So, last week happened. We all saw it, now let us never speak of it again. On to Maryland, where the Terps come limping in having lost five of their last six. Let’s get right to it.
Matt Coghlin once again nailed a field goal as time expired last week. Unfortunately it was at the end of the first half, the score was 35-0 at the time, and it was the only points MSU scored all day.
On the plus side, McMuffin is now a very solid 10-14 on field goals this year. Outside of the short one he missed at Northwestern, the other three misses were from forgivable distances, some in less than stellar conditions.
This weekend looks like another nasty weather game, so my guess is that Coghlin will not likely be taking any attempts beyond 40 yards unless the situation absolutely dictates it.
Henry Darmstadter is a senior kicker for the Terps. He is a graduate transfer from Georgetown, who apparently has a football team that plays in the FCS. Darmstadter is Georgetown’s career leader in field goals made and field goal percentage, having made 27-of-37 kicks for the Hoyas.
This year, Darmstadter is 6-for-9 on field goal attempts, while knocking through all 30 of his extra point tries. He is 2-3 on field goals of 40+ yards with a long of 51, but has missed twice from 30-39 yards.
Busy week once again last week for Jake Hartbarger, who punted eight times, averaging 45.5 yard per punt. He had two punts over 50 yards (54 and 58), and dropped three others inside the Ohio State 20 yard line.
For the season Hartbarger is averaging 42.39 yards per punt. He has already set career highs for punts (59) and punt yardage. In addition to a solid average, Hartbarger has been pretty deadly with his accuracy, especially when it comes to pinning teams in deep and limiting returns. This past week showed that he can also boom it out there when he needs to.
Wade Lees is the Terrapins punter, a sophomore in his second year in the role. He has been pretty consistent over the last two years, averaging 39.83 yards per punt last year, and 38.84 yards this year.
According to Maryland’s statistics, Lees has 15 of his 49 punts inside the 20 yard line, and he has four punts of 50+ yards with a long of 64 yards. He has also had one punt blocked.
Connor Heyward got to return seven kickoffs last week, but he only averaged 12.4 yards per return with a long of 22 yards. The worst of these was after Ohio State’s second touchdown, when Heyward let the kick bounce inside the five for some reason, then picked it up and only made it out to the five, adding the Scarlett and Gray snowball that was coming at the Spartans.
The Spartans did not have a punt return, as both OSU punts were downed without being fielded.
The return game remains an issue for the Spartans, and is something that I really hope they can improve heading into next year. This week they face a Maryland team that is 46th in average kickoffs allowing 19.78 yards per return, and 103rd in punt returns, allowing an average of 11 yards per return. They have also allowed a punt return touchdown.
Four different Maryland players have at least seven kickoff returns, with Ty Johnson leading the pack with 21 returns for an average of 26.52 yards per return. He also has the team’s lone kickoff return touchdown, which came against Ohio State. Javon Leake is second in both returns (10) and return average (24.50).
On the punt return side it is D.J. Moore who has 12 returns and is averaging 11.75 yards per return. That average is good for 19th in the country. Darnell Savage Jr. though, has one punt return that went for a 36 yard touchdown.
Moore is dangerous whenever he is on the field, which is why he is leading the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. But Hartbarger and company have done a good job of limiting any kind of punt return game this season, and I expect Moore of the same this weekend. (Sorry)
The Spartans should have the edge here. I like both their kickers better and although Moore is a dangerous returner, the punt coverage has been excellent this year. Michigan State also has played in plenty of nasty weather games this year, so I expect them to be a little more prepared for that than the Terps, and the weather could be really nasty.
Special teams remains a work in progress for the Spartans, but they have been moving in the right direction, for the most part, since the early season gaffes. It has been far from perfect, but it feels like a pretty big improvement over last year.