With three games remaining on the schedule, Maryland football will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the one-loss No. 8 Michigan State Spartans on Saturday. The Terps are 5-4, one win from officially becoming bowl eligible in 2021.
Maryland suffered its third straight loss to a ranked opponent last time out, falling to then-No. 22 Penn State in a 31-14 game in College Park. It was just a one-point game going into halftime, but the Terps conceded 17 points in the final quarter to drop its fourth contest of the season.
“I felt our players played really, really hard, I thought they played with great effort,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “But as we’ve talked about in here for quite a few weeks, our execution is not at the consistent level that it needs to be when you’re competing against teams like a Penn State, but again, I’m really proud of the way the guys competed in that game and you know, a few plays here and there and the outcome could have been a little different.”
Maryland has won only one of its past five games, but with three games left to redeem itself, it’ll get another chance this weekend against the Spartans, who just had their first loss of the year. It will be a difficult matchup in enemy territory for Maryland as it looks to improve on its current 1-2 record on the road.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Michigan State is the 13-point favorite as of Thursday.
Saturday’s game between the Terps and the Spartans will kick off at 4 p.m. and it will air on FOX. Let’s take a look at Maryland’s third-to-last opponent of 2021.
Michigan State Spartans (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten)
2020 record: 2-5 (2-5, Big Ten)
Head coach Mel Tucker has done a masterful job at the helm of the Spartans’ coaching staff since becoming the head coach in Feb. 2020. Tucker has been coaching for over 25 years and he has experience on NFL teams, along with coaching experience on national championship teams in college football.
Tucker led the Spartans to just two wins in seven Big Ten games in 2020, but the program has taken a huge step forward in 2021. Michigan State has been ranked as high as the No. 3 team in the nation, and that ranking came the week before the Spartans dropped their game to Purdue on the road for their first defeat of the season. However, quality wins over Michigan and Miami have defined the Spartans’ season thus far, and they’ll look to make it nine wins in 10 games when Maryland visits East Lansing.
“Obviously they’re a ranked team, top-10, and they’re a good football team,” junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “There’s a reason why they only lost one time... the things that stick out is their defense, they have a great D-line. We feel like we match up good against Michigan State.”
Players to watch
Kenneth Walker III, junior running back, 5-foot-10, No. 9 — Make no mistake, Kenneth Walker III is proving himself to be the best non-quarterback in the nation. The running back has had a monstrous junior season for the Spartans worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, as he has exploded onto the scene as the country’s best back. Walker averages a ridiculous 148.9 rushing yards per game. He’ll likely be the first Big Ten workhorse back to reach 200 carries in 2021, and he deserves every touch. Walker has compiled 1,340 rushing yards in just nine games and he averages nearly seven yards per rush. Walker has received at least 20 carries in seven of the nine games he’s been in, and it would be shocking to see that usage decrease against Maryland.
“The running back they have is a really special player,” Locksley said of Walker. “They do great job of utilizing him as he obviously leads the Big Ten and one of the best offenses in the Big Ten as well. When you look at him, he has 1,300 yards rushing... I think he has over 900 yards after contact which means he’s one of those guys that you better bring all your pads and all your friends when you tackle him because he’s got great contact balance.”
Payton Thorne, redshirt sophomore quarterback, 6-foot-2, No. 10 — Thorne has been the starting quarterback for the Spartans in all nine of the program’s games this season. He had an excellent start to 2021, collecting 10 passing touchdowns in the Spartans’ first four games. However, Thorne’s play has dropped off as of late. The redshirt sophomore has had an interception problem recently as he has tossed six interceptions in the team’s last four games. Michigan State is certainly more focused on running the ball, but Thorne still averages just over 240 passing yards per game and is still a big factor on offense.
Jayden Reed, redshirt junior wide receiver, 6-foot-0, No. 1 — The third piece to the Spartans’ offensive puzzle is wideout Jayden Reed, who has stepped up to become one of the premier wide receivers in the Big Ten. Reed sits fifth in the conference in receiving yards per game with just under 80 per contest and he has totaled five touchdowns in 2021. He’s a big-play wideout as shown by his 19.3 yards per catch, which ranks the second-highest out of the Big Ten’s receivers. His ability to break free in the open field makes him a game-changer, and after Penn State’s Jahan Dotson torched Maryland for three touchdowns, Reed will be a priority for the Terps’ defense.
Offense. Maryland is going to have to find a way to keep up with Michigan State’s offense that ranks near the top of the conference. The Spartans average 34 points per game, good enough for a top-three scoring offense behind Michigan and Ohio State. They are also in the top half of the Big Ten in both passing and rushing offense. It'll be a tall order for Maryland’s defense to stop Tucker’s beautifully run offense.
Passing defense. While there’s a lot to be said about Michigan State’s efficient offense, the passing defense leaves much to be desired. The Spartans rank dead-last in the Big Ten regarding defending opponents through the air. Michigan State is the only team in the conference to give up an average of over 300 passing yards per game, surrendering 326.7 passing yards per game to be exact. The Terps were pass-heavy against Penn State, and they’ll likely have a similar approach against the Spartans.
Three things to watch
1. Will Maryland’s rushing defense be up to the tough task ahead of it? The focus of this game will be surrounding Walker, who has transformed into a nightmare for opposing rushing defenses. The junior will likely be force-fed the ball against a Maryland rushing defense that has been leaky over the past few weeks. Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana all ran over Maryland with ease, albeit the Terps’ rushing defense improving in their last game with Penn State. Maryland will have to find a way to slow down Walker. However, not many teams have been able to solve Walker. Maryland will need to bring a hiatus to the running back’s inevitable big days out of the Spartans’ backfield if it hopes to win.
2. Who will be Taulia Tagovailoa’s top target this week? Against Indiana, it was senior wide receiver Carlos Carriere that was favored by junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Carriere finished with a season-high eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns back on Oct. 30. Then in the Terps’ most recent loss to the Nittany Lions, senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo roared back in the passing game to lead all Maryland pass catchers with 12 catches for 85 yards.
“It’s always next man up on this team and we have a lot of talent everywhere,” sophomore tight end Corey Dyches said.
With receivers Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones out of the equation with injuries, it’s up to anyone’s best guess as to which pass catcher will lead Maryland against Michigan State.
3. Can Maryland keep it competitive against a ranked team for the second straight week? Before Penn State broke the game open, Maryland was neck-and-neck with the Nittany Lions early in the fourth quarter. It was the first time all season that the Terps had a tight competition with a top-25 team. Previously, Maryland had been blown out by both Iowa and Ohio State, but the close matchup with Penn State is a step in the right direction. The next goal for Maryland will be to have a competitive meeting with Michigan State, a team that’s lost just once this season. The Terps will need to put up a decent fight, considering there are just two more chances after this upcoming game to capture the program’s much-desired sixth win of the year.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
This sponsored post was published according to our guiding principles.