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Michigan State counts on tough defense to control improved Illinois offense

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    Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio shouts into his headset on the sidelines during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 14-0. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) (The Associated Press)

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    Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, right, rushes against Purdue's Antoine Lewis, left, as Michigan State's Tony Lippett (14) blocks during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. Langford had 131 yards rushing in Michigan State's 14-0 win. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) (The Associated Press)

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    The ball pops loose from Purdue quarterback Danny Etling (5) as he is hit by Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough (40) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. At right is Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard (31). The fumble was recovered by Michigan State's Denicos Allen and returned for a touchdown. (AP Photo/Al Goldis) (The Associated Press)

Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has a word to describe Michigan State's defense. He says the Spartans are relentless.

Statistically, there's another way to describe them. They're No. 1.

The Spartans (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) have to the top-rated overall defense in the country.

On Saturday in Champaign they'll meet one of the conference's better offensive teams. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) is scoring 35.3 points a game.

The rest of the game, though, will pit one of the conference's more limited offenses against one of its weakest defenses.

Michigan State scored just one offensive touchdown last week against struggling Purdue. And Illinois' defense gives up 454 yards a game. That's among the Big Ten's weakest.

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmercerap