The Michigan State Spartans exploded on offense and never looked back after taking a lead, as MSU earned its ninth win of the season, this time over the Maryland Terrapins. The team had big plays in both the passing and running games, as the Spartans dropped 40 points on the Terrapins, and the defense — while still very inconsistent — generated pressure, made some good plays in the secondary and had key takeaways on MSU’s way to a 40-21 victory to put the team back on the right track.
Michigan State got good production from the usual suspects on offense: quarterback Payton Thorne (287 yards, four touchdowns), running back Kenneth Walker III (143 yards, two touchdowns), and Jayden Reed (114 yards, two touchdowns), while getting a couple big plays from others. Wide receiver Jalen Nailor did not return to action this week.
The Spartans got off to another fast start, receiving the opening kickoff and scoring quickly. Following a run up the middle and a 12-yard pass extended by a face mask penalty, Flea-Flicker U returned, as Thorne hit Montorie Foster with a 52-yard touchdown. Matt Coghlin put the extra point through the uprights, a welcome sight for Michigan State fans following his noticeable absence against Purdue last week.
After dealing with a defensive pass interference penalty, the Michigan State defense then forced a Maryland punt, which Reed fair caught at the Spartan 16-yard-line.
The Spartans then went three-and-out, which was capped by a monster 69-yard punt by Bryce Baringer, which rolled out of bounds at the Maryland 14-yard-line.
Maryland moved the ball on the its next drive, largely due to a 28-yard run by running back Peny Boone that put the Terrapins at midfield. The Terps got one more first down on the drive, but were eventually forced to punt following three-straight incompletions by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.
Tight end Maliq Carr started off the next Spartan drive with an 11-yard reception, which was followed by a sevem-yard catch by Reed, which was extended due to another face mask penalty. Walker mixed in a 21-yard run and a three-yard run to get the Spartans inside the Maryland 30-yard-line, and Thorne finished the drive with a 29-yard dime to Reed for a touchdown. True freshman Stephen Rusnak once again made an appearance, unfortunately missing the extra point to keep the score at 13-0.
The two teams traded punts on their ensuing drives before Maryland drove down the field behind a 19-yard reception by wide receiver Rakim Jarrett and a 45-yard run by Tagovailoa. The scoring drive was capped off by a four-yard plunge into the end zone by Boone to make it 13-7.
The Spartans answered by putting together a long, clock-draining drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown grab by Connor Heyward. Coghlin returned to put the extra point through, making it 20-7 in favor of the Spartans.
After forcing a three-and-out on Maryland’s next drive, the Spartans continued to pour it on with a 12-play drive, which included a 17-yard pass to Walker and a 21-yard pass to Reed, as well as a roughing the passer penalty against the Terps. Walker finished off the drive with a one-yard plunge to make it 27-7 with under two minutes left in the first half.
The Terps were not counting themselves out, however, as they drove down the field in just 46 seconds, torching the touchy Michigan State secondary, and finishing the drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo to keep the game interesting.
The Spartans had a chance to add some more points before the half and managed to drive down to just past midfield, but were forced to try a desperate Hail Mary, which was intercepted. For a moment, it looked as if the Terps would bring it back all the way to the house, but Thorne made a potentially touchdown-saving tackle to send the teams to the locker rooms, with the Spartans up 27-14.
Coming out of the half, Maryland managed to drive the ball down the field, largely due to a 26-yard catch by Jarrett and a defensive pass interference penalty against linebacker Noah Harvey to set up a first-and-10 on the Spartan 16-yard-line. Harvey made up for his mistake immediately, however, picking off Tagovailoa on the following play and returning it to the Spartan 36-yard-line.
The Spartans had several big plays on the following drive, starting off with a 12-yard catch by Tre Mosley on first down. Walker then had a two-yard run negated by a holding penalty, which he immediately followed up with a 26-yard run. That was then followed by a 21-yard catch by Mosley. Reed capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown grab, his second of the game, to put the Spartans up 34-14.
Despite the rapidly increasing number on the scoreboard, Maryland did not give up, as it responded quickly, with an 11-yard grab by Jarrett, followed by a 21-yard run by Colby McDonald. The Terps capped off the drive with a 32-yard touchdown grab by Okonkwo to make it 34-21.
The game looked to be tightening up a little bit at this point, as the Terrapins had positive momentum following a quick scoring drive. This momentum was vastly increased following a fumble on the opening play of the Spartans’ next drive, committed by tight end Tyler Hunt. The fumble placed the Terrapins at the Spartan 28-yard-line.
The Terps threatened another score, quickly getting into the red zone thanks to a 14-yard catch by Jarrett, followed by a nine-yard run by McDonald, but the Spartans were able to force an intentional grounding penalty on third-and-goal. The Terps wanted to settle for a field goal, but Joseph Petrino badly pushed the kick to keep the score at 34-21.
The Spartans would punt on their next possession, followed by a turnover-on-downs by the Terrapins on the MSU 24-yard-line after a pass intended for Carlos Carriere was broken up by Ronald Williams.
The next drive contained more big plays for the Spartans, including a 28-yard catch by Reed and a 36-yard run by Walker, and was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by K9 to put the Spartans up 40-21. The Spartans attempted a two-point conversion, but were unable to complete it.
After giving up a 22-yard pass to Tayon Fleet-Davis on first down, the Spartan defense eventually clamped up to force another turnover-on-downs, stuffing a run on fourth down for a loss of two yards.
After the Spartans went three-and-out, the Terps had one more chance to get a score before the end of the game. Maryland drove down the field into MSU territory, but once again turned the ball over on downs following an incomplete pass intended for Jarrett. The Spartans were able to run out the clock on the following possession and solidify the 40-21 victory.
The total yards for both teams were similar, with Maryland accounting for 451 yards compared to 481 for the Spartans. The Terps passed for 350 yards compared to 287 for the Spartans, but Michigan State out-gained Maryland 194-101 in the rushing game. Maryland won the turnover battle, with one giveaway compared to two takeaways, but Michigan State dominated the time of possession, 35:50-24:10.
Overall, this was a quality win for the Spartans coming off their first loss of the season against Purdue last week. The offense looked great, with major contributions from playmakers all around, and the Spartans hope to see the return of Jalen Nailor sooner rather than later. The defense needs some more work, but for the most part, the unit stepped its game up in comparison to last Saturday’s performance.
Michigan State has little time to celebrate its victory, as the massive shadow of the next matchup looms. The Spartans travel to Columbus to face the No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in a top-10 matchup that will certainly have major Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff implications. The game kicks off at noon Eastern Time on Saturday and will be broadcast on ABC.