Michigan State (2-0) is a hot team. With two wins to start the season, a 38-21 win over the defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern Wildcats and a dominant win over an FCS opponent in Youngstown State, there is a real buzz surrounding the team that has not existed since their peak in the early 2010s.
The energy is starting to spread outside of East Lansing, too. The Spartans received 44 votes in the latest AP Poll, which puts them just outside the top 25 at No. 29. They are up there with the likes of Texas Christian University, University of Central Florida and even University of Michigan and are positioned well enough to crack the top 25 with another win.
The Spartans face their toughest test yet as they travel to South Beach to take on the No. 24 ranked Miami Hurricanes Saturday at noon at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Michigan State is playing as well as anyone in the country,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said Monday.
Scouting the Opponent
The Hurricanes sport a 1-1 record through two games following an 8-3 2020 campaign. Miami could not have started with a tougher opponent out of the gates, getting its doors blown off by No. 1 Alabama in a neutral site game played in Atlanta. Then last week, Miami barely squeaked by Appalachian State, 25-23, leaving question marks as to how good of a team they actually are.
D’Eriq King is the star of the Hurricanes and rightfully so. The redshirt senior quarterback transferred to Miami after four years at Houston where he scored an astonishing 78 total touchdowns in just 22 games. He offers a unique skill set both as a passer and a runner.
“We don’t have anyone that can simulate King,” Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker said. “We will do the best we can, but he’s a special player. We don’t have anyone on the scout team that can do what he can do.”
However, King suffered a torn ACL during the Cheez-it Bowl on Dec. 31 and through two games has not looked like his old self. Against Alabama, King threw for just 179 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, as well as adding just 10 yards on the ground. He followed that performance up with 200 passing yards and 79 rushing yards against Appalachian State, but did not have a touchdown to show for it.
Could this be the game King gets back on track? Maybe. Michigan State’s defense has been quite solid, but the quality of the quarterbacks they have faced so far in Hunter Johnson and Demeatric Crenshaw has not been nearly as high as what King is capable of.
For Miami, it starts with protecting King in the pocket, which they have not done well so far. Of the four Hurricane offensive linemen that have started both games in 2021, all of them have a Pro Football Focus grade well below average with sophomore Zion Nelson rating the highest at 61.5.
One of Miami’s better offensive linemen of the last two years, Jakai Clark, decided to redshirt this year for what would have been his junior season after suffering injuries from a car accident.
The Spartans were banged up last week on the defensive line with redshirt freshman Itayvion Brown and graduate students Drew Jordan and Drew Beesley all out versus Youngstown State. Tucker said Tuesday that Brown is not expected to play while the status of Jordan Beesley remains uncertain.
Even without them, Michigan State was able to generate pressure particularly from redshirt junior Jacub Panasiuk and sophomore Jeff Pietrowski. If they are able to get Beesley and Jordan back, Miami's offensive line could be a point of attack for the defense.
Outside of the team itself, the heat and humidity will be unique elements MSU will have to adjust to. With a forecasted high of 89 degrees and humidity over 70% for Saturday, it will be a much different environment compared to a typical September afternoon in East Lansing.
Tucker said the team has been preparing over the last few weeks by either cranking up the temperature indoors or by practicing outside.
“We will follow that plan, continue with that this week and take it all the way to the game,” Tucker said. “When we turn the heat up, it’s been pretty steamy in there.”
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