Michigan State went back into its bag of tricks to get the scoring started today en route to a comfortable 40-21 victory over Maryland to move to 9-1 on the season.
On the third play of the opening drive, MSU went back to its bread-and-butter play-action design, the flea flicker, to attack the Terrapins downfield early. After junior running back Kenneth Walker III pitched the ball back to redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne, sophomore wide receiver Montorie Foster was running free past the secondary.
Thorne delivered an arcing pass through the cold air into the chest of Foster as he strode into the endzone to give MSU an early 7-0 advantage. Foster hauled in his first career touchdown and provided an immediate impact for MSU’s offense that was missing starting junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor for the second straight week.
Michigan State did not miss a beat on offense all evening en route to the comfortable victory. MSU had 457 total yards of offense and six touchdown drives. MSU again achieved harmony between the rushing and passing attack and scored four touchdowns through the air and two on the ground.
Thorne tied his career-high for touchdowns with four and threw for 287 yards on 22-31 passing. His favorite target was his high-school friend and redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed, who had eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Walker had another spectacular performance carrying the ball, running for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries to give MSU an explosive harmony on offense. Today was his seventh game over 100 yards this year.
The deep ball was in play for the Spartans all evening against Maryland’s secondary. Later in the first quarter, MSU struck on the deep ball again, this time on a wheel route to Reed. Thorne stood comfortably in the pocket and delivered a floating strike to Reed, who was streaking past the cornerback and safety to give MSU a two-touchdown lead.
Backup kicker Stephen Rusnak, who replaced Matt Coghlin after Coghlin kicked the first extra point, missed the extra point on Reed’s touchdown so MSU led 13-0 halfway through the first quarter.
The Terrapins were able to answer and get on the scoreboard. After a 45-yard run from Maryland redshirt sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa inside MSU’s five-yard line, sophomore running back Peny Boone scored to cut Michigan State’s lead to 13-7.
Thorne’s great day continued into the second quarter. After MSU marched down the field on a 14-play, 7-minute drive, Thorne capped it off by finding a wide-open redshirt senior tight end Connor Heyward in the flat after faking a handoff to Walker for his third touchdown pass of the day. Coghlin resumed extra point duties for the rest of the day on this touchdown.
At the half, Thorne was 16-23 for 209 yards and three touchdowns. The offense did not skip a beat in the first 30 minutes and gained 293 yards and turned four of its seven drives into touchdowns. The consistent efficiency coupled with the improved defensive effort gave MSU a 27-14 lead at the half.
On the other side of the ball, the Spartans seemed up to the task of slowing down Maryland after a bad performance last week against Purdue. The Spartans were able to get off the field much more often on third down and did not have major lapses in coverage outside of two Maryland scoring drives.
One of the drives in question came right before the half after MSU scored its fourth touchdown to take a 27-7 with 1:42 left in the first half. Maryland drove 80 yards in just over 45 seconds thanks to three straight 20-yard completions from Tagovailoa. MSU’s defense did not provide any sort of resistance and let Maryland cut it to two scores immediately again just before halftime.
Michigan State’s defense stepped up to start the second half after the late slip-up. Maryland was driving once again when backup redshirt senior linebacker Noah Harvey, who started today in place of junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch, picked off Tagovailoa on the goal line to stop the Terrapins. MSU answered by marching down and scoring quickly on Thorne’s fourth touchdown pass on a slant to Reed.
The positive start to the second half quickly dissipated, though, for MSU.
Maryland answered quickly again on its next drive. The Terrapins drove 64 yards in three plays to score to maintain the 13-point deficit. It was the second consecutive scoring drive for Maryland that took under a minute. Once again, MSU was torn apart by chunk plays, highlighted by a 32-yard screen pass to senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo for his second touchdown of the game.
MSU answered Maryland’s score with its first mistake on offense. On the first play of the drive, senior tight end Tyler Hunt fumbled the ball back to Maryland, who took over at MSU’s 28. The defense stood strong with its back against the wall for the second time in the half and forced a field goal, which Maryland missed.
MSU’s reputation for trotting out a defense that likes to give up a lot of yards but stands strong in the redzone was in full effect today. On four straight drives in the second half, Maryland had the ball in or near MSU territory but came away with zero points thanks to an interception, missed field goal and two turnovers on downs.
MSU’s ability to spurn Maryland’s offense in the second half proved to be more than enough thanks to the offense’s outburst. The Terrapins were unable to score again after its touchdown early in the third quarter despite gaining 218 yards in the second half.
The complete effort for the Spartans moves them to 9-1 on the season. Michigan State will travel to Columbus next week to take on Ohio State for the inside track to the Big Ten Championship.
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