Following a 17-7 Senior Day victory over Maryland, No. 16 Michigan State (8-3, 6-2) heads to Piscataway, New Jersey looking to flip their 3-9 season a year ago and pick up their ninth win on the season.
“We flipped 3-8 to 8-3,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s rewarding to see that, to see there’s something that all your hard work comes to fruition and all the things you talk about and go through as a group, you see that sort of move forward.”
Despite going just 2-for-14 and 20 yards through the air, quarterback Brian Lewerke sealed the game with a 25-yard touchdown scamper. LJ Scott led the Spartans with 147 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown.
MSU held the Terrapins’ subtle ground game to just 83 yards, and held the passing game in check, allowing just 121 yards, with the bulk of them coming from garbage time.
The Spartans travel to High Point Solutions Stadium with a 2-1 record there, with their last win coming back in 2015 when MSU knocked off Rutgers 31-24.
The Knights ride behind their premier tailback, and Miami (FL) transfer, Gus Edwards. Edwards leads the team with 703 rushing yards and 806 all-purpose yards. Edwards ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 4.39 yards per carry. Leading the team with seven touchdowns, Edwards has been the bell cow offensively all season.
“They’re definitely instilling toughness, they run the ball very well,” linebackers coach Mike Tressel said. “If you don’t come ready to play physically, they will knock you backwards.”
The Knights run the ball for 159 yards per contest, sixth best in the Big Ten. The Spartans allow just 109 rushing yards per game, which is seventh best nationally. Being a team that struggles to throw the ball, with just 117 yards per game, Rutgers’ ability to establish a run game will give them their best chance at upsetting the Spartans.
Rutgers allows 216 passing yards per game, 10th in the Big Ten, so Lewerke, who’s coming off a 2-for-14 game with just 20 yards, should be in store to get his passing game back on track. The Knights are coming off a game in which they allowed 236 yards through the air to Indiana.
MSU will need to gameplan for senior Janarion Grant, the Knights’ Swiss-army knife. Grant, who’s questionable for Saturday, ranks third in school history with 4,851 yards (2,857 kickoff return, 1,062 receiving, 588 punt return, 344 rushing) and does it all for the Knights offensively. Grant has also been the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week three different times.
Thursday morning, sophomore DE Kenny Willekes was named one of 27 finalists for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year award. The former walk-on earned a scholarship following this year’s spring game and since then has been the team’s leading leader in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (14.5). Willekes also ranks fourth on the team with 67 total tackles.
Tressel raved about Willekes’ versatility and his potential to play as a fourth linebacker, “He’s a guy with a motor that you could put him in a lot of different places, and he’s not going to stop until the whistle, so you feel comfortable doing it.”
Saturday’s meeting marks the ninth meeting between the two teams, with MSU owning the head-to-head series 5-3, including going 3-0 in conference play. The Spartans are looking to reach their seventh nine-win regular season under Dantonio. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:12 p.m. on FOX.