Michigan State at Maryland - GAME PREDICTION

Michigan State at Maryland - GAME PREDICTION

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Michigan State at Maryland - GAME PREDICTION

Michigan State has a stiff test ahead as it prepares for the 5-3, 3-2 Maryland Terrapins on Saturday at College Park. Can the Spartans avoid all of the distractions related to everything swirling around Maryland’s program and get to 6-3, 4-2?

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The University of Maryland – particularly its football program, of course – is a complete mess right now.

That’s not a snarky editorial critique – it’s a fact.

What happened over the course of the last few months in the aftermath of Jordan McNair’s tragic death came to an unfathomable head this week as D.J. Durkin was initially retained as head coach at the recommendation of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and then dismissed the next day when university president (and lone adult in the room) Wallace Loh eschewed the recommendation and fired Durkin.

This all came in the wake of the months-long investigation that revealed a football program that was being run as if it was some sort of cult with videos of eyeballs being drilled and animals ramming into one another accompanying team meals.

Reports of Maryland players getting up and leaving team meetings, players fighting with one another, and general dysfunction ruling the program for weeks now have all surfaced – and they all seem credible.

The campus is rife with anger, confusion, and embarrassment as the university has seemed to be out of touch with its constituencies at every move.

When Wallace Loh defied the Board of Regents’ recommendation to keep Durkin as head coach and, instead, fired him, there seemed to be a sense of relief that sanity and common sense had finally prevailed.

It’s a sad state of affairs for the University of Maryland along with the entire college sports community – and, unfortunately, Spartans are all too familiar with the problems that come with poor leadership, how that can impact the entire university’s DNA, and how it can and will be a long road to recovery.

But for the immediate future, a practical question is unavoidable and, for Spartans, at least, important:

How will all of this impact Michigan State’s game against the Terps this Saturday at College Park?

RIDING HIGH

The Spartans are still riding high after last week’s bounce back win over Purdue that came not a second too soon since Michigan State was appearing to teeter after its tough loss to Michigan.

Rocky Lombardi debuted against the Boilers and merely performed better than any other Spartan quarterback making his initial start since Ed Smith against NC State in 1976.

The Spartan defense stymied and shut down David Blough and a Purdue offense that was averaging 41 points a game over its four-game winning streak.

Michigan State’s 23-13 win over Purdue gave new life to this Spartan club and a victory this Saturday at Maryland would introduce a whole new batch of opportunities.

But first, the Spartans must take care of business against a team that, for all of the controversy surrounding it, has put together an impressive season so far.

TERPS ARE IMPRESSIVE, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THE MESS

The Terps buried Illinois last week 63-33.

Maryland’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Kasim Hill, threw for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Terps dominated the reeling Illini.

Far more impressive than Hill’s numbers was the Terps’ rushing performance against Illinois.

Maryland racked up 431 yards on the ground against Illinois with five Terps gaining more than 50 yards each.

That ground game has been Maryland’s strength – the Terps have averaged 246 yards per game on the ground which is good for 11th in the nation.

Meanwhile. despite last week’s performance against Illinois, Kasim Hill has only averaged 121 yards of passing offense through the season.

The Terps have been pretty impressive on defense, allowing only 24 points a game and 337 yards of total offense a game.

A potentially huge factor in Saturday’s game – Maryland is 109th in the nation in sacks and it’s fair to assume that whoever is playing quarterback for Michigan State will have time to throw the ball, find his receivers, and take advantage of running opportunities when they open up.

Sure, Maryland ran all over Illinois in piling up those 431 yards on the ground and the Terps have relied on the ground game all season while getting to a point where their 5-3 record is an eye-popper considering the mess the program is in.

But I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that Maryland might have a tougher time running the ball against Michigan State’s #1 ranked rushing defense than it did against Illinois – and every other team that it’s played.

MORE ROCKY

While Mark Dantonio has stayed away from any announcement of a starting quarterback for Saturday, it’s safe to assume that Brian Lewerke is going to get another week of rest so that shoulder can get to 100%.

Lombardi’s performance last week makes it only reasonable and smart for Dantonio to give Rocky the keys again this week in what can be yet another confidence-boosting experience for a guy who thrived in his debut.

Michigan State’s offensive line is still a bit of a mysterious riddle since injuries never seem to cease.

This week, questions surround right tackle Jordan Reid’s status as well as right guard Kevin Jarvis.

Center Matt Allen is out with the boot still on his left foot as a result of an injury sustained against Michigan.

The line will be another potpourri of Spartans who might not need to get Michigan State to 300 yards of rushing.

TIME OF POSSESSION STILL THE KEY FOR THESE SPARTANS

As we’ve noted all season, when the Spartans own the time of possession battle, good things happen.

As everyone in Green & White knows, most of Michigan State’s offensive statistical rankings are low – the Spartans are 104th in total offense (361 yards a game); 107th in scoring (23.4 points per game); and 121st in 3rd down conversions (32%).

However, Michigan State is 14th in the nation in time of possession.

And there you see how and why Michigan State is in a position to get to 6-3 and 4-2 in the Big Ten.

BACK IN MISSION MODE

As the dreary afternoon of October 20th turned into a dreary evening in East Lansing, there was a lot of talk about how the tide had shifted, how order was being restored to the world, how Mark Dantonio and Michigan State were finally getting their comeuppance after a decade of greatness.

The Circus down the street had finally remembered how to play big boy football and blew out of town while foaming at the mouth.

In the days that followed, The Circus worked overtime to increase the rhetoric, drive the narrative it preferred, yell and scream a bunch of stuff, and contemplate ring sizes for championship rewards.

Michigan State, meanwhile, went back to work.

There wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare in the leadup to the Spartans’ matchup with Purdue last Saturday other than the way The Experts were all lauding the Boilermakers’ rise.

With a backup quarterback starting for the first time and a lot of doubting all around the program, Michigan State beat Purdue all game long and earned a hard-fought victory to turn the page on the previous week’s insanity.

Maryland’s players sure do have a lot to prove to a lot of people – perhaps, more than anyone else, they feel like they have a lot to prove to themselves.

But Michigan State is back into “mission mode.”

Behind a brutally tough defense enhanced by the return of Josiah Scott, the Spartans will shut down the Terps’ ground game – and Kasim Hill will be pressured and harassed all afternoon by a nasty Spartan attack that’s only getting nastier as the weeks go by.

Rocky Lombardi might not replicate his heroics from last week – but he won’t need to since the defense isn’t going to let the Terps breathe.

And, as we keep reminding everyone, as long as Matt Coghlin is in uniform, Michigan State immediately has at least a 12-point advantage.

It might not be all that pretty and it might not end up being one of the most memorable wins of the Dantonio Era but Michigan State will suffocate Maryland and be efficient enough to head back to East Lansing with a solid, comfortable victory in hand.

And as the plane gets closer to East Lansing on that flight, the Spartans will realize that the Buckeyes will be visiting Spartan Stadium next.

Indeed, Michigan State is very much back in “mission mode.”

MICHIGAN STATE – 27

MARYLAND – 16

Oct 27, 2018; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio stands on the field during the second half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

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