Brendan Wilner: @b_wilner16
Michigan State has started Big Ten play 0-2, while Brigham Young has an overall record of 2-3. Many people expected this game to be a top-25 matchup, but neither team is ranked. However, that doesn’t mean that this game won’t be a great one.
MSU’s biggest Achilles’ heel is their defense. Last week, I stated that the defense was the X-factor if MSU wanted to win. This week, it’s going to be Tyler O’Connor and the offensive line.
O’Connor will need to limit his turnovers if he wants to put his team in position to win this game. The key for O’Connor will be to not stare down his wide receivers, which he tends to do whenever he throws interceptions. He is also responsible for making sure that the offense continues to score points when ahead in the second half. The offense tends to stall when they are leading, which allows for the opponents to get back into the game.
The offensive line will most certainly be a major X-factor going into Saturday. They have many duties that they need to cover throughout the game. I know that they lost a lot last year and there have been injuries thus far, but they will need to pick it up. The importance that the offensive line has for the success of LJ Scott and the running game is huge, and not to mention that they need to protect O’Connor.
Watch out for MSU to be a little different on offense against BYU and get back into rhythm and get back on the winning track. MSU hasn’t lost three straight games since 2009, and if they take care of the football and get a few stops, they should be able to give the home crowd a win.
David Manion: @The_Manion1
Despite the disappointing start for both Michigan State and Brigham Young, this is a highly anticipated game, especially for the Spartans. Their season remains in the balance as the Spartans get ready to clash with the Cougars in their first-ever meeting at Spartan Stadium.
MSU and BYU are very even and stack up well on paper. I could nitpick several X-factors that will determine the outcome of the game, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with the Spartans’ secondary.
This unit currently ranks 42nd nationally in pass defense, which is a major step up from their embarrassing 92nd rank from last year. The defensive backfield features a fantastic safety tandem, Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson, while featuring the best cover corner on MSU in Vayante Copeland.
BYU presents a great challenge to Michigan State with five receivers who have each tallied at least 14 receptions for over 100 yards and one score. My biggest concern with the Spartans is containing 6-foot-6 Nick Kurtz and 6-foot-4 Moroni Laulu-Pututau. These targets have a favorable edge over the MSU defensive backfield with their huge size and speed, especially going against the 5-foot-11 pair of Darian Hicks and Tyson Smith.
Because the Spartans have struggled to play effective man coverage (especially on third down) and are vastly undersized, expect co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett to draw up a variety of zone coverages and be prepared for shots downfield or towards Kurtz’s way.
Copeland’s snag in the end zone last weekend was the secondary’s only takeaway this season. If they want to help Michigan State match the pace of BYU’s quick tempo offense, they need to force takeaways from quarterback Taysom Hill, who is a turnover prone (six interceptions).
Andy Chmura: andy_chmura
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Many have been critical of Michigan State’s defense thus far, but it is hard to stop an opposing offense that is on the field for nearly the entire game. MSU needs to control the tempo on offense. They are a run-first team. They need to attack the ground and not let up.
MSU ends up in too many third-and-long situations. Under Connor Cook, long yardage scenarios were never major obstacles for the Spartans. However, they cause nightmares for O’Connor. MSU must run the ball with consistency on first and second down to end up with manageable third down situations.
LJ Scott has been the primary ball carrier for MSU thus far. However, his horse-like demeanor has been merely subpar thus far. Mark Dantonio needs to give Gerald Holmes and Madre London more carries. Although not as strong as Scott, they have the speed, patience and vision required to improvise and make gains out of poor run blocking.