Michigan State football is the underdog for a third straight week, but how can the Spartans end the skid at Maryland?
If you wish you could erase the last two weeks of Michigan State football from your memory, you’re not alone. The Spartans have been downright awful since heading to Seattle in Week 3.
For the third straight game, Michigan State is an underdog and it just feels like that’s going to lead to yet another unbearable loss. No, I’m not out on Mel Tucker or the future of this program, but this season just feels unsalvageable at this point. Clearly I’m an eternal pessimist.
But I can be optimistic every now and then and while the Spartans look lost, they face a prime matchup with Maryland on Saturday that could correct the course of the season.
Maryland is coming off a close loss at Michigan in which it nearly pulled off an upset while Michigan State football is fresh off a 34-7 beating at the hands of Minnesota at home. The two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions.
Yet I’m not ready to say Michigan State has ‘no chance’ on Saturday in College Park.
The Spartans have the pieces to beat Maryland on the road in Week 5, and here’s what needs to happen in order for that to become a reality.
1. Payton Thorne has to rebound
I’ll say something controversial here: it’s the offense, not the defense, that holds the key to victory on Saturday. If Michigan State’s offense can keep up with Maryland, I like its chances. We know Maryland is going to score and move the ball, but the offense needs to prove it can do the same.
With that said, Payton Thorne needs to rebound after a horrid Week 4 performance.
Two picks, no touchdowns, and under 150 yards. That’s not a stat line that’s going to win you any games in the Big Ten — unless you’re Iowa. Thorne needs to figure things out and turn it around on Saturday with his best game of the season. It’s time he has a short-term memory and plays as well as we know he can.
This is the perfect defense to get back on track against.
2. Win the turnover battle
In the first two games, Michigan State dominated the turnover battle. Sure, Thorne threw some questionable picks, but they never really killed the Spartans. They found a way to get the ball back via the turnover and if they can force some key fumbles or pick off Taulia Tagovailoa a time or two, the Spartans will be in good shape.
Winning the turnover battle is what this defense has to rely on since it hasn’t forced many punts this year.
3. Rush for at least 150 yards
Through the first two weeks, Michigan State averaged over 220 yards per game on the ground. Over the past two weeks, Michigan State has had 80 total rushing yards. That’s quite the contrast of rushing success.
Maryland doesn’t have a very good run defense (as we saw last week) and I think the Spartans need to assert dominance in the trenches and establish a run game. If Michigan State’s offense wants to prove effectiveness, it needs to establish the run in order to set up the pass. Rush for at least 150 yards and a ton of pressure will. be taken off Thorne’s shoulders and MSU will reap the benefits.
4. Receive the ball to start the game
Kicking off to start the game when you know your defense is an absolute liability to surrender a quick 75-yard drive is foolish. Michigan State needs to opt to receive the ball to start the game, assuming it wins the toss.
No more trailing 7-0 before the offense even gets the ball. That’s why this team has been pressing so much; it’s been playing from behind for 99 percent of the past two weeks. The one percent has been the time during those first drives.
Mel Tucker needs to hope to win the toss and receive the ball. Get an early lead and see how much confidence it builds in the team — you’d be surprised.
Please. I’m actually begging at this point. I feel like it’s a lost cause to beg for the abandonment of the 4-2-5 scheme, but at least give me some blitzes. Get pressure on Taulia Tagovailoa so he doesn’t sit back there and pick apart the defense. Or at least make him decide where to go with the ball within a second of the snap. Getting him uncomfortable will be so important because that’s when he makes mistakes.
Scottie Hazelton, if you do one thing before you leave East Lansing, let it be this.
I could name about 100 more things that Michigan State football must do in order to beat Maryland, but if the Spartans can drill these five things, they’ll come away with a big road win.