4 Keys To Michigan State's Trip to Maryland

4 Keys To Michigan State's Trip to Maryland

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4 Keys To Michigan State's Trip to Maryland

Michigan State (5-3, 3-2) looks to work its way to 6-3 on the season on Saturday against Maryland (also 5-3, 3-2) at turbulent College Park. What are the four things Spartan fans should keep an eye on throughout the course of the ball game?

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We’ve provided our game prediction – you can find it here –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/11/01/michigan-state-at-maryland-game-prediction/

Now, let’s take a look at four dynamics that will be big ones as Michigan State looks to get a victory that would elevate the team’s potential for big things substantially.

PRESSURE, HARASSMENT, GENERAL NASTINESS

Last Saturday against Purdue, Michigan State managed to record only one official sack.

That number is not all that indicative of the way the Spartans harassed and pressured veteran Boiler quarterback David Blough all afternoon.

Michigan State threw Blough out of a rhythm he had been in for nearly two months from the moment the game started right on through to Matt Morrissey’s interception that sealed the victory for the Spartans.

Blough had just torched Ohio State in Purdue’s eye-popping 49-20 dismantling of the previously #2 Buckeyes.

As a reminder, against the Buckeyes, Blough was 25-43 for 378 yards and 3 touchdowns on that magical night in West Lafayette.

All of The Experts envisioned Blough lighting up the stat sheet in what was going to be a continuation of Michigan State’s demise.

Blough was going to pick apart the Spartan defense’s back end in ways that Jordan Love of Utah State and Clayton Thorson of Northwestern had earlier in the season.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Michigan State’s funeral.

The Spartan defense made life miserable for Blough and he never was able to find room to breathe.

Michigan State picked off Blough three times not necessarily because of the secondary’s increased penchant for creating turnovers – the picks were due, in large part, to the way the Spartans pressured Blough in ways he hadn’t been all season.

It’s also worth reminding everyone that the Spartan defense stymied Penn State and Trace McSorley all afternoon in Happy Valley en route to that “improbable” win for Michigan State.

The point?

Michigan State’s defense didn’t just sort of throw together a fluky performance against Purdue last Saturday.

This defense is brutally tough and it’s only getting better as the season progresses.

And, for what it’s worth (which is plenty), in quiet moments when he’s all alone and nobody is around to hear him mumbling to himself, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson says this to himself, “Damn. That game against Michigan State was brutal. Those guys pounded me for most of that afternoon. I’m so glad I placed that pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones on a dime like that – otherwise, who the hell knows if those lunatics would have bludgeoned me more and more as the game wore on. Thank God we don’t have to play them again this season. My left thigh and the upper part of my right cheek haven’t stopped throbbing since that game.  And I think my big toe on my left foot is broken after one of those Polish dudes smothered me.  And, since I’m still very new to all of this Big Ten stuff and since I haven’t checked the schedule for next year, do we have to play those monsters again next season?”

Maryland’s redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill doesn’t have the experience Blough has and he certainly hasn’t been on any sort of run like Blough was when Purdue came to East Lansing last week.

Kasim Hill also isn’t comparable to Trace McSorley.

Kasim Hill also isn’t comparable to Shea Patterson.

And Maryland’s offensive line isn’t comparable to the offensive lines at Purdue, Penn State, or Michigan.

Can Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, Jack Camper, the Panasiuk Machine, and all of the various blitzing Spartans apply the same type of pressure on Hill on Saturday at College Park?

Yes, they can.

PROTECT THE FOOTBALL LIKE IT’S YOUR INFANT BABY

Whether it’s Rocky Lombardi or Brian Lewerke – and, I’ll bet anyone a basket of fragels from Bagel Fragel (I know – it closed) that Lewerke only sees the field as a holder for extra point attempts and the seven or eight field goals that Matt Coghlin converts – the most important thing for Michigan State’s offense on Saturday is an old standard: protecting the football and not turning it over.

Lombardi’s performance against Purdue (26 of 46 for 318 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions) will be remembered for years to come for many reasons.

His poise, his sharpness, his command of the offense, his decision making, and his overall toughness didn’t just lead the Spartans to an essential victory.

Lombardi’s moxie led all Spartans to puff their chests out just a bit after one of the more gruelingly emotional weeks in a while.

But, from a practical standpoint, the one stat that might not have gotten enough attention in the aftermath of the win was this one:

0 interceptions.

Lombardi didn’t even come close to throwing an interception.

He protected the ball all afternoon smartly and effectively.

This week presents Rocky with a different sort of test since he’ll be trying to get a winning streak going while on the road.

Can Lombardi continue to stay within himself, avoid the temptation to try to force that one throw into a spot that isn’t there even though he thinks it’s there, calmly and cooly throw the ball away when necessary, and finish the ball game with zero turnovers of any kind?

Yes, he can.

KEEP IT TIGHT WITH DOTSON

Since we know Michigan State’s defense is going to make life hard for Maryland’s young quarterback all afternoon – which means that life will be hard for Maryland’s skill players – and we know that Rocky Lombardi is going to protect the football and keep from turning it over, can we assume that Lombardi and the entire Michigan State offense realized in the win over Purdue that Spartan tight end Matt Dotson is a weapon that can and should be used often?

Dotson hauled in 4 tosses for 48 yards in the win over the Boilers last week and it was clear that he is emerging as an offensive weapon that can be a big part of the remainder of this season’s attack and next year’s overall approach.

Dotson can bail out Michigan State on 3rd down situations.

Dotson has the athletic ability to turn an 8-yard gainer into a 20-yard play.

Dotson is big enough to warrant coverage attention that can then open up space for Michigan State’s speedsters deep.

Can/will Michigan State give Rocky Lombardi early opportunities to find Dotson in soft spots so that the two can develop a rhythm from the get-go, establish Dotson as an offensive option that the Terps must respect, and apply strategic passing thought that can all be applied due to the overall presence and productivity of Dotson?

Yes, Michigan State can do these things.

HOW WILL THE TERPS RESPOND TO THEIR CHALLENGES?

There are, of course, many more elements that are just as important as these three dynamics we’ve pointed out.

It’s obvious that the tone and feel and overall spirit of the Maryland team is a complete question mark due to everything that’s transpired within and around the program and the university.

It’s all really too bad for the kids on this Maryland team that their experience has been impacted so substantially due to the feckless leadership across the entire University of Maryland environment.

Reports of infighting, players leaving meetings, players threatening to get off of a team plane recently due to a booster who supported D.J. Durkin being on the plane – all of it makes it clear that the life of a current Maryland football player is a challenging one – and those players have our sympathies.

What will the mindset of these players be when this game kicks off?

Matt Canada has done a sensational job all season keeping the train on the tracks and achieving a 5-3 record.

Maryland still has a lot to play for.

Can Canada corral enough of a focus and in-game commitment to allow for four quarters of fight and execution to get a victory that would go down as one of the more remarkable wins for a college football gang embroiled in controversy in recent memory?

Can Michigan State establish control early and even put some space between the Spartans and the Terps in a way that maybe demoralizes the team (strictly from a football game perspective, of course)?

If Michigan State can get out to an early lead, have its defense make it clear that yards and points will be hard to come by, and continue to own the time of possession category as it has all season, the Spartans should be able to leave College Park with a victory and plenty of huge opportunities remaining in November.

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