LOCATION: Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, College Park, Maryland
BETTING LINE: Michigan State -2.5
MICHIGAN STATE PLAYER TO WATCH
For the Spartans, defensive struggles are plaguing them this season (see that 54-40 loss to Northwestern). Riley Bullough is one of the most important members of that defense, and must hold things down against the Terps. The brother of former stalwart Max Bullough, Riley is a commanding presence in the linebacker unit, and has his hands full with Maryland’s stable of running backs coming at him Saturday. His ability to take down the shifty Lorenzo Harrison or speedy Ty Johnson will have an enormous impact on the outcome of the game.
MARYLAND PLAYER TO WATCH
On the opposite side, Ty Johnson is one of the guys Bullough must stop, as previously mentioned. Johnson is Maryland’s most complete back, and though Lorenzo Harrison may have better lateral movement, Johnson’s speed and power are undervalued assets. The sophomore compiled over 200 yards against Purdue, but saw dips in losses against Penn State and Minnesota when the offense never got going. Look for Johnson to take more responsibility on the ground, and make a difference against an uncharacteristically poor Spartan defense.
MICHIGAN STATE POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
TIGHT ENDS: Josiah Price is a good threat, and he is the only tight end putting up decent receiving statistics. He could create some mismatches in Maryland’s secondary.
RUNNING BACKS: L.J. Scott is a very capable back, and with Maryland’s run defense issues, expect him to get the ball early and often. He is Michigan State’s bell cow, and needs to establish something to get some openings in the air.
QUARTERBACKS: We’ve seen all sides of Tyler O’Connor, but the main thing he needs is efficiency. Make all the passes you have to without doing too much, and the holes on the ground should open for Scott. Easier said than done.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Michigan State boasts a very strong group of receivers led by R.J. Shelton. Maryland’s secondary could be without Will Likely, and that may expose them, so keep an eye on that.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Michigan State’s defensive issues are out for all to see, and part of it is due to disappointing play up front. No matter who the quarterback is, the Spartans must put them under constant pressure, forcing Maryland to run and making them one-dimensional.
LINEBACKERS: Riley Bullough leads the group that embarrassed themselves against Northwestern, letting the Wildcats run all over them for 209 yards and three touchdowns. They have a tough task ahead with Maryland.
SECONDARY: The secondary performed no better than the linebackers, letting Clayton Thorson torch them for nearly 300 yards and three scores. Maryland isn’t too effective passing the ball, but give them a chance, and their offensive balance will make the Spartans pay.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Michael Geiger is good on extra points but just 4-7 on field goals. The way the defense looks, the Spartans may need all the points they can get.
COACHING: Mark Dantonio is a very good coach, but nothing seems to go his way this year. He must implement some kind of scheme to stop the run. Let Maryland throw all day, mistakes are bound to come.
GAME PREVIEW ANALYSIS
There is no way around it–neither of these teams look capable of winning games right now. Unfortunately though, one of them has to.
The Spartans are in disarray after an abysmal 0-3 start to conference play. Their defense is in shambles, and doesn’t look like it is recovering anytime soon. They’ve actually seen some efficient quarterback play from Tyler O’Connor, but he doesn’t have the ability to change a game, and if the Spartans need a big drive, he hardly delivers.
On the flip-side, Maryland followed up a bright 4-0 start with two horrendous showings on both side of the ball against Penn State and Minnesota. The team gave up more points in those two games than in their four wins combined, and injuries to quarterback Perry Hills have the offense stuck in the mud too.
This game looks to be an offensive shootout. The Spartans were stymied by Wisconsin and BYU, but put up 40 against Northwestern (despite the loss). Maryland has big-play capability, but it’s been lacking the past couple of weeks. The Spartans are a well-coached team, but it hasn’t shown on the field, while Maryland’s issues of late overshadow the great job coach D.J. Durkin is doing in his first year. Perhaps this game can turn the Spartans season around, despite what could be a good atmosphere in College Park at night.
MARYLAND POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
OFFENSIVE LINE: The line isn’t to blame for Maryland’s struggles, but could be better, and has to be if Maryland wants to run all over Michigan State as they did earlier in the season against other teams.
TIGHT ENDS: Tight ends are hardly used by Maryland, and expect that to continue.
RUNNING BACKS: This is Maryland’s best group on either side of the ball, but they’ve had no luck in recent games. This is the time to get back on track. Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson must step up.
QUARTERBACKS: Tyrrell Pigrome surprisingly started due to an injury to Perry Hills, and though Durkin is being coy about Hills’ status, Pigrome’s ineffectiveness should propel the senior Hills back into the starting role. His leadership is a big plus for Maryland.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Teldrick Morgan and D.J. Moore have a lot of talent, but with Pigrome in at quarterback it’s hidden at times. If Hills is back, expect more involvement from the playmakers out wide.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Defensive coordinator Andy Buh gave the line credit for recent performances, and they have been the best of the worst on Maryland’s defense. They need to establish pressure and force bad throws from O’Connor.
LINEBACKERS: Maryland’s linebackers got torched by both Penn State and Minnesota on the ground. Jermaine Carter Jr. is a good player, and Shane Cockerille is growing into his role, but it has to be better when L.J. Scott comes to town.
SECONDARY: Other teams are running so much, the secondary isn’t too busy. Tyler O’Connor isn’t a bad quarterback though, so they better be ready–especially if Will Likely is out injured.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Maryland’s kicking and punting has been rather standard–not much to report there other than they should keep it up.
COACHING: D.J. Durkin is doing a great job at Maryland, but needs to figure something out. His defense is getting gashed, and his offense is stalling–not to mention the excessive amounts of penalties. This would be a big program-builder if they win.