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MSU Football set to face Maryland in first game of Big Ten Conference competition

September 21, 2023
<p>Senior safety Xavier Henderson (3) tackling a Maryland player during the game against Maryland on Nov. 13, 2021, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated Maryland 40-21.</p>

Senior safety Xavier Henderson (3) tackling a Maryland player during the game against Maryland on Nov. 13, 2021, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated Maryland 40-21.

The Michigan State Football Team will return home for the fourth straight game to open up Big Ten Conference play this Saturday against Maryland.

It has been a rough past few weeks for MSU’s football program, which included a crushing 41-7 loss last week to No. 8 ranked Washington. The Huskies gained 713 total yards of offense in the contest, a record for the most yards allowed by any team in Michigan State Football history.

Now Maryland comes to town with an offense that has the chance to be dangerous as well, giving the Spartans another test fresh into conference play. 

The Terrapins are led by redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Through three games thus far, Tagovailoa has completed 66 passes on 99 attempts for 889 yards and five passing touchdowns with just two interceptions. 

Tagovailoa is now playing in his third season as the starter for Maryland in the Big Ten. Acting head coach Harlon Barnett has had the opportunity to game plan against him as the defensive secondaries coach in the previous two matchups between the schools dating back to 2021. The contest on Saturday will be Barnett’s first time facing Tagovailoa as the head coach in charge. 

“We have another excellent quarterback coming in here,” Barnett said. “He moves around in the pocket a lot, and it’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ve been playing this guy now for three years. 

With the threat of Tagovailoa behind center, MSU’s defense will have to adjust their coverage. A big reason the Spartans struggled on defense against Washington was because they allowed senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to pick them apart in the air. Penix Jr. faced little to no pressure in the pocket, forcing Michigan State’s secondary to become the liability to cover their matchup perfectly. This left Penix Jr. the ability to unload on many deep balls for completions, and finish the game with 473 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Tagovailoa still presents the threat of launching the ball downfield, though he likes to evade pressure and keep plays alive with his legs. 

“And like I said, he stays alive, he keeps things alive,” Barnett said. “And so I mean, he’s a capture guy. We always talk about, as a quarterback, a captured quarterback or a kill quarterback. He’s a capture quarterback. We have to capture him, and understand we have to stay on his uphill shoulder and not let him get outside the pocket ... making stuff up in the pocket where, you know, we have bodies around and getting down on the ground.”

A lot of Maryland’s success has come from the ground game, however. Redshirt sophomore running back Roman Hemby has been the reason the Terrapins have rushed for 176 yards per game. Hemby has rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries so far this season. 

For Michigan State, the offense has shown flashes. Redshirt junior quarterback Noah Kim has found his rhythm at times in his first three starts, but has shown signs of being vulnerable to inconsistency. In his first two outings, Kim completed 36 passes on 53 attempts for 571 yards and five touchdown passes. Kim’s most recent start against Washington displayed the struggles he has faced, as he finished the game only throwing for 136 passing yards with an interception, in addition to a 38.71% completion percentage. 

It will take a complete and equal effort from both sides of the ball throughout all four quarters for the Spartans to hang with the Terrapins. A trend that has shown in Michigan State’s first three games are sluggish starts and failing to put pressure on the opponent by scoring points early. Maryland will capitalize quickly if this is the case once again.

MSU leads the all-time 10-3, but Maryland came out on top in the school’s last meeting during the 2022 season, by a score of 27-13. 

The week four matchup will also be Michigan State’s homecoming game.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 pm on NBC at Spartan Stadium.

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