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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, this season didn’t go as planned on the football field for the Michigan State Spartans. But after finishing 6-6, MSU finds itself playing in the Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx this week, with a chance to finish the 2019 season with a winning record.

Standing in the Spartans’ way is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who enter the contest with an 8-4 record. This is actually an intriguing matchup — the first ever meeting between the two schools. Wake Forest has a high-powered, fast-paced offense, but really struggles on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan State has an abysmal offense, but is ridiculously talented on defense (even if it has underachieved at times). Something has to give, right?

Let’s preview the bowl game:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2019 Record — 6-6 (4-4 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 361.5 total yards, 238.5 passing yards, 123.0 rushing yards

Defense (per game average) — 319.2 total yards allowed, 210.58 passing yards allowed, 108.6 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 264 (22.0 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 272 (22.67 ppg)

S&P+ Ranking: 42nd

Wake Forest
2019 Record — 8-4 (4-4 ACC)

Offense (per game average) — 473.5 total yards, 297.8 passing yards, 175.7 rushing yards

Defense (per game average)— 409.8 yards allowed, 247.2 passing yards allowed, 162.6 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 393 (32.8 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 351 (29.2 ppg)

S&P+ Ranking: 55th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: N/A — Friday’s game is the first ever matchup between the two schools
Michigan State all-time record: 70x7-465-44 (.600)
Wake Forest all-time record: 465-663-33 (.415)

Quick Season Recap:

Michigan State:

It was another year of injuries, lack of offense and disappointment for the Spartans. After a 4-1 start, MSU won just two of its final seven games, including a brutal five-game losing streak in which the team was embarrassed by other Big Ten foes. The Spartans bounced back with two wins in a row to end the season, including a win over Maryland in the season finale to earn bowl eligibility. But a win over a lowly Rutgers team, and a close victory over Maryland still doesn’t move the needle much for fans’ confidence. The 2019 season saw the same injury bug from 2018, along with struggles at the quarterback and offensive line positions, amongst others. That said, the team has a chance to end on a high note with a 7-6 record in the Pinstripe bowl.

Wake Forest:

Wake Forest won eight games in the regular season for the first time since 2007 (it won eight games with bowl victories in 2008 and 2017), and actually started 7-1 in the 2019 season. Dave Clawson has done a great job there recently, as Wake Forest hadn’t won more than six games in a season from 2009-2015, but has now finished with a winning record every year since 2016. The Demon Deacons lost three of their final four games this season, however, that included games against Clemson and Virginia Tech. The team is an offensive juggernaut, who runs a no-huddle, fast-paced offense, and averages 473.5 yards per game. The defensive side of the ball is the team’s weakness, as Wake Forest gives up 410 yards per game, as well as more than 29 points per game.

Key Matchups

Jamie Newman versus Michigan State secondary: Newman threw for 2,693 yards and 23 touchdowns, while completing over 62 percent of his passes. With play-making wide receiver Sage Surratt out, look for Newman to rely on another talented receiver in Kendall Hinton. The team ranks 18th in the NCAA for passing offense. Meanwhile, Michigan State’s pass defense ranks a respectable 44th in the nation, and 18th nationally in total defense. As mentioned, Newman leads a fast-paced offense, and he also rushed for 487 yards and six more touchdowns, so the MSU defense needs to be on its toes all game long.

Brian Lewerke/MSU wide receivers versus Wake Forest secondary: On the other side of the coin, Wake Forest is extremely poor against the pass. The good news for the Demon Deacons? MSU is not a prolific passing team. Wake Forest ranks 97th in the NCAA, allowing nearly 248 passing yards per game. MSU’s offense fares better at 60th nationally, but we’ve all seen first-hand the inconsistencies in Lewerke’s play. If Darrell Stewart Jr. plays, I expect him and Cody White to get separation and eat against this porous defense, but the MSU offense is so hard to trust. If they can do this, the chances of winning increase astronomically.

Who wins in the trenches?: Wake Forest allows 162.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 72nd. Michigan State has, of course, struggled to run the football all year, averaging just 123 yards per game (116th in NCAA!). Can this inconsistent offensive line and Elijah Collins — who has flashed his potential throughout the season — take advantage of this defense? We’ll see. On the other side of the ball, Wake Forest ranks 44th rushing the football at 175.7 yards per game. The team has three players with at least 487 rushing yards. However, the MSU defense remains stout against the run, and ranks 14th in the nation allowing just 108.6 yards per game. The trenches will determine the winner of this game.

Game Info

Date: Friday, Dec. 27
Time: 3:20 p.m. (EST)
TV Channel: ESPN
Location: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Weather expectations: Cloudy with a high of 52 degrees, winds blowing northeast around nine mies per hour
Line: Michigan State -3.5


I am somewhat surprised that Michigan State is favored in this game, but I think this is a fun matchup and a winnable game for the Spartans. That said, I don’t think this is going to be an easy game for MSU. If Wake Forest gets loose on offense, I have a hard time seeing Lewerke and the crew keeping pace. That said, I really see opportunities for MSU’s offense to take advantage of a poor defense. So, I think if the Spartans can keep Wake Forest around 27 points or less, it will be a victory for MSU. Anything past 28 points may be a struggle.

Newman, Hinton and running backs Cade Carney and Kenneth Walker III are the players to watch for Wake Forest’s offense. This is a unit that can hit at any given moment and will test the Spartans’ defensive unit. It will be a busy day for Josiah Scott and company in the defensive backfield, but generating a pass rush against a team that has only allowed 19 sacks all season is going to be key to victory for MSU as well.

This is also the last game for a senior class full of leaders in Lewerke, Stewart, Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, Mike Panasiuk and many others. Sure, the Pinstripe Bowl isn’t the most prestigious, but these seniors want to go out with a bowl victory and will be ready to do everything in their power to accomplish that feat.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, y’all!

What do we think?


Who wins the Pinstripe Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Michigan State
    (130 votes)
  • 44%
    Wake Forest
    (104 votes)
234 votes total Vote Now