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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Youngstown State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans (2-0) travel to South Florida to take on the No. 24-ranked Miami (FL) Hurricanes (1-1) in what is undoubtedly the toughest challenge yet of the young 2021 season for MSU. The game is set for a noon (Eastern Time) kickoff and will be broadcast nationally on ABC.

This marks the fifth all-time meeting between the two programs, and the first since 1989, but Michigan State has never defeated Miami. This is the Spartans’ first road trip to Miami since 1982. Each of the past three meetings have been decided by six points or less, but the Hurricanes always found a way to pull it out.

The heat and humidity at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens is going to play a big factor, and Michigan State enters this contest a bit banged up after last week’s win over Youngstown State. Miami, meanwhile, has struggled a bit to start the season, getting blown out by Alabama to open the year and then barely escaping an upset loss against Appalachian State last week. Let’s get to the game preview.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 2-0 (1-0 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 553 total yards, 254 passing yards, 299 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 352 total yards allowed, 210 passing yards allowed, 142 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 80 (40 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 35 (17.5 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 33rd

Miami (FL):
2021 Record — 1-1 (0-0 in ACC)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 320.5 total yards, 189.5 passing yards, 131 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 413.5 yards allowed, 276.5 passing yards allowed, 137 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 38 (19 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 67 (33.5 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 21st


Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Miami leads 4-0
Current streak: Miami with a four-game winning streak
Last Michigan State Win: N/A
Last Miami Win: Sept. 30, 1989
Michigan State all-time record: 712-470-44 (.599)
Miami all-time record: 637–372–19 (.629)


Uniform Watch:

Michigan State will go with the all-white look — perhaps to combat the heat and humidity in Miami Gardens. The white tops include green lettering and numbering with a green Spartan head logo on the collar. The helmets are green with a large white stripe down the middle and a white Spartan head logo. The pants are all white, save for a green Spartan head logo on one side and a green Nike “Swoosh” symbol on the other side. The Spartans will also wear white cleats with the green Nike “Swoosh.”

A closer look at this week’s threads:

Miami is going with an orange and white color combination. The tops are orange, with white numbering and green outlines, as well as Miami’s logo on the collar with a lighter orange background. The pants are white with two thin orange stripes on the outside and a larger green stripe down middle.


Previous Game Results

Michigan State 42, Youngstown State 14

Michigan State did what it was supposed to do — dominate a FCS opponent. Quarterback Payton Thorne was able to show off his arm on deep throws, connecting with wide receiver Jayden Reed on a 75-yard touchdown pass to open the game, and again later in the first half with an 85-yard score. Thorne also ran one in for a touchdown, and found running back Elijah Collins and wide receiver Jalen Nailor for scores as well. Thorne ended his day with five total touchdowns before handing the reins to Anthony Russo. Kenneth Walker III was limited to seven carries by the coaching staff, but still ran for 57 yards and found the end zone once.

MSU put up 595 yards of total offense, while the defense held Youngstown State to 304 total yards and just 14 points. Speaking of defense, safety Xavier Henderson made an incredible one-handed interception. Several backups and depth players saw action in this one. The only real negative for this game was the amount of injuries the Spartans suffered, with at least five or six players exiting the game at different points.

Miami 25, Appalachian State 23

This was a pretty wild game. Miami entered the game as a nine-point favorite, but Appalachian State from the Sun Belt gave the Hurricanes all they could handle. Miami jumped out to a 7-0 lead with a Donald Chaney Jr. touchdown run in the first quarter, but Appalachian State immediately answered with a 28-yard touchdown run from Camerun Peoples. The Hurricanes then scored a safety, and later a field goal, to go up 12-7 in the second quarter, but the Mountaineers returned the kickoff following the field goal 100 yards for a touchdown, and took a 14-12 lead into halftime.

Cam’Ron Harris opened the scoring in the second half for Miami with a 12-yard touchdown run, giving the Hurricanes the 19-14 advantage. The teams then traded field goals before a Chase Brice pass to Malik Williams gave the Mountaineers a 23-22 lead with 6:19 to play in the game. However, Andres Borregales kicked a game-winning 43-yard field goal with 2:43 to play, and the Miami defense would then get the ball back to the offense, and the Hurricanes ran out the clock.


Key Matchups

D’Eriq King versus Michigan State defense: King is good with both his feet and his arm at the quarterback position, so the whole defense, not just the secondary, needs to key in on King. MSU is banged up at the defensive end position, but still needs to generate pressure from its pass rush on King. King can easily escape the pocket, but it is vital for the defense to contain the edges or have a spy on King so that he doesn’t hurt the Spartans with his legs. Through the air, Michigan State needs to limit the explosive plays we saw against Northwestern. The Miami wide receivers have speed, so the MSU defensive backs can’t get beaten over the top. This is going to take a massive effort from the whole defensive unit for the Spartans.

Kenneth Walker III/MSU offensive line versus Miami front seven: This isn’t exactly a bold statement, but Walker is the key to the game for Michigan State’s offense, for several reasons. One, if Walker is having success on the ground, Michigan State controls the clock and the game. The Spartans play on their terms. Two, success in the rushing attack means the passing game, and the play-action passing game in particular, opens up. If Miami starts creeping more defenders into the box, Jayden Reed or Jalen Nailor could have an opportunity to go over the top on the Miami defense and get a big play through the air.

Jayden Reed vs. Tyrique Stevenson: Reed, the redshirt junior wide receiver, busted lose last week and torched Youngstown State for two long touchdowns. He has a much tougher matchup this week with Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson, a sophomore cornerback transfer from Georgia. Stevenson is considered the Hurricanes’ best defensive back, and will likely draw Reed as an assignment more often than not. Reed showed what he can do against an inferior opponent, now it’s time for him to take the next step and do it against a potentially elite cornerback.


Game Info

Time: Noon (12:06 p.m. Eastern)
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
Weather expectations: Partly cloudy, and around 88 degrees at kickoff, with a high of 91 degrees for the day. Winds blowing southeast at five-eight miles per hour. Scattered thunderstorms possible in the second half.
Line: Miami -6.5


Overview:

Michigan State’s health for this contest is important. MSU had several players out against Youngstown State — particularly at the defensive end/edge rusher position with Drew Beesley, Drew Jordan and Itayvion “Tank” Brown— and many other players who left the game with an injury, including running back Elijah Collins, backup quarterback Anthony Russo, center Nick Samac, defensive tackle Maverick Hansen and linebacker Ben VanSumeren, among others. Collins and Brown are expected to be out this week, but head coach Mel Tucker usually plays coy when discussing injuries for the Spartans, so we’ll have to wait and see who is all out there on Saturday.

As for the weather, it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be humid, and there is also now a possibility of scattered thunderstorms in the second half of the game. Tucker has prepared his team for the grueling weather conditions by cracking up the thermostat in Michigan State’s indoor facility, but it’s going to be different for the players once they’re actually out there in the Miami sun.

As for the game itself, it is an interesting matchup and should prove to be an entertaining contest. Miami has struggled to score this season, averaging just 19 points per game through two games, but that is heavily weighted by Alabama holding “The U” to just 13 points in the season opener. I expect both teams to have opportunities on on offense in this one, with both squads potentially scoring around 27 to 31 points.

The MSU defense is going to need to contain quarterback D’Eriq King, stop the running game with King and Cam’Ron Harris and try to make the Hurricanes one-dimensional. The big chunk plays given up against Northwestern cannot be tolerated this week, or the Hurricanes will likely turn those opportunities into points. Offensively, the Spartans need to rely on Kenneth Walker III and the rushing game to open up the play-action passing attack. Payton Thorne will need to continue to play efficient football and protect the football.

There is a lot more that can be said about this matchup, but we will find out how the game plays out in a matter of hours. So far, through two games, the Spartans have exceeded most expectations, which were very low entering the season. This game is going to show Michigan State fans exactly where the Spartans stand at this juncture in the season. I expect a tough fight from MSU, and I think it will be close throughout, but it feels like one of those games where too many little mistakes add up and the Spartans lose a heartbreaker. I hope to be wrong.

For additional thoughts and analysis on Miami, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece and our question-and-answer article with State Of The U — SB Nation’s website for all things Miami Hurricanes.

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Will Michigan State beat Miami (FL)?

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