Michigan State Football: Three Keys to a Bounce Back Victory Over Maryland
The blue print on how to beat Michigan State was displayed for the whole country last Saturday in West Lafayette. Purdue passed the ball and then passed it some more. Senior quarterback Aidan O’ Connell attempted a career high 54 passes and tallied 536 total yards. In the end, the Spartans got 40 points hung on them and have their first tally in the loss column.
Mel Tuckers team has more than put that game behind them. However, the strategy the Boilermakers used to get past them will most likely be replicated by their next opponent. The Maryland Terrapins come into East Lansing this weekend with the third best overall passing offense in the Big Ten. This game is a prime opportunity for Michigan State to bounce back from their first blunder. It also could end up being a case of deja vu if they do not tidy up their weaknesses.
Put Stress On Tagovailoa
If you are a fan of the NFL, the heading above may confuse you for a moment. After transferring from Alabama at the conclusion of the 2019 season, Taulia Tagovailoa, younger brother of Tua, took over the starting quarterback job at Maryland. He only made it on the field for three games while enrolled at his brothers alma mater, but ever since entering the Big Ten he has made a name for himself. Taulia is the second most efficient signal caller in the conference, and has thrown for more than 275 yards in seven of his nine starts this season.
However there is one noticeable weakness with the junior from Hawaii; he is turnover prone. Nine interceptions in nine games isn’t awful, but at the same time it serves as a glimmer of hope when it comes to Michigan State solving their passing defense issues. Taulia Tagovailoa, who is responsible for over 2,700 total yards for Maryland in 2021, is the heart and soul of his offense. If the Spartans can fluster him, which they failed to do against Aidan O’ Connell of Purdue, they are on the right track. Tagovailoa has been sacked 18 times this year, with half of those coming in a loss. Having already kept dynamic quarterbacks such as D’Eriq King and Adrian Martinez somewhat in check, defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton will have some idea’s on how to stress out the Terrapins leader.
Lead Early and Lead Often
Starting the game fast is a key to victory no matter the opposition, but in their close games this season, Michigan State has struggled to pull away. Of course we all know the Spartans trailed by 16 points before coming back to defeat the Wolverines, but in their overtime win against Nebraska, they never led by more than a touchdown. In the narrow victory at Indiana their biggest lead was eight. Most recently at Purdue, the Boilermakers scored first and never looked back.
MSU will most likely find themselves in a high scoring affair with Maryland this weekend. When the Terrapins lose, its because they fail to generate offense. In their four losses, they average just 15 points. On the other hand, when they are on the winning side of things, this team scores a whopping 38 points on average. In order to prove to the College Football Playoff selection committee, that they are a complete team, Michigan State has to win in convincing fashion. That includes reverting back to the big play offense they have had much success with. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson should set a goal for his team to come away with points on the first two drives of this contest.
Sharing The Wealth
With the playing status of Jalen Nailor in jeopardy once again, the Michigan State offense should look to get some lesser known weapons involved. Since their is already nine games of tape at the disposal of Maryland, they will more than likely get familiar with Kenneth Walker lll and Jayden Reed. The Terrapins will learn that when Walker lll struggles, the whole offense is susceptible to stalling, and Reed can be lethal on special teams.
But who says someone like Maliq Carr can’t have a coming out party on Saturday? The transfer from Purdue only has three grabs on the year, but he saw the field a considerable amount last weekend against his former team. Standing at a towering 6’5″ and 245 pounds gives him potential to be a target in the red zone or an easy dump off throw on play action passes.
Or what about sophomore wide receiver Montorie Foster? Similar to Carr, Foster’s number was called more than usual in the absence of Jalen Nailor in West Lafayette. The three catches he had in the game may not turn any heads, but it could be the start of him chiseling out an offensive role for himself.
These last three games of the year will be won or lost by coaching. Mel Tucker can not only right the ship in this game by patching up his spotty passing defense, but by doing something no one expects him too. Whether it be having an under the radar player go off for a career day, or scoring on a fake punt, a fun and convincing win over Maryland could do wonders for the rest of this late season run for Michigan State.
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