One of the more intriguing Week 2 matchups in college football will take place Saturday night out in Tempe when Michigan State takes on Arizona State with both teams looking to move to 2-0 on the season. Those who are familiar with both of these programs can call this one the Darryl Rodgers Memorial if they wish.
The late, legendary football coach who passed away in July spent a short amount of time as the head honcho of both the Spartans (1976-79) and the Sun Devils (1980-84) in his career. Now these two Power 5 programs go head-to-head for just the third time in their histories, having split a pair of games in 1985-86. And both of these teams are looking for a marquee win to spice up their resume before conference play kicks in.
The Spartans have 19 returning starters from a team that won 10 games a year ago and had a preseason ranking that started out just outside the top 10. But for most of last Friday’s game vs. Utah State, they didn’t quite look the part. The Sun Devils counter with a high-powered offense that lived up to its billing in a 49-7 opening day rout of UTSA, racking up 503 total yards. But it was the defense that surprised the most, holding the Road Runners to just 221 yards.
Michigan State at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 10:45 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan State -6
Three Things to Watch
1. The line of scrimmage
It was shocking to watch the Utah State defensive line actually push around the Spartan offensive line for a good bit of last week’s seven-point escape, constantly having quarterback Brian Lewerke scrambling out of the pocket and taking off with the ball. (On the flip side, Lewerke also showed incredible cool and made things happen.). The Spartans had just 27 rushing yards in the first half last week before finally getting things uncorked in the second half. Last year, ASU’s defense was 109th in the country, giving up 450 yards per game and returns just four starters. You have to figure this is the Big Green’s chance to get LJ Scott and Connor Heyward rolling on the ground and set a tone early on.
2. Experienced QBs
This is going to be one of the better QB-vs-QB matchups of the non-conference slate as both Lewerke (junior) and Manny Wilkins (senior) bring in three years of starting experience to their respective teams. Lewerke, who is a Phoenix native, threw/ran for 2,798/599 last year and Wilkins went 3,270/282 as both field generals offer legit pass-run threats. So the big stage in this game won’t phase either one of these guys. Whichever O-line gets the better protection will have a big advantage, but either way this has the potential to be a big shootout.
3. Third down
One of the things the Spartans did very well last week was their efficiency on third down, going 11-for-17 vs. the Aggies. On the opposite end, ASU was 94th in the country a year ago, giving up first downs on 43 percent of their opponents' third-down plays. But the Devils will be bolstered by the return of linebacker Jay Jay Wilson, who was suspended for the first game. On the flip side, Arizona State’s offense went just 3-for-10 on third down vs. a UTSA team that really couldn’t stop them much of the night.
Not mentioned earlier is the fact that Michigan State went penalty-happy at the wrong time, which kept the opener against Utah State close to the end. Twice the Spartans had the ball at the Aggie one-yard line, committed a penalty, then had to settle for a field goal. Two touchdowns were called back due to the yellow flag as well. The Sun Devils were far from clean themselves committing 11 penalties for 95 yards vs. UTSA. As ASU head coach Herm Edwards said, “You got no shot against Michigan State if you have 11 penalties.”
Michigan State is known for playing close games and winning most of them. In 2017 the Spartans won five of their games by a single score. Last week saw more of the same as Sparty played down to the level of their competition, barely edging out Utah State. Something tells me the Big Green’s luck in tight games is going to come to an end in the desert. I know it was vs. UTSA, but if the Devil defense is as salty as last week, give the home team the edge.
Prediction: Arizona State 28, Michigan State 24
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.