Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Preview: Michigan State returns to the Woodshed to face struggling Rutgers

November 11, 2022
<p>Max Melton, 15, and his team prepare for a play during a game against MSU in Spartan Stadium on Oct. 24, 2020.</p>

Max Melton, 15, and his team prepare for a play during a game against MSU in Spartan Stadium on Oct. 24, 2020.

After a couple weeks on the road, Michigan State finally returns to East Lansing this Saturday for a noon kickoff against Rutgers. 

Last weekend, Michigan State pulled off an upset on the road against No. 14 Illinois. Rutgers, on the other hand, is coming off of a 52-17 loss at the hands of Michigan. With both teams currently sitting at 4-5 on the season, bowl game eligibility is in the foreground of this weekend’s matchup. 

With no update on the post-game incident in the tunnel at the Big House, the eight players suspended by Michigan State will remain so. That includes star senior linebacker Jacoby Windmon

This is not the first time MSU has entered a game shorthanded. The roster has been racked with injuries throughout the year, especially on defense. Eight players suspended just adds to the attrition. 

However, against Illinois, the Spartans proved they can overcome that sort of adversity. In one of the better defensive performances of the season, MSU was able to consistently stop the Illini in key fourth downs and lock down in the red zone. 

If there’s one area of Michigan State’s defense that is above average, it’s the red zone defense. It ranks 46 in the country, allowing opponents to come away with points just over 80% of the time. That’s sure to cause issues for a Rutgers offense that has the 99th-best red zone offense in the country. 

While the defense looks to be trending in the right direction, MSU’s offense is still just treading water. The unit averages 332.1 yards per game, which is 109th in the FBS. 

Although the ground game was decent against the Illini last Saturday, it’s still perhaps the most glaring flaw in the Spartans’ offense. MSU’s ground game is the twelfth worst in college football, averaging just under 100 yards per game. 

Scouting the opponent 

After a 3-0 start in non-conference, the season has fallen apart for the Scarlett Knights. Their only win since Sept. 17 was a 24-17 victory over Indiana a few weeks ago

The reason for those recent struggles? Rutgers has one of the worst offenses in the nation. In the FBS, the Scarlett Knights are ranked 125th in total offense, averaging 291.4 yards per game. The passing offense ranks at 122, third-down conversion percentage sits at 121 and the first down offense is 126. To say that Rutgers struggles to move the ball would be an understatement. 

The starting quarterback situation is not helping matters. After cycling through multiple starters throughout the season — they infamously used three different quarterbacks on its first drive of the season — Rutgers seems to have settled on Gavin Wimsatt. The sophomore QB made his first collegiate start against Minnesota on Oct. 29, finishing with just 68 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. 

Wimsatt made his second career against the mighty Wolverines last weekend. After a solid first-half showing, Wimsatt and the Rutgers’ offense imploded in the latter half of the game. He finished with just 166 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.  

Despite the terrible production on offense, the Scarlett Knights still have a few weapons to play with. Senior Aron Cruickshank is a high-level athlete that can play all over the field, making an impact on both offense and special teams. 

“Number one (Cruickshank) is an explosive little dude,” defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton said. “He can go make some plays wherever.

Surprisingly, Cruickshank doesn’t lead the team in receiving yards. That title belongs to senior wide receiver Sean Ryan, who has 323 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Senior tight end Johnny Langan is also a player the Spartans will have circled. Like Cruickshank, the team captain has played all across the field.

“(Number) 21 (Langan) is a dude that plays everywhere,” Hazelton said. “He’s a weapon, whether he's a quarterback or a tight end or he’s split out or carrying the ball.”

In terms of production, the rushing attack seems to be the only way Rutgers can move the ball. It’s still not great — 88th in the FBS — but it’s certainly better than the passing attack. 

While Rutgers’ offense has been tragic this season, the defense has been surprisingly great. Rutgers ranks 18th in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 310.6 yards per game. The pass defense has allowed just 183.1 yards per game this season, good for 22 in the nation. 

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Consistency has been an issue for Michigan State's offense, and the Scarlett Knights look to be another tough defensive test.

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