Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Preview: Michigan State begins Big Ten gauntlet against Rutgers

October 9, 2021
MSU takes posession during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 24, 2020.
MSU takes posession during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 24, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Michigan State is entering Big Ten play at 5-0 after handily beating Western Kentucky 48-31 on Homecoming last weekend. The Spartans will travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Rutgers in their first Big Ten East battle of the season.

Michigan State convincingly won against the Hilltoppers with the superstar performances of Jayden Reed and Kenneth Walker III, who combined for six touchdowns and over 400 yards of offense. The Spartans coasted off of a 42 point first half to a comfortable three-possession victory. 

Michigan State only scored six points in the second half; they took their foot off the gas pedal. MSU was outscored 15-6 in the second half by Western Kentucky; the first time this season the Spartans have been outscored in a half.

Once again, the offense thrived through a balanced attack to move the ball and get into the endzone. MSU gained 528 yards on Saturday, with 327 coming through the air and 201 coming on the ground. This kept Western Kentucky’s defense out of sorts all game and allowed for explosive play after explosive play. The Spartans will look to keep this energy up when they face off against the Scarlet Knights. 

The defense is also coming off its biggest challenge this season; they surrendered a season-high 31 points to Western Kentucky. The Hilltopper's quarterback Bailey Zappe moved the ball at will, throwing for 488 yards, but the MSU defense held strong in the red zone. The defense allowed three touchdowns and three field goals in seven total trips to the red zone. They were able to shrink the field and hold without breaking under the pressure of the fast-paced and high-powered Hilltoppers offense.

MSU will most likely still be without defensive end Drew Beesley and running back Elijah Collins, who are still sore, according to MSU Head Coach Mel Tucker.

Scouting the Opponent

Rutgers is 3-2 this year and 0-2 in the Big Ten with losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The schedule does not get any easier for the Scarlet Knights, who will welcome the 11th-ranked Spartans for their third straight game against a ranked Big Ten foe. 

Rutgers is coming off an embarrassing 52-13 loss to Ohio State at home last week, where they surrendered 45 points in the first half. The Buckeyes were able to gain 541 yards of offense scored 52 points against the Scarlet Knight defense that had only allowed 54 points total through the previous four weeks. 

Said defense is led by linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi who has 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, good for second in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knight defense has generated eight turnovers, including five fumbles, through five games. (CFBstats)

On offense, Rutgers is led by senior quarterback Noah Vedral. Vedral has 914 yards and six touchdown passes through five games and has completed 67% of his passes. Vedral’s favorite targets are wide receivers Aron Cruickshank and Bo Melton and running back Isaih Pacheco, who has added three rushing touchdowns this year. 

The Rutgers offense will be looking to have a strong bounce-back after scoring just 13 points in the last two games against Michigan and Ohio State. They might find success through the air against the Spartan secondary that has struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks.  

Like Michigan State, Rutgers' motto is “keep choppin'," coined by Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights pride themselves on playing rugged, hard-nosed football until the final whistle and will match Michigan State’s physicality step-for-step.

Schiano was perturbed by MSU using “Keep Choppin’” as its team motto, creating a little bit extra hype around the game. This is the rubber match between the two choppin’ teams of the Big Ten East. 

The game is scheduled to kick off at noon and can be watched on Big Ten Network if you aren’t traveling to Piscataway. 

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