Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State football's opponent.
In some ways, opening up the season against a team that won two games last year is about the best situation Mel Tucker could ask for in his first game as head coach at Michigan State.
The Spartans open up the truncated eight-game season against Rutgers, who returns Head Coach Greg Schiano, who coached the Scarlet Knights from 2001-2011 with an 11-win season in 2006.
A lot of unknowns come with Rutgers as they face off against the Spartans at Noon EST on Big Ten Network in East Lansing, this week The State News spoke with Dylan McCoy, a sportswriter from The Daily Targum to get a perspective from the other side of the field as Schiano and Tucker meet on the gridiron this Saturday.
Q: The big storyline with this game is that you’ve got two head coaches, Schiano who was at Rutgers before, who are in their first seasons at their respective programs in a shortened offseason. What kind of challenges does this present for Rutgers? A program that struggled last year.
A: I think the challenges for this game … A lot of it is like the same thing as the season challenges: getting the system in and getting accustomed to coaching these players because, at the same time, Schiano hasn’t coached at Rutgers for 10 years so it's basically a new program to him. The players are different, the system they’ve been running is different — they’ve had to deal with Chris Ash for past so many years … it’s really about the culture this year.
Q: Rutgers released their depth chart earlier this week and there was no starting quarterback declared. Artur Sitkowski, who has pretty prototypical size and Noah Vedral as well (are in the mix), where do you think Rutgers goes at the quarterback position? Or could fans expect to see a combination of both?
A: Art (Sitkowski) has been starting in the past, he started last year, I’m not sure how it worked out in training camp this year but its the starting quarterbacks team until he loses them. I would assume for the game we’re probably going to see more Art earlier in the season … but I don’t see them (the team) having a very long (level) of patience with him. I don’t know if you saw his numbers last year but he put up some of the worst numbers in Power 5 … he’s not going to have that long of a leash. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vedral gets time in the first game, if not then, then probably soon after that.
Q: On both sides of the ball, who are the key guys for Rutgers, not just this weekend but maybe even the rest of the season?
A: I would definitely say Isaih Pacheco, he’s taken the starting running back position. He’s really stepping up. (Former RU running back) Raheem Blackshear was extremely talented, so that’s a very hard position to fill. Obviously, the quarterback, whoever it ends up being, is a huge part of the offense in getting things done. I would say on defense, (linebacker) Tyshon Fogg has a chance to be a real impact player this year. You know, he’s always been “the guy” on defense, the captain of the defense and I really think this year he’s going to have a little bit more leadership, especially with new coaches. You know, he’s a guy who really knows the players, been around the players for a long time, he’s just someone who’s well liked around the program.
Q: What does Rutgers need to do to be competitive or win that game Saturday?
A: Establish the run game pretty early. The run game has definitely been a stronger part of the offense, even with Raheem Blackshear last year who transferred to Virginia Tech. I believe Isaih Pacheco is going to be the starting running back, he’s taken some carries in the past year. I definitely think establishing the run so that they can get play-action (going) and give the quarterback some time … on defense being less of a big-play defense, a lot of times the last couple of years it’s been a defense that’s been very bad at stopping big plays.
Q: What’s your score prediction?
A: I would say the score prediction ... 38-24 Michigan State.
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