged just 22.4 points per game entering Saturday’s home game against the Spartans.
Any time Illinois scores, it is a big thing. Especially when the Illini have a chance to win.
So when Jeff George Jr. threw the ball to Sam Mays with 1:35 to play to give Illinois a 31-27 lead at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, it was a reason to celebrate. Unless you were paying attention to the line judge.
Someone explain this. pic.twitter.com/ohOMUzOnGP
— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) November 5, 2016
Yes, fortune has not favored Illinois lately. Rumors about Lovie Smith’s satisfaction with his new job have surrounded the program leading to denials. But this is just a little much.
The referee’s initial signal on this completely legal and completely surehanded catch was a touchback. The referee even signaled a first down for Michigan State while Illinois players celebrated.
That is just a little too much for Illinois to have to overcome.
Of course, the referees did it get right eventually. The Illini’s 16-yard pass stood up and they got the lead.
When Illinois stopped Michigan State on fourth down inside the 20, the Illini could celebrate their first win over the Spartans in a decade. And send Michigan State to a lowly 2-7 and 0-6 in the Big Ten.
Things could not be worse for the Spartans right now.
Mays had four catches for 39 yards and George threw for 140 yards on 13-for-29 passing. That last one though was critical to delivering Illinois a rare win over Michigan State.