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Game Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s redemption week for the Michigan State Spartans. The Arizona State Sun Devils make the long trip from Tempe to East Lansing.

Last year, MSU made the southwest trip for a late kickoff, and lost the game in the Arizona desert by a final score of 16-13. The Spartans look to return the favor in their home stadium in 2019. It’s also time to avenge the brutal injury punter Jake Hartbarger suffered on a dead ball play — because punters are people, too.

Both teams are currently 2-0 and are looking to earn a key non-conference win before diving into conference play. Let’s find out what we’re getting into this week with this matchup:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2019 Record — 2-0 (0-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 442.5 total yards, 263 passing yards, 179.5 rushing yards

Defense (per game average) — 216 yards allowed, 219 passing yards allowed, -3 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 79 (39.5 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 24 (12.5 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 18th

Arizona State:
2019 Record — 2-0 (0-0 PAC-12)

Offense (per game average) — 425 total yards, 294 passing yards, 131 rushing yards

Defense (per game average)— 252.5 yards allowed, 171.5 passing yards allowed, 81 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 49 (24.5 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 14 (7.0 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 43rd

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Arizona State leads 2-1
Last Michigan State Win: Sept. 14, 1985 (12-3)
Last Arizona State Win: Sept. 8, 2018 (16-13)
Michigan State all-time record: 703-459-44 (.601)
Arizona State all-time record: 616-394-24 (.607)

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 51, Western Michigan 17

Holy offense! The Spartans exploded for 582 yards — the most since 2014 (662 yards against Indiana). It was the first time the Spartans surpassed 50 points since 2015 against Penn State. This was the kind of performance that the players, coaching staff and fans all needed to see to restore hope for the season. That said, Western Michigan was not a formidable foe and really struggled to defend the Spartans. Quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns (and one interception), redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins broke out for 192 yards on the ground, and wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. had 10 catches for 185 yards and a score.

Arizona State 19, Sacramento State 7

This is not what you would call an “impressive win.” Arizona State scored just 19 points against an FCS opponent at home. In fact, the Hornets actually had more first downs than the Sun Devils. However, Arizona State out-gained Sacramento State in terms of total yardage (395-305), rushing yardage (91-42) and passing yardage (304-263). Despite generating more yards on the ground, the Sun Devils really struggled to run the ball effectively with just a 2.45 yards per carry average. ASU’s defense was stout, however, allowing just 42 rushing yards and just 1.9 yards per carry. They also held the Hornets to just 5.26 yards per passing attempt.

The Sun Devils do have impressive special teams play, though, at both kicker and punter.

Key Matchups

Jayden Daniels vs. Michigan State defense : Arizona State true freshman quarterback is probably already having nightmares about Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams and the Panasiuk brothers. Then he also has to face a linebacker unit that includes Joe Bachie, Tyriq Thompson and Antjuan Simmons. And then he needs to throw against the No Fly Zone. He also plays behind an offensive line that allowed five sacks to Kent State. This is not Sacramento State they’ll be facing. Daniels has been fairly efficient so far, completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for 588 yards, three touchdowns and zero picks, while averaging an impressive 11.5 yards per attempt. This will be his toughest challenge so far.

Arizona State run game vs. Michigan State front seven: Eno Benjamin is a talented running back, but has struggled to start the year. Benjamin ran for 102 yards in the first game against Kent State, but then was held to just 69 yards and 2.9 yards per carry against Sacramento State. Last year, Benjamin ran for more than 1,600 yards and had 16 touchdowns. But when he played Michigan State, the team that went on to be (and currently still is) the best run defense in the nation held Benjamin to just 27 yards on 13 carries (2.1 ypc). It will be interesting to see if the ASU offensive line can create any holes for Benjamin against this front seven. Daniels isn’t afraid to run the ball, either.

Michigan State run game vs Arizona State front seven: On the flip side, the matchup is just as intriguing. The Spartans finally found their running back of the future and got the rushing game going last week against Western Michigan. As mentioned, Elijah Collins broke out, and the Spartans rushed for 251 yards total. The Sun Devils have been stout against the run to begin the year, giving up just 2.6 yards per carry and 81 yards per game. However, the level of competition has been weak against a MAC school and an FCS opponent. Collins is highly unlikely to match last week’s performance, but either way, this week is a good test for both sides.

Game Info

Time: 4 p.m.
TV Channel: Fox
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Weather expectations: 72 degrees at kickoff, sunny, winds blowing west at 10-14 MPH
Line: Michigan State -14.5

Note: If you’re attending the game this weekend, wear green for the “Green Out!”


The Michigan State offense finally showed it’s potential last week, but Arizona State has a more than solid defense and runs a similar 3-3-5 scheme to a Tulsa team that caused issues for the Spartans in Week 1. However, I think the Spartans found something special in Elijah Collins with zone running concepts, and moving Darrell Stewart back into the slot position seems to be a more natural position for him. MSU should be more comfortable against the 3-3-5 defense having just seen it a couple weeks ago as well, but ASU is likely going to have better athletes and tougher defenders than Tulsa had.

MSU’s offense had a good showing against a bad team in Western Michigan last week. Just like Arizona State’s defense has had good showings against bad teams to begin the season. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from these two teams, but it will be a big test for both programs. I do expect the Michigan State defense to rattle true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels and completely shut down Eno Benjamin and the running game. It could be another low scoring affair like it was in 2018.

For the MSU players who made the trip to Tempe last year, they remember what happened. This week is somewhat about redemption for them. This is also a chance for Michigan State to get a signature non-conference win at home against a Power Five, PAC-12 school. The Spartans are not taking this game lightly. On the other hand, this is also an opportunity for a Sun Devils team led by a young quarterback to make a statement on the road. The fact that the game is at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time also helps Arizona State adjust to the time change.

At the end of the day, I think Michigan State earns the victory.

For more on Arizona State, check out TOC’s “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

What do you think?


Does Michigan State beat Arizona State this time around?

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