Following their blowout loss to Ohio State last weekend, Michigan State is down to playing for a warm-weather bowl game in 2017. After a 3-9 season in 2016, the Spartans’ turnaround in 2017 has them primed for success in the next couple of years thanks to a young core.
Maryland’s fourth season in the Big Ten has been a bit of a disaster for DJ Durkin’s team. After Durkin’s move from defensive coordinator at Michigan to Terrapin head coach, UMD finished 6-7 in 2016, losing the Quick Lane Bowl. A big win over Texas to start the year was their biggest result, but injuries have put the Terps in big holes, especially at the quarterback position. After losing five of their last six games, Maryland is 4-6 and will have to upset MSU and Penn State to become bowl eligible.
This is yet another game that MSU lost last year, falling 28-17 in College Park. LJ Scott ran for 128 yards and a touchdown, but two 100-yard rushers for Maryland combined with a below-average defensive performance from the Spartans meant Brian Lewerke lost the second start of his career. If you want a revenge factor for this game, there’s a small one, but it’s there.
MSU rushing offense vs. Maryland defense
Reviewing Michigan State’s loss to Ohio State, nothing stands out as a major positive. That said, if MSU had any level of success against the Buckeyes it was in the running game. Scott and Lewerke had some success early on, but MSU was forced to abandon the run game in order to try and stay in it, which ended predictably.
The run game has been very up-and-down thanks to the young offensive line, with limited home-run potential. Their stuff rate, a measure of how often running plays are tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, is about 25 percent, good for the No. 122 rank in the FBS. When MSU’s run game is off, it’s really off. That statistic has left MSU at risk for ending drives early, and when MSU has success it relies on the passing game in third-down situations.
Maryland’s defending against the run has been pretty solid, actually. Much like Michigan State, Maryland excels at limiting big plays in the run game, as the 13th-best team in the nation in stopping explosive plays in the run game. However, against teams that can impose their will up front, the Terps have been dicey in the run game, allowing 6.4 yards a carry to Central Florida, 5.2 to Wisconsin and 4.6 to Michigan last week. If the Spartans establish the running game early, MSU might be able to put up similar numbers.
MSU passing offense vs. Maryland defense
Lewerke was inaccurate even when he had time to throw against Ohio State, but on the whole we know the story with him at this point. Solid performances from Lewerke have won games against Michigan and Penn State, but if he isn’t firing on all cylinders, as was the case against Maryland, teams have a chance to get stops against MSU’s offense. MSU is one of the most efficient throwing teams in the nation, but it’s very rare to see them busting long passing touchdowns.
That might change against Maryland. The Terrapins have not been able to find consistent pressure in 2017, recording just 15 sacks on the year. Their defensive line has just 8.5 of those sacks, as most of their pressure will come from linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. Neutralize him, and Lewerke may be able to spread the ball around enough to rejuvenate the Spartan passing game.
Maryland rushing offense vs. MSU defense
If Maryland wants to win this game, they’re going to have to do what only one team has done so far this season: run consistently on the Spartan defense. Ohio State used their speed and size up front to blow the Spartan front seven off the ball, and by the end of the day OSU had 335 yards on the ground. That offensive line was the best MSU will see all season, and the Spartans just got gashed, plain and simple.
Maryland has two backs with at least 500 yards this season in Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison. Both average at least four yards a carry, but Michigan State’s defense has stood tough against most of the rushing offenses in the Big Ten. Neither Johnson nor Harrison have fumbled this year, so if Joe Bachie and the MSU defense can get downhill and create turnover chances, it could stop the Terrapin offense in its tracks.
Maryland passing offense vs. MSU defense
Despite being torched for a long touchdown and giving plenty of yards on screens, MSU was still able to force two interceptions of JT Barrett last weekend. That said, the Spartan secondary’s youth has been barely noticeable at times this season. Safety Khari Willis has been slowly turning into a rock-solid member of the backline, and while Josiah Scott has gone cold in the turnover department since his interception against Western Michigan, teams have taken notice of his ability on the outside. MSU limits the big play as well as anyone in the nation, rating fifth in defensive points per play allowed in the passing game.
Maryland’s passing game has been quite the story to follow throughout this college football season. On their fourth quarterback against Michigan last week, walk-on Ryan Brand was 16-35 for 136 yards and two interceptions. If the passing game will be successful for the Terps, it’ll be in the big-play category, as their offense isn’t exactly designed to do the types of things MSU does on third down.
If Max Bortenschlager plays after facing concussion-like symptoms the last couple of weeks, he has shown an ability to get the ball downfield, throwing for 1,007 yards this season. It’s very boom-or-bust for Bortenschlager, as he completes just 51 percent of his passes for 4.5 yards an attempt. With no receivers above six feet tall for the Terrapins, MSU will have the physical advantage in the passing game.
Michigan State, predictably, looks as though they will cruise to a win on Senior Day. Maryland will have to force turnovers on defense and hope Brian Lewerke is having another off game in the passing game. However, Maryland’s league-worst defense could kick-start the Spartans towards a Florida bowl game. The Spartans’ final home game of 2017 will kickoff at 4 p.m. on FOX.