Spartans, Terrapins get together in College Park with both Big Ten East teams just a win away from becoming bowl eligible
Last week, the Michigan State offense rebounded from a historically bad performance in a 21-7 loss to archrival Michigan. Rocky Lombardi replaced Brian Lewerke under center for his first college career start, a 23-13 win over Purdue, and the offense responded with its highest number of yards gained against a Big Ten opponent and second highest overall this season.
Michigan State leads the all-time series against Maryland, which dates back to 1944, 7-2. For games played at College Park, the Spartans hold an advantage of 2-1. Since Maryland joined the Big Ten, the Terrapins are 1-3 versus MSU.
Michigan State at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan State -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Maryland put 30 or more points on the scoreboard?
Thirty points serves as the target for success for the Terrapins. When they have scored 30 points or more, their record is 5-0. They have averaged 43.6 points in their victories. When they have fallen short of that goal, they have lost all three times. Actually, they have averaged 11.7 points in those defeats.
Michigan State has allowed more than 30 points once this season — to Utah State, which returned an interception for a touchdown to reach 31 points. The Spartans have given up 21 points on average.
2. How often will Javon Leake touch the ball, and can he dent the Spartans' tough rushing defense?
Leake enjoyed the most productive day of his college career on Saturday. His 140 rushing yards were more than twice his total from the previous six games of this season. He scored three rushing touchdowns against Illinois after having only two in the first six games. In fact, his output in that one game exceeded his total from all seven games in 2017. Additionally, he returned three kickoffs for 134 yards and a touchdown last week. Prior to the game versus the Illini, he had run back only three kickoffs for a total of 51 yards and no touchdowns.
Leake has made the most of his limited playing time. Despite having carried the ball only 12 times this season, sixth most among his teammates, he has the most rushing touchdowns. He is also sixth on the team in terms of yards from scrimmage despite not having caught any passes so far. His 185 kick return yards rank second on the team. His average of 30.8 yards per return is highest among the Terrapins. Have Matt Canada and his staff underutilized this weapon?
Michigan State has allowed just 107.6 rushing yards per game on average. Only Michigan and Penn State rushed for more than 100 yards against the Spartans, and Penn State is the sole team to have exceeded 200 rushing yards against them. The men in green have permitted seven rushing touchdowns, with only Utah State scoring more than one in a game.
3. Who will start at quarterback for Michigan State?
Rocky Lombardi had thrown only two passes during his time in East Lansing before starting against Purdue. On Saturday, he completed 26-of-46 passes (56.5 percent) for 318 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Additionally, he ran 11 times for 22 yards. Was that a reliable indicator of what to expect from Lombardi moving forward?
In contrast, Brian Lewerke has started 20 games between this season and last. He has completed more than 60 percent of his passes in 11 of those. He has exceeded 318 passing yards on four occasions and has thrown two or more touchdowns in nine games. He has had at least one pass picked off in 12 contests and has rushed for 22 or more yards 12 times. Is he the preferable option even if his shoulder is not 100 percent?
Michigan State remains in contention for the Big Ten East title. However, the Spartans have zero margin for error left. They must win must their remaining conference games and hope that Michigan drops at least two games. The first step in that scenario requires a victory in College Park.
Maryland can still achieve two notable goals despite the chaos leading up to this season. The Terps can clinch a bowl berth with one more win. They can guarantee a winning season with two. They have only four games left in which to accomplish those goals. This is one of their two remaining home games.
Prediction: Michigan State 27, Maryland 13
— 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.