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Preview: No. 7 Michigan State looking to bounce back from first loss against Maryland

November 12, 2021
<p>MSU wide receiver, Jayden Reed (5), attempts to catch a pass from Rocky Lombardi (not shown) during a football game against Indiana University at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.</p>

MSU wide receiver, Jayden Reed (5), attempts to catch a pass from Rocky Lombardi (not shown) during a football game against Indiana University at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

After a week of briefly standing amongst the elites of college football, Michigan State fell flat on its face for its first loss of the season against Purdue.

Michigan State was outclassed by the Boilermakers from start to finish and did not take a lead the entire game. Purdue was led by fifth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who threw for a career-high 536 yards and three touchdowns, the second-most yards given up by Michigan State in school history. Despite another good performance from junior running back Kenneth Walker III (136 yards, one touchdown), the Spartans could not overcome Purdue’s aerial assault and fell 40-29.

The loss derailed Michigan State’s perfect start to the season and left the team banged up and injured. On offense, starting senior left tackle Jarrett Horst did not dress for the game and caused a shuffle upfront of the starting line. Graduate student kicker Matt Coghlin, the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history, was dressed for the game but did not play, which led to the first career game for backup freshman walk-on kicker Stephen Rusnak.

The group that was hit the hardest by the injury bug was the secondary. The injuries on the back end led to MSU's worst defensive performance this year. Cornerbacks Ronald Williams and Charles Brantley played through some injuries according to senior safety Xavier Henderson following the game. Brantley posted on Instagram following the game alluding that he might be done for the year. 

Michigan State now stands at 8-1 on the season after its first loss. The slip-up has dropped Michigan State to No. 8 in the AP Poll and No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Michigan State Football Head Coach Mel Tucker and the Spartans still control its own destiny in the Big Ten East with the final three games coming against division opponents.

First up down the final stretch for MSU is Maryland. The Terrapins (5-4, 5th in Big Ten East) are traveling to East Lansing after suffering a 31-14 loss to Penn State at home last weekend. Maryland ranks third in the Big Ten in passing offense (316.1 YPG), led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.

After getting gashed through the air a week ago against Purdue, Michigan State will have another tough matchup in its attempted bounce back. Maryland will attack MSU through the passing game like the Boilermakers did and MSU’s banged-up secondary will look to have a better performance if the Spartans want to win. 

The secondary could be facing a tough test again short-handed. Tucker did not provide an update on the injury status for the players that sat out or got injured against Purdue. As he has all season, he said that the players that missed the game were “sore” and he was not going to provide any insight on the severity of an injury. 

“I don't like to talk about injuries because I don't like to tell our opponents who they're going to play, who they're going to face, who's available and who's not available,” Tucker said. “You have to do that in the NFL, we don't have to do that in college. We don't have to go probable, questionable and all that so I like to give out as little information as possible.”

Scouting the Opponent

Maryland began its 2021 campaign 4-0 but has since been chewed up by the Big Ten schedule. The Terrapins sit in fifth place in the Big Ten East with a 2-4 conference record with wins over Illinois and Indiana. They are coming off a 17-point loss to Penn State at home last weekend.

The star of the show for Maryland is Tagovailoa, who’s thrown for 2755 yards and 18 touchdowns through nine games this season. His favorite target by far has been sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett. He leads the team in receiving yards (533) and provides a dynamic level of speed in Maryland’s offense and kick return game.

In the backfield, Tagovailoa is flanked by redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis. Fleet-Davis has been the primary back because of his ability to have an impact in the passing game. He has accounted for a team-high 670 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns on 87 rushing attempts and 25 catches this season. 

The weapons on offense haven’t led to a lethal offense from the Terrapins. Maryland ranks 73rd in the country in scoring offense (27.6 points per game). They have struggled with turnovers, particularly from Tagovailoa, who has nine interceptions on the year. 

The defense for Maryland has been the main problem. The Terrapins rank 97th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering 30.44 points per game. It has been a real disparity in performance from the defense in wins and losses this year. Maryland has given up 23 points per game in its five wins and 45.5 points per game in its four losses.

Maryland has given up over 30 points in five straight games and is in for another tough matchup with a Spartan offense that ranks 26th in the country in scoring (34 points per game). Even if Michigan State is without wide receiver Jalen Nailor for a second week in a row, Michigan State should find success against Maryland’s defense. 

The game kicks off at 4 p.m. EST at Spartan Stadium and will be televised on Fox.

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