Fresh off their first loss of the season at Purdue, the Spartans recuperated in more ways than one. The focus coming in surrounded the defense and how they would fare against another pass heavy offense in Maryland. Opposing quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa finishes the game with a respectable stat line, but he was sacked four times and committed three intentional grounding fouls. The sophomore threw for 350 yards, but a third of them came via the screen pass.
“Something I think our defense does well, is when we make a point of emphasis about something, we get better at it,” said Xavier Henderson after the Spartans beat Maryland 40-21.
The stats don’t tell the whole story of the MSU defense on Saturday. Another opponent goes over 400 total yards from scrimmage, but Michigan State was able to get off the field. The Terrapins were held to just three third down conversions on thirteen tries and an even worse two-for-five on fourth down. Quick hitters and crossing routes still burned the secondary, however the coaching staff will be proud of the effort given in response to last weekend. As for the fanbase who is already looking ahead to the trip to Ohio State, maybe not so much.
Quarterback and Receiver Chemistry Prevails Again
Jalen Nailor was once again not in uniform to headline a flurry of Spartans with injuries. Jayden Reed made up for his absence however, hauling in eight catches for 114 yards and two scores.
Quarterback Payton Thorne followed suit with an impressive showing of his own. Not only did he once again throw a touchdown on a flea flicker, but the sophomore was under control and made accurate passes in a variety of ways. Most notably on a drive late in the second quarter, Thorne threw a back shoulder pass to Reed that made the receiver turn a complete 360 degrees. The acrobatic reception set the Spartans up in the red zone, and was followed by Thorne connecting with Conor Heyward for one of his four touchdown passes. A completion rate of 71% matches a season high for the signal caller, all while spreading the ball around to nine different receivers.
As for the rushing attack, Kenneth Walker lll broke out later in the game thanks in part to the passing games success in the first half.
“It was going to be one and two yard runs, so I just had to trust it,” said the Heisman Trophy candidate. “Then we went and did some adjustments and I feel like some things started to break out.”
Walker lll came out of the game with a limp in the third quarter but still went on to carry the ball a season high thirty times.
Head coach Mel Tucker always preaches the ’24 hour rule’ after his team wins games. That time frame may be greatly diminished after taking a look at who the Spartans have to play next. While MSU was getting their season back on track against Maryland, Ohio State was just getting warmed up. The Buckeyes crushed Purdue 59-31, and as a result, more than asserted themselves as the best in the Big Ten.
“It’s November, we know what is at stake,” Mel Tucker said. “Our preparation is going to be there.”
Michigan State and Ohio State both have only one loss to their name with the Big Ten championship game looming. The College Football Playoff selection committee will be watching closely, with the winner presumably slotting into a top four spot. But that doesn’t matter to the coaches or the players. What matters it they don’t see themselves as underdogs when the whole country might.
“Every week you have to respect your opponent, and I think that goes both ways for each team,” said Jayden Reed.
The Spartans have concerns with injuries, their secondary, and arguably how their talent stacks up against that of the Buckeyes. One thing that won’t be an issue however, is Mel Tuckers team showing up to play.
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