On Nov. 15, 2014, the Maryland football team had pretty close to a perfect moment. With 9 minutes left in the first half of a game against ranked Michigan State, the Terps trailed 9-0. Quarterback C.J. Brown pump-faked on a screen pass to Amba Etta-Tawo, shifted his gaze down a seam in the middle of the field and found never-used reserve receiver Daniel Adams in between a group of talented defensive backs. Touchdown, Maryland.
Brown had been having a poor game, and Adams hadn't had a catch in his Maryland career. Now the Terps were within a field goal of the No. 12 team in the land, and a blackout crowd at Byrd Stadium was rocking.
That was about as good as it got. Michigan State hit on a couple of huge passing plays and ran away from the Terps, 37-15. Maryland fell from 6-3 to 6-4, lost three of its last four games, imploded this season, fired Randy Edsall and now sits at a miserable 2-7 heading into a rematch with the Spartans in East Lansing on Saturday.
This isn't even the neatest line of demarcation for where things went awry for Edsall and Maryland. But the Terps were very much in the game into the second half, then got crushed and have barely been competitive in the last year. So Saturday's matchup has a far less consequential feel than the night game these teams played a year ago.
You can watch it on ESPN2 at noon, or stream it at WatchESPN.
Michigan State Spartans (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
2014 record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten
Head coach: Mark Dantonio (101-49 overall, 83-32 at Michigan State)
All-time record vs. Maryland: 5-1
F/+ ranking: 18
5-year recruiting ranking: 24
Players to know
Connor Cook, QB, senior, 6'4/220, No. 18. Cook sports a 20-to-3 touchdown-to-interception rating and has had a fine senior season. He has the best passer rating in the Big Ten and makes precious few mistakes. He isn't a spectacular watch, but he's ceaselessly impressive and has been for several years now.
Aaron Burbridge, WR, senior, 6'1/208, No. 16. With last year's top receivers, Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery, now in the NFL, Burbridge has emerged as Cook's favorite target. He's thrown at on more than 30 percent of Michigan State's passing attempts and will break the 1,000-yard mark fairly early on Saturday. (He's presently at 994.)
Gerald Holmes, RB, sophomore, 6'0/216, No. 24. Michigan State has generally listed freshman L.J. Scott as its starter, but Holmes got the brunt of the work in last week's brutal loss to Nebraska, going for 117 yards on 22 carries. The Spartans have mostly shifted ball-carrying duties between Scott and fellow freshman Madre London, but Holmes could be picking up more of the load down the stretch. (London's had injury problems.)
Shilique Calhoun, DE, senior, 6'5/250, No. 89. Calhoun is menacingly good. He has 8 sacks this year, he's built like an armored truck and makes a habit of either moving past or plowing over opposing offensive linemen. The Big Ten has a lot of terrific defensive ends: Ohio State's Joey Bosa, Penn State's Carl Nassib, Maryland's Yannick Ngakoue and Calhoun might be the best four.
Riley Bullough, LB, junior, 6'2/230, No. 30. Bullough is the defense's anchor at inside linebacker. He leads Sparty with 51 tackles, of which 5.5 have gone for a loss and 3.5 have been sacks. He also has an interception and a fumble recovery to his name. (The Bulloughs have quite a Michigan State linebacking lineage, by the way: Older brother Max was a four-year backer for the Spartans, and younger brother Byron is listed as Riley's third-string backup. Good genes.)
Quarterback play. Cook has never developed into the absolute highest-end quarterback some thought he might be at points during his career, but he's still really good. He's thrown 3 interceptions all year, otherwise known as "a typical Saturday" for this Maryland team. He's a top-30 quarterback by raw yardage and efficiency. Not a world-beater, per se, but just a quality QB with real professional potential.
Pass rushing. This is mostly Calhoun's department, but the Spartans have the No. 8 adjusted sack rate in the country and are No. 16 in sacks-per-game, with 2.89. None of Calhoun's teammates has more than 3.5 sacks, but the Spartans' defense has stayed good at creating pressure even with former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi now coaching at Pitt.
Turnovers. Michigan State has a positive turnover margin of 1.22 per game, which is tied for No. 6 in the country. You can probably see where this is going against Maryland, which is dead last at minus-1.89.
The running game. The Spartans have been drab on the ground, averaging 3.95 yards per carry (No. 93 nationally) and placing 112th in rushing S&P+. Oft-featured backs Scott and London are both freshmen, and Holmes is a sophomore, so there's plenty of time for this group to get better. But it hasn't been great in 2015.
S&P+ prediction: Michigan State 34.3, Maryland 20.7.
Alex's prediction: Michigan State 42, Maryland 17.