Maryland staggers into East Lansing with nothing to lose. The Terrapins are already guaranteed to stay home during bowl season and have a losing record in Big Ten games. Their interim head coach and the rest of the staff are distracted with the thought that they will need to find employment elsewhere at the end of this month.
The Spartans are stunned and angry about last week's game. That is due to more than just the obviously blown call by the officials allowing Nebraska's controversial clinching touchdown to stand. The defense allowed the Cornhuskers to pile up yards and points like no one else had done up to that game. The totals from the game in Lincoln were 67 yards more and 11 points higher than anyone else had gained and scored in the previous eight contests.
Michigan State leads the all-time series 5-1. The Spartans hold an advantage of 3-1 in games played in East Lansing. Last season's meeting in College Park was the first between these two programs since the 1950s.
Maryland at Michigan State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Michigan State -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Terrapins' mediocre passing attack versus Spartans' inexperienced and injured secondary
Maryland has yet to gain more than 300 yards through the air in any game in 2015. The Terps have averaged only 165 passing yards per game. Against Big 10 opponents, the average drops to 142.4 yards per game. They have completed more than 20 passes in a game once, in a non-conference contest. In Big Ten matches, they have fewer than 13 receptions on average.
In four games, the Spartans have allowed their opponents more than 300 passing yards, including the last two. All but one team, the option-based offense of Air Force, failed to complete at least 15 passes. Those numbers have been so inflated in part due to injuries. Inexperienced underclassmen have been pressed into playing because junior and senior starters have missed time on the field. Three defensive backs suffered season-ending injuries. Two freshmen are listed as starters for this game; two more are in the second string.
Can the struggling Terrapins' offense exploit the undermanned defensive backs of Michigan State?
2. Maryland needs to pile up points
The Spartans lost the sole game in which they allowed more than 30 points. When the Terrapins have scored more than 30 points, they won both contests. Maryland has averaged 19.4 points in its Big Ten contests. Michigan State has permitted Big Ten opponents an average of 26.6 points per game. Can Maryland exceed that 30-point barrier for the first time in a conference game?
3. Spartans' focus versus Terrapins' motivation
Will the Spartans be able to forget about the penalty that was not called giving Nebraska the deciding touchdown? Will they not look ahead to gaining control of the Big Ten East in Columbus next week? Can they avoid the distraction of pondering their playoff chances?
What is the mindset of the Terrapins? Do they even care at this point of this inevitably losing season? Can they summon enough pride to grab their first conference victory?
Both teams are dealing with something awful. For Michigan State, it is the final minute was last Saturday's game. For Maryland, it is the firing of the head coach. Despite those calamities, both teams can aim for something in this game. Maryland can prevent a winless finish in its second season in the Big Ten. Michigan State can maintain control of its path to a Big Ten championship. The Spartans' goal will provide more motivation.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Maryland 20
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.