The No. 24 Miami Hurricanes haven't looked impressive throughout their first two games of the 2021 college football season.
After the Hurricanes' blowout loss to Alabama in Week 1, Miami (1-1) pulled out a close victory against Appalachian State at home last weekend. This week, the Hurricanes will play their second consecutive game at home when the Michigan State Spartans come to town.
Through two games, Michigan State has looked sharp against Northwestern and FCS Youngstown State. However, playing a talented Miami team could present some challenges for the Spartans.
Saturday will mark the fifth all-time meeting between Michigan State and Miami, but the first since 1989. The Hurricanes, then ranked second in the nation, beat the Spartans 26-20 in that game. Michigan State has never beaten Miami.
Michigan State at Miami
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Miami -6
When Michigan State Has the Ball
So far this season, sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne has taken excellent care of the football for Michigan State's offense. He has yet to throw an interception to go with his five touchdowns.
Although Thorne has been solid for the Spartans, he will face a defense that could pose a few challenges for him. While Miami only has three sacks thus far, getting consistent pressure on the quarterback hasn't been an issue.
That includes last week when the Hurricanes pressed Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice into throwing an interception while completing 21 of his 34 passes (61.8 percent) for 199 yards (5.9 per attempt).
Michigan State will likely need a big game from Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III to keep Miami's defense honest. Through two games, Walker leads the Big Ten and is fourth nationally with 321 rushing yards. He also has scored five times on the ground, which leads his conference and is tied for second overall. If Walker is able to continue his success (10.7 yards per carry), it could open up things for the Spartans' passing attack.
When Miami Has the Ball
Unlike last season when he was off to a blistering start, Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King has struggled through his first two games.
King is completing 68.3 percent of his passes, but he only has thrown for 379 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Last year after two games, King had amassed 469 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks.
To be fair, King is still working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last December. Miami's receivers also haven't performed well when they've gotten the opportunities, plagued by a number of drops. This includes top wide receiver Mike Harley and tight end Will Mallory.
The Canes also need to get their running game going, which is averaging a meager 3.5 yards per carry (94th in the nation). The backfield depth suffered a blow with the news that Donald Chaney Jr. is out for the rest of the year due to a right knee injury.
A key for Miami's offense on Saturday will be making the most of scoring opportunities. The Hurricanes have scored just two touchdowns on eight trips inside the red zone, by far the worst rate (25 percent) in the ACC.
Miami's play through its first two games has been lackluster, to say the least. However, this could finally be the week that the team turns the corner, as the Hurricanes are expected to be a contender in the ACC.
However, Miami will be facing a talented Michigan State team that already has a quality road victory against Northwestern. The difference in the game could be the Hurricanes' defensive line. Miami hasn't been able to collect a ton of sacks in the early going but has made things uncomfortable for quarterbacks.
If the Hurricanes can harass Thorne all game, that could potentially create turnover opportunities. In a game like this, defense and Miami running back Cam'Ron Harris could be the key to a Hurricanes victory.
Prediction: Miami 34, Michigan State 31
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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.