NCAAF: Michigan State aims for quicker start vs. eager Maryland
Two days after Michigan State suffered its second straight humbling loss, coach Mel Tucker braced himself as he reached the podium for his weekly press conference.
“I see some smiles out there,” Tucker told reporters. “You licking your chops, or what?”
That question might be better put to Tucker’s next opponent. Big Ten foe Maryland (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) figures to have confidence and incentive when it takes on Michigan State (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), Saturday in College Park, Md.
The Terps are 0-4 against the Spartans over the last five seasons but appear to be on the rise under fourth-year coach Mike Locksley. After throwing a scare into No. 4 Michigan in a 34-27 loss on Saturday, Maryland is anxious to show it can finally be competitive in now its ninth season in the Big Ten.
Only in 2014, its first year in the league, has Maryland managed a .500 conference record. And they have never won more than seven games overall in a single season since jumping away from the ACC.
Meanwhile, Michigan State is trying to put its once-promising season back on the rails after two straight losses. Coming off an 11-2 season, the Spartans rose to No. 11 in the AP Top 25 Poll after decisive wins over two Mid-American Conference teams.
But horrible starts the last two weeks doomed Michigan State at Washington, 39-28, and at home against Minnesota, 34-7. The Spartans trailed 22-0 in the second quarter against Washington and 17-0 at halftime against Minnesota — teams that are undefeated and now ranked 15th and 21st, respectively.
“It’s a lot easier to coach guys when everything is going well,” Tucker said. “When adversity hits, that’s when the rubber meets the road.”
After the departure of running back Kenneth Walker III, last year’s Doak Walker Award winner who now plays for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL, the Spartans have struggled to find a rushing attack. In the losses, their 43 carries produced just 80 yards.
Without the running threat, quarterback Payton Thorne struggled to stretch the Minnesota defense, completing 17 of 24 passes for just 132 yards.
Maryland counters with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who pronounced himself “100 percent” on Tuesday even though Locksley called him a “game-time decision” along with wideout Rakim Jarrett. Tagovailoa sustained several big Michigan hits and was briefly knocked out of the game by a monster blind-side tackle as he delivered a pass.
If he’s ready to go, Tagovailoa will face another challenging pass rush this week. The Spartans are tied for the Big Ten lead with 12 sacks, including 5.5 by linebacker Jacoby Windmon, who is tied for the NCAA lead.
“The pass rusher that they’ve put out there on the edge really creates some issues,” Locksley said. “We’ve got to do a great job of making sure that guy doesn’t disrupt our game plan.”
–Field Level Media