Could the defending Big Ten champions really be in danger of not reaching the postseason this year? The way things have started out for Michigan State, nothing is off the table. The Spartans have looked as vulnerable as ever under head coach Mark Dantonio, with instability in the passing game and a defense that has lost its way. Is this the week Michigan State gets back to doing what it does best?
If not against Maryland, then Michigan State’s path to a possible bowl game will become much steeper than it is now, with games against Michigan and Ohio State still to be played down the line.
Michigan State at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State still looking for first Big Ten win
There are two teams in the Big Ten still looking for their first win. One is Rutgers, which is not at all too shocking. The other is Michigan State, the defending Big Ten champions. Weird, right? Michigan State is looking to snap a four-game losing streak, which has seen three losses at home by double digits and a close loss on the road against Indiana. If Michigan State is going to snap this losing streak on the road against Maryland, the defense must tighten up in a big way. Last week, Michigan State gave up 54 points to Northwestern, a week after giving up 31 to BYU. Maryland has not scored more than 14 points in either of its last two games, but has scored more than 40 points three times this season.
2. Michigan State opponents taking to the air
Pass defense used to be a strength for the Spartans, but opponents are not showing much reason to be too concerned about it this season. Michigan State has allowed the second-highest passing yards per game among Big Ten opponents (only Northwestern has allowed more), with a completion percentage of 61.3 percent and an average of 7.4 yards per attempt. Michigan State also has given up 10 touchdown passes, tied for fourth most among Big Ten teams. Unfortunately for Maryland, passing the ball has been a challenge for its offense, as the Terrapins are averaging just 154.3 yards per game through the air. Tyrell Pigrome had a rough game last week against Minnesota, going just 18-of-37 for 161 yards with two interceptions.
3. Jessie Aniebonam thriving on Maryland’s defensive line
Michigan State’s offensive line has not been particularly strong this season, allowing 15 sacks in six games. Looking to take advantage of that will be Maryland’s Aniebonam. The junior defensive end is currently third in the Big Ten in sacks with 5.5. Minnesota became the first team this season to prevent Aniebonam from bringing down the quarterback this season, so he will be looking to make up for that this week against the Spartans.
You figure Michigan State’s losing streak has to come to an end at some point, right? Given the matchups, this would appear to be a favorable opponent for the Spartans to get their groove back, but DJ Durkin’s Maryland program is not exactly going to just roll over and concede victory at home. The way Michigan State has been playing this season leaves nothing to be guaranteed as far as a win is concerned. The Spartans must play a clean game on offense and play much better on defense if they are to hold off an upset bid from Maryland. They are capable of doing that, and expect Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio to have his guys ready to find a way to celebrate a victory for the first time since Week 2.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Maryland 27
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.