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Game Preview: Maryland Terrapins versus Michigan State Spartans

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This week is going to teach us a lot about the 2021 Michigan State football team. The Spartans have already proven to be a damn good team, starting out with an 8-0 record that few pundits saw coming. But MSU suffered its first loss of the season last week against the Purdue Boilermakers. How will the team respond this week against the Maryland Terrapins (5-4)? The game kicks off at 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday (FOX). This is the first meeting between the two programs since 2019, as both scheduled matchups between the teams were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 issues within Maryland’s roster.

Michigan State still controls its own destiny in terms of a Big Ten East Division title. The path for the Spartans is to win each of the remaining three games on the team’s schedule. That starts against the Terps on Saturday. However, Maryland’s strength — the passing game led by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — is Michigan State’s biggest weakness. MSU has struggled to defend the pass all season long, but Purdue absolutely exposed the Spartans’ pass defense last week, as quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 536 yards. If Mel Tucker and his coaching staff didn’t make serious adjustments to the defense — and if the players execute poorly once again — Tagovailoa and Maryland could have a big day through the air.

However, Maryland’s defense has not performed remotely close to Purdue’s defense this season, and the Terrapins are turnover prone — ranking near the bottom of the country in turnover margin (minus-nine) and turnovers lost (16). Michigan State’s offense should be able to move the ball on Maryland’s defense, and the MSU defense should be able to force the Terrapins’ offense to give the ball away once or twice.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 8-1 (5-1 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 446.1 total yards, 247.89 passing yards, 198.2 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 443.47 total yards allowed, 326.67 passing yards allowed, 116.8 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 306 (34.00 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 204 (22.67 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 22nd

2021 Record — 5-4 (2-4 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 429.8 total yards, 316.11 passing yards, 113.7 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 408.4 yards allowed, 255 passing yards allowed, 153.4 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 248 (27.56 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 274 (30.44 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 45th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 9-2
Current streak: Michigan State has won three games in a row
Last Michigan State Win: Nov. 30, 2019
Last Maryland Win: Oct. 22, 2016
Michigan State all-time record: 718-471-44 (.600)
Maryland all-time record: 659-612-43 (.518)

Uniform Watch:

Easily the most divisive amongst the Michigan State fan base, the neon uniforms are back for the Spartans this week.

A closer look at this week’s threads:

No announcement of Maryland’s uniforms as of press time.

Previous Game Results

Purdue 40, Michigan State 29

Michigan State suffered its first loss of the season in West Lafayette, Indiana last week. Mistakes, poor execution and an inability by the defense to defend the pass or get off of the field on third down ultimately cost the Spartans. But head coach Mel Tucker didn’t make excuses — Purdue was the better team on that day.

The Spartans received the ball first and moved down the field, but Kenneth Walker III lost a fumble on the opening drive. Purdue capitalized on the turnover, as Aidan O’Connell eventually found David Bell for a five-yard touchdown pass.

Michigan State answered right back, as Payton Thorne found Tre Mosley for a 26-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up at 7-7.

Purdue got on the board again in the early second quarter when O’Connell found Broc Thompson for an eight-yard touchdown.

With kicker Matt Coghlin out, the Spartans attempted a 43-yard field goal with freshman kicker Stephen Rusnak on the next drive, but he missed. A couple drives later, Purdue scored another touchdown on a 39-yard pass from O’Connell to Jackson Anthrop, making it 21-7.

Walker would answer, though, as he ran in a 14-yard touchdown and MSU cut Purdue’s lead to seven. The Boilermakers led 21-14 at halftime.

Purdue received the second half kickoff, but fumbled three plays later, and Michigan State recovered. The Spartans then scored in three plays, as Thorne scampered into the end zone from 32 yards out to tie the game at 21.

However, Purdue would score on its next drive, on a one-yard touchdown from King Doerue. The Boilermakers now led 28-21. Purdue later added a field goal to take a 10-point lead, 31-21.

In the fourth quarter, Purdue would add another field goal, and on the ensuing Michigan State drive, Thorne threw an interception deep into Purdue territory. Purdue would tack on another field goal, making it 37-21 at that point.

MSU responded on the next drive, as Thorne capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mosley and a two-point conversion to Maliq Carr. The score was now Purdue 37, Michigan State 29.

Once again, though, Michigan State could not stop O’Connell and Purdue’s air attack. The Boilermakers put up another field goal to take the 40-29 lead and that would be the final score.

Penn State 31, Maryland 14

Maryland hung tough for three-plus quarters, but late mistakes cost the Terrapins, as Penn State ended up with a 17-point victory.

Quarterback Sean Clifford got the scoring going for the Nittany Lions, as he hit Jahan Dotson for a 38-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The next score didn’t come until late in the second quarter, as Maryland’s Challen Faamatau ran into the end zone from two yards out. Maryland kicker Joseph Petrinio missed the extra point, however, and the score was 7-6 in Penn State’s favor at halftime.

In the third quarter, Clifford found Dotson again, this time from 21 yards out, to take a 14-6 lead. On Maryland’s next drive, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa fumbled the ball, and Penn State recovered. The Nittany Lions were not able to take advantage of the turnover though, and punted the ball back to the Terrapins.

Tagovailoa then led Maryland on a scoring drive. He hit Corey Dyches for a 13-yard touchdown, and then completed a pass to Chigoziem Okonkwo for the two-point conversion. The game was then tied at 14 in the early fourth quarter.

However, Penn State quickly responded with an 86-yard touchdown pass from Clifford to Dotson, regaining the lead. The Nittany Lions also added a field goal later in the quarter to make the score 24-14 with 6:39 to play.

On Maryland’s next drive, Tagovailoa threw an 87-yard pick-six to Ji’Ayir Brown to make the score 31-14 in Penn State’s favor. That would be the final score.

Key Matchups

Taulia Tagovailoa/Maryland wide receivers versus Michigan State secondary: Michigan State ranks 130th in the FBS in pass defense — dead last among qualifying teams — giving up 326.7 yards per game. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa and the Maryland passing attack ranks in the top-16 in the nation at 316.1 yards per game. There is a clear advantage for Maryland here. Following last week’s loss, the MSU coaching staff needed to make serious adjustments to the passing defense throughout the week of practice, and the Spartan players need to execute on Saturday. If not, it could be another long day for MSU, and the Spartans are dealing with injuries in the secondary.

Kenneth Walker III/Michigan State offensive line versus Maryland defensive front: Walker continues to lead the nation in rushing yards with 1,330 and rushing yards per game at 147.8. As a team, Michigan State ranks 29th nationally at 198.2 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, the Maryland defense ranks 80th nationally against the run, and gives up 4.1 yards per carry. Walker should have another good game, keeping his Heisman Trophy hopes alive, and helping MSU control the ball and play keep away from Maryland’s dangerous passing attack. Additionally, Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed should look to take advantage of the Terrapins’ passing defense, which allows 255 yards per game.

Third-down conversions and turnovers: In addition to being unable to stop the past last week, Michigan State also allowed Purdue to complete 11 of 18 third-down conversion attempts (61 percent) last week, including 10 conversion on the first 13 attempts (76.9 percent. MSU ranks dead last in the Big Ten on the season, allowing opponents to convert on 42.2 percent of third-down attempts, which also ranks 100th nationally. Maryland’s offense converts 38.8 percent of the time on third down, which is eight in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ defense must get off the field on third down and get the ball back to the offense. Meanwhile, Michigan State is tied for 31st nationally in turnover margin (plus-four on the season), while Maryland ranks 120th nationally in turnover margin per game (-0.75). Forcing turnovers will be key for the MSU defense.

Game Info

Time: 4:05 p.m. Eastern
TV Channel: FOX
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Weather expectations: Cloudy with temperatures around 41 degrees at kickoff and decreasing throughout the game. Rain showers/wintry mix possible. Winds blowing west at eight-to-13 miles per hour.
Line: Michigan State -12.5


This game features good passing offenses versus poor passing defenses. It will likely come down to which team is actually able to get stops. As mentioned earlier, Maryland also turns the ball over often and makes too many mistakes. It should be vital for Michigan State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to put his players in position to generate takeaways and get the ball to the MSU offense, which should be able to move the ball on the Terrapins.

Kenneth Walker III, Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed should be able to make explosive plays against a Maryland defense that gives up 408.4 yards per game. However, Taulia Tagovailoa should also throw for plenty of yards against a porous Michigan State defense giving up 326.7 yards per game and 443.4 yards per game.

There are also some notable injuries for both teams, too, especially for the Spartans. Offensive guard Matt Carrick recently announced that he is out for the season, while offensive tackle Jarrett Horst was out last week and will likely miss this week’s game as well for undisclosed reasons. Wide receiver Jalen Nailor will likely miss another game, while cornerback Charles Brantley is expected to miss significant time. Kicker Matt Coghlin didn’t play last week and linebacker Cal Haladay played with a club on his hand. Defensive tackle Simeon Barrow will also have to miss the first half after getting called for targeting in last week’s game. For Maryland, wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. is out for the season with a knee injury, while fellow wide receiver Jeshaun Jones and linebacker Durell Nchami are also out for the season.

Overall, this is a bounce-back opportunity for Michigan State, and a must-win for the Spartans’ hopes at a Big Ten East title.

For additional coverage on Maryland, read our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.


Which school wins?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    (9 votes)
  • 90%
    Michigan State
    (84 votes)
93 votes total Vote Now