Michigan State football is looking to get back on track as the Spartans travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins. After back-to-back decisive losses to Washington and Minnesota and a tough conference schedule ahead, the team will need to find a way to win on Saturday if they have any chance of keeping their season intact.
It’s very clear MSU is not off to the start they were hoping for. The 2-2 Spartans nearly avoided a shutout in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota last week thanks to a last-minute touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Noah Kim.
Besides the final play from Kim, MSU’s offense was non-existent in the loss. Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne completed 71% of his passes for just 132 yards, no touchdown passes and also threw two interceptions.
The run game was also shut down. It looked like MSU would have a dynamic duo at running back with fifth-year running back Jarek Broussard and redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger after they combined for five rushing touchdowns against Akron, but they’ve been unable to recreate that same level of execution since. Broussard led the team in rushing against the Gophers with just 23 yards.
"From a tight end standpoint, it's just doing the little things a little bit better," sixth-year tight end Tyler Hunt said. "We've been getting in on the right guy, but it's about executing and actually finishing the blocks, just trying to open up some holes for the running backs back there."
MSU’s defense has also been the topic of conversation lately after showing little to no improvement from last season. It’s no secret Minnesota’s offense has been relying heavily on its running backs this season, and yet sixth-year quarterback Tanner Morgan was still able to complete 268 passing yards and throw three touchdowns. Through four games now, the Spartans have allowed an average of 265.2 passing yards per game and are ranked 102nd overall in the country.
The rushing defense hasn’t been any better. They allowed sixth-year running back Mohamed Ibrahim to run for 103 yards and a rushing touchdown last week. On average the Spartans have allowed 127.2 rushing yards per game and are ranked 54th in the country.
However, the Spartans have been peppered with injuries and there is no indication they are getting any healthier. Fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson and redshirt senior Jacob Slade were both out again while junior starting defensive end Jeff Pietrowski Jr. was a new addition to the injury shelf.
Despite the poor start, defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton believes he has the right guys to work with and they can get back on track.
“Is it a personnel problem?” Hazelton said. “No, we have players in the room that are tough, that are physical, they work like crazy. Those guys work at an exceptional rate, and they grind every day at practice.”
The 3-1 Terrapins are coming off a loss to No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Despite picking up its first loss of the season, Maryland held its own against the Wolverines and kept it close until the very end.
Although they’ll be riding some momentum from that game, Maryland could be without two key offensive components. Head Coach Mike Locksley announced that redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett will both be game time decisions on Saturday after suffering injuries.
Tagovailoa’s possible absence could have a huge effect on the game, as the Terrapins are currently ranked 23rd in the country in passing yards per game with 299.8 yards. Being forced to rely on the run game could give the Spartan defense some much needed relief, as Maryland's rushing offense is ranked 58th in the nation, averaging 173.8 yards per game.
The Spartan offense will likely fare better against Maryland than Minnesota. The Terrapins are currently ranked 78th in the country in rushing defense, allowing an average of 149.5 yards per game and 98th in passing defense, allowing an average of 260.2 yards per game.
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