Thursday, December 2, 2021

Preview: MSU heads to Ohio State for another top-10 showdown

November 19, 2021
<p>Then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (center) tries to hurdle then-junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22). The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 5, 2019. </p>

Then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (center) tries to hurdle then-junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22). The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 5, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Coming off the first loss of the season, there was uncertainty how Michigan State would respond. Would MSU take the loss as a reality check and come out more prepared and more determined to win? Or would MSU limp its way through another lousy performance? The former came to be true, as Michigan State steamrolled Maryland, 40-21 on Saturday’s frigid East Lansing evening. 

The Spartans got back to their roots that earned them the 8-0 record by feeding junior running back Kenneth Walker III while also mixing in a healthy dose of downfield passing. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne tossed a 52-yard flea-flicker touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Montorie Foster on the third play from scrimmage, and the rest was relatively smooth sailing for the wire-to-wire victory. 

It was perhaps Thorne’s best game as a Spartan, completing 22 of 31 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns. He and his high school buddy, redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed, connected on eight throws for 114 yards and two touchdowns while eight other players caught a pass. Walker continued his Heisman campaign with another stellar performance, this time accumulating 143 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. 

Defensively, MSU came into the game banged up. Freshman cornerback Charles Brantley, junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Simeon Barrow were all out, but Crouch’s absence was the most surprising. The transfer from Tennessee has been a solid portal grab for the Spartans, so it was concerning to see him not participate in warmups. 

Redshirt senior linebacker Noah Harvey stepped into the starting role and had an exquisite performance. Harvey made five tackles, one sack and one pass break up. His biggest play came early in the third quarter when Harvey picked off Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa on the MSU goal line. 

Tucker did not provide any updates on Monday regarding the availability of Brantley, Crouch, Barrow or any other nicked-up players. 

“I told them today ‘If you can go, give us what you got. If you can’t go, you can’t go and then it’s next man up. So, whatever your role is, it’s going to be significant.’” Tucker said. “And then I told them today, ‘Listen, even if you travel to the game, even if you know you are not going to go into the game unless a grenade goes off, you still got to have a positive influence on someone playing in the game.’”

The Spartans will try to get as healthy as they can throughout the week, because an all-hands-on-deck effort will be needed to take down Ohio State. 

Scouting the opponent

As usual, Ohio State is loaded with stars on both sides of the ball. This year, the offense, in particular, is stacked with young, speedy weapons that have only gotten better as the season has progressed. In fact, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 offensive team in the country gaining 550 yards and scoring 46.3 points per game. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback CJ Stroud has come along nicely and projects to be a problem for Big Ten defenses for years to come. He leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in passing yards per game at 337.3 and is also tied for fifth in the country in touchdown passes (30). Stroud has been sacked just seven times this year, indicating how strong of a pass protection and pocket presence he has.

“I think Stroud throws his best ball over the middle, really, and his post,” senior safety Xaiver Henderson said. “He throws a good dig route, which is a hard throw to make. But, he is pretty accurate when he throws those.”

Senior Chris Olave and junior Garrett Wilson are the wide receiver headliners that gain a lot of the national attention, but there is another receiver that has been just as good, if not better, to complete a three-headed monster. Sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba leads the team in receptions with 59 and is 11th in the country in receiving yards with 1,027. 

Containing those three wide receivers will be a challenge for Michigan State’s secondary, which gives up the most receiving yards in the country. 

“They are very efficient in the passing game,” MSU defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton said. “They have some good athletes running around out there ...Their offensive line does a good job protecting their quarterback too, so he doesn’t have to move around a whole lot and we are hoping we can get him to move some and get him out of his spot and if we can do that, then we will see how it works out.”

The offensive armory does not stop in the passing attack. Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson has broken out and likely would be the best running back in the conference if it were not for Walker. Henderson is second in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,035 and actually carries more efficiently than Walker with 7.3 yards per carry. 

Completely stopping the Ohio State offense may be unrealistic, but containing them is not out of the picture. If MSU can continue its prowess in the redzone and force field goals instead of touchdowns, they have a shot. Still, the Spartan offense will have to keep up with the Buckeyes and another big game from Walker like he had against Michigan may be needed. 

Kickoff is at noon and the game will be broadcast on ABC. 

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