Following tough losses last week, Maryland and Michigan State look to bounce back when the two teams meet on Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.
Maryland (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) went toe-to-toe with Penn State in a game that was much closer than the 31-14 final score would indicate. The Terrapins trailed 7-6 at halftime and tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. However, the Nittany Lions responded with a touchdown two plays later, and Penn State's field goal followed by a pick-six inflated the Lions' final total.
The Spartans' sketchy passing defense inevitably cost them a game and unfortunately, it resulted in their first loss of the season. They have allowed more than 400 yards through the air in each of the last two games. Michigan State (8-1, 5-1) managed to tie the score during the first and third quarters but never could grab the lead at Purdue.
Michigan State leads the series, 9-2. The Spartans hold the advantage of 6-1 for games played in East Lansing. MSU has won five of the six meetings since Maryland joined the Big Ten.
Maryland at No. 7 Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -13
When Maryland Has the Ball
Last week against Michigan State, Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell completed 40 of 54 passes for six touchdowns and 536 yards — more than 120 yards above his personal best in his 16 previous games. David Bell caught 11 passes, tying his highest number of receptions this season, for 217 yards, his second-highest total of this year. Can the Terrapins duplicate such numbers?
Taulia Tagovailoa has not approached the eye-popping statistics of O'Connell from last Saturday. He has exceeded 400 yards through the air only once, 419 versus Indiana, in his 13 games at Maryland. Last week, he connected on 41 of 57 pass attempts, the first time that he had more than 32 completions in his career.
Maryland's offense has leaned on its passing attack as the running game has lacked potency. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett has played in all nine games, leading the team with 37 receptions for 533 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo ranks second among the Terrapins with 32 catches for 262 yards and three touchdowns after seeing action in every game. Tayon Fleet-Davis has hauled in 25 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown in addition to leading the team in rushes (87), rushing yards (436), and rushing touchdowns (six). The loss of Dontay Demus Jr. for the rest of the season hurts since he still has the second-highest number of receiving yards (507) and third-most receptions (28) despite missing the last four games.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
Kenneth Walker III remains a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards. He fumbled away the ball during Michigan State's first possession last week. But he made amends for that turnover by rushing 23 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 20 yards.
Walker has remained formidable for much of the season. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in six games and over 200 in two of those. He has averaged at least five yards per rushing attempt in seven contests. He has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground against Big Ten opponents.
Maryland's rushing defense faces a tough task in trying to curtail Walker. That crew has allowed 145 or more rushing yards in six of eight contests against FBS members this season. Big Ten teams have averaged 180.7 yards and 2.3 touchdowns on the ground versus the Terps. When Maryland has held opponents to 150 rushing yards or fewer, its record during this year is 4-2.
The Spartans played their first game this season without wide receiver Jalen Nailor yet did not suffer the expected decline in productivity. The passing completion rate reached 66.7 percent, tied for their best mark in eight contests against FBS opponents. They scored two touchdowns through the air, surpassing the average of 1.6 per game versus FBS teams. They picked up 12 first downs via the pass, only one fewer than their season high. Can the four players besides Jayden Reed who each caught three passes for 25 or more yards repeat their healthy contributions to the passing attack?
With the loss to Penn State, Maryland has been mathematically eliminated from winning the Big Ten East Division. A defeat in any of their three remaining contests would guarantee a losing record in conference games for the seventh consecutive season. However, the Terrapins only need one more win to become bowl eligible.
Despite the loss at Purdue, Michigan State still controls its path to the Big Ten Championship Game and a possible berth in the College Football Playoff. However, they have lost any room for error. A second loss in conference games would cripple any realistic chance to win the division. They need to fix what ails their passing defense before traveling to Columbus the following Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Maryland 20
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— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.