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Maryland football vs. Michigan State preview: Terps look to rebound after 2 straight losses

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The Terps take on the Spartans under the lights at Maryland Stadium.

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NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State team that enters Maryland Stadium on Saturday is a far cry from the one that made the College Football Playoff last year.

This Michigan State team is even quite different from the one that handed the Terps a 37-15 loss in 2014. That game was under the lights at Maryland’s home stadium, and Saturday’s 7:30 matchup (televised on BTN) will be too.

While Maryland’s come down to earth a bit with a two-game losing streak after its four-game run to begin the season, things look darker in East Lansing. The Spartans tote a four-game losing streak into this weekend. They’ve played some solid teams (Wisconsin, BYU, Indiana) during this streak, but just lost to Northwestern at home.

Both teams are waiting until gametime to announce their starting quarterbacks. Maryland’s waiting to figure out/announce whether Perry Hills is healthy enough to start. If he’s not, true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome will get the call. Michigan State, meanwhile, is deciding between Tyler O’Connor and Brian Lewerke simply because neither has been particularly effective running the offense so far.

Michigan State Spartans (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten)

2015 record: 12-2

Head coach: Mark Dantonio

All-time record vs. Maryland: 1-6

F/+ ranking: 72 (Maryland is 58)

Five-year recruiting ranking: 21 (3 in Big Ten)

Players to know

L.J. Scott, RB, sophomore, 6’1/230. His stats seem fine, but Michigan State’s rushing attack as a whole hasn’t been. Still, Scott is a powerful back who could cause trouble for a Maryland defense that’s struggled against the run.

Tyler O’Connor, QB, senior, 6’3/228, No. 7. He might not even start, but O’Connor could see time in this game no matter what. The team started Brian Lewerke last week, only to sub O’Connor in for most of the game.

Malik McDowell, DE, junior, 6’6/276, No. 4. McDowell will be the terrifying guy harassing Maryland’s tackles all day. He’s large, fast and while he only has half a sack this season, advanced stats really love him.

Raequan Williams, DT, RS freshman, 6’4/295, No. 99. Williams isn’t listed as a starter, but he’s making a real impact for this team anyway. He had 4.5 tackles for loss including two sacks, some impressive stuff from an interior lineman.

Montae Nicholson, S, junior. 6'2/219, No. 9. Nicholson leads Michigan State in tackles, and he’ll likely be a key member of the team’s defense against a run-heavy Maryland team. He also has two pass break-ups, which ranks second on the team.

Strengths

Big passing plays. The Spartans rank 19th in passing explosiveness, according to Bill Connelly’s metrics. This’ll be an interesting matchup against Maryland, a team that ranks 2nd in preventing explosive passing plays.

Not allowing big plays. The Spartans don’t allow a particularly large number of big plays either, on the ground or through the air. They rank slightly better against the pass (38th) than against the run (44th).

Weaknesses

Passing downs. When the Spartans are in obvious passing situations, things haven’t turned out well. Their passing downs efficiency, measured by Connelly, is 115th in the nation, and they don’t get many big plays on passing downs either. This is probably one of the reasons they can’t decide on a quarterback.

Running the ball. L.J. Scott is a talented back, but this team hasn’t had success in any part of the run game. Michigan State ranks 94th in rushing efficiency.

Predictions

S&P+’s prediction: Maryland 30.5, Michigan State 24.3. The Terps have a 64 percent chance of winning.

Ryan’s prediction: Maryland 24, Michigan State 21. Sure, let’s go with that.