Last season, the Michigan State Spartans snapped an eight-year long streak of facing off against fellow Big Ten East Division member, the Maryland Terrapins, as both scheduled meetings between the two programs were canceled due to COVID-19. However, Maryland falls at No. 8 in the rankings for toughest opponent this fall and the game seems a sure lock to be played this season in East Lansing for a second-straight time in the series on Nov. 13.
2020 Record: 2-3
The Terrapins came out in a total dud in the opening game of the season and on the road, falling 43-3 to eventual Big Ten Western Division champion, the Northwester Wildcats. However, two impressive wins came back-to-back over Minnesota in an overtime thriller and then in a 35-19 romp of Penn State in Happy Valley before COVID-19 caused a two-week shutdown for Maryland. This impacted the initial scheduled visit by Michigan State on Nov. 21, before the Terps fell 27-11 at Indiana. Michigan had to cancel Maryland’s next matchup in Ann Arbor due to its own COVID-19 problems, and the Terps then fell in overtime at home to Rutgers in what became the season finale, as the pandemic caused the makeup visit by the Spartans to once again get shut down and end the season for both teams early. Maryland finished in fourth place ahead of MSU due to the Spartans finishing 2-4.
The Spartans lead the all-time series 9-2 and 5-1 in Big Ten play. The Terps last won in East Lansing in 1950 in a 34-7 victory, and most recently won in league play in 2016 in College Park with a 28-17 win — this writer froze his butt off sitting through that game and is still mad about it.
2021 Offensive Outlook
Head coach Mike Locksley has been hauling in some big names since his arrival in College Park and perhaps the best example of that is last summer’s transfer announcement by Alabama’s Taulia Tagovailoa. “Baby Tua” as some may more commonly know him made a splash in his first year in the Big Ten. He was named 2020 All-Big Ten honorable mention and started in four games before missing the Rutgers season finale, going 75-of-122 for 1,011 yards through the air, with 135 additional yards on the ground, while throwing for seven touchdowns, and also seven interceptions. He ranked first in the league in yards per completion (13.48), second in yards per pass attempt (8.29), third in passing yards per game (252.8), and third in total offense (263.8).
Should Tagovailoa succumb to another injury, however, the Terps’ next man up based on the spring depth chart availability is untested sophomore walk-on David Foust. Lining up in the backfield with whoever is under center will likely be sophomore Peny Boone who was second on the team with 95 yards last season. Boone played in four games last season, rushing for an average of 21.5 yards per game, and a season long rush of 18 yards. Leading 2020 rusher Jake Funk was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams.
Dontay Demus Jr. returns as the leading receiver from last season and the senior looks to build on his back-to-back All-Big Ten honorable mention seasons. He had 365 yards on 24 receptions and four touchdowns. He played in all five games, caught four straight touchdown catches to end the season, and had a career high 114 yards including a 43-yard touchdown catch against then No. 12 Indiana.
2021 Defensive Outlook
Maryland’s defensive squad lost its leading tackler from last season in Chance Campbell, as the linebacker transferred to Ole Miss in February after totaling 43 total tackles in 2020. Senior defensive back Jordan Mosley is back after leading the Terps in 2020 in solo tackles (24) and second in total tackles (42). He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and two pass breakups. Also back in the secondary will be junior Nick Cross who was All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2019 and 2020. Cross finished tied for third on the team in 2020 in total tackles with 23, had 14 solo tackles, one sack, three pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble that led to a touchdown.
Returning at linebacker is Fa’Najae Gotay. The junior totaled 23 tackles, 12 solo, and one for a 10-yard loss. He led the Terps against Rutgers with 10 total tackles, and notched a career high nine solo tackles. Up front on the defensive line Maryland looks set to rely on three JUCO transfers in Sam Okuayinonu (fifth-year senior, defensive end), Ami Finau (senior, nose tackle), and Mosiah Nasili-Kite (junior, defensive tackle). Nasili-Kite earned 2020 All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition and led the Big Ten with 0.8 sacks per game.
Why No. 8?
Maryland has a truly impressive influx of talent so far under Locksley, but it is lacking any resemblance of depth at this point. Given this matchup falls on the calendar in East Lansing on Nov. 13 following games against Indiana and Penn State and the inconsistent play last season, it makes it difficult to put Maryland ahead of some of the other teams this fall. In the off chance any Terps fans read this and get mad about it, just be aware if on-field results and depth follow the initial results Locksley has shown, Maryland won’t be this low most years moving forward.
With the Spartans coming into this one following a trip to Purdue and possibly needing this game to secure bowl eligibility, expect the staff to give it their all. Maryland has enough talent on the roster that this is a trap game if you don’t take it seriously, and Ohio State comes a week after. However, the Spartans should take care of business and manage a narrow win in this one thanks to home-field advantage and a sluggish performance by a potentially banged up Maryland squad. With all of that said, Maryland is definitely on an upward trajectory, and this game could be tougher than it appears on paper.