Michigan State entered the season as an afterthought. The Spartans are now knocking at the door for a Top 10 ranking.
The Spartans (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) moved up to No. 11 in the latest poll and can continue their surprising re-emergence on the national scene with a victory at Rutgers (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.
Second-year coach Mel Tucker said he has addressed the team about the importance of remaining on an even keel.
“We consistently tell them that the voices inside of our building, inside of our meeting room space, have to be louder than the voices outside,” he said. “There’s a standard of performance set by our coaching staff and there’s expectations of how we need to play. The opponents change but the standards don’t change, the expectations don’t change.”
Jayden Reed and Kenneth Walker III have performed at a high standard, leading the Michigan State offense — and the nation.
Reed leads all major-college players in all-purpose yardage, with 176.6 per game, and he has truly been an all-purpose player. He has caught at least one touchdown pass in the last four games and he’s returned a punt for a touchdown in two consecutive games.
Walker is the top rusher in FBS, amassing 680 yards (136.0 yards per game). He’s gaining 6.8 yards per carry and has reached the end zone nine times (including one via reception).
Saturday against Western Kentucky, both players were on display in the first half when MSU took a 42-16 lead: Walker rushed for three first-half touchdowns, and Reed scored on an 88-yard punt return and a 46-yard pass reception from Payton Thorne. The Spartans cruised, 48-31.
Thorne passed for a career-high 327 yards and has racked up an average of 247.2 yards a game with 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
The Scarlet Knights were thumped by Ohio State 52-13 last weekend. Their defense was shredded for 541 yards and failed to produce a takeaway for the third straight game. Ohio State led 45-6 at halftime.
Head coach Greg Schiano wants that loss to sting.
“I hope we can’t put it behind us that quickly,” he said. “That wasn’t a great outing, so we have to get to work and that’s what we did. Hopefully, those kinds of things fuel you a little bit and get you cranking here early in the week.”
After four games without being intercepted, Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral was picked off three times by OSU. He accumulated just 152 passing yards after being limited to 156 by Michigan in a 20-13 loss the previous week.
The Knights’ running game hasn’t taken any pressure off the senior quarterback. Rutgers is averaging 3.6 yards per carry and doesn’t have a run for longer than 26 yards this season.
“We need more production out of the entire offense,” Schiano said.
The Spartans lead the all-time series, 8-4, but Rutgers defeated Michigan State 38-27 in its season opener last year, when the Scarlet Knights forced seven turnovers.
Tucker hasn’t forgotten those giveaways.
“What I remember most about the game was the seven turnovers,” he said. “They scored 21 points off those turnovers. Ball security was an issue. That’s what I remember the most. That’s the first thing we showed them on Monday.”
Schiano believes the defense needs to deliver some takeaways in order to pull off an upset.
“It’s going to be very critical,” he said. “Michigan State is excellent with the football. We need to continue to work at it.”
–Field Level Media