Saturday’s game might be as close to a “must win” as you’ll find in the month of September for head coach Mel Tucker and Michigan State.
Or even if calling it a “must win” seems too extreme, I think we can all agree this is a critical Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
Below is a hodge-podge of what we want to see from this MSU team, and helps us get to know Minnesota better, so let’s get right to it!
3 Things We Want To See
A bounce-back game from the offensive line
Is it unfair to put the bulk of this game’s pressure on the offensive line’s collective shoulders? I sure don’t think so!
Look, we know the Spartans defensive secondary has massive struggles, but so does Minnesota’s passing game with top target Chris Autumn-Bell now out for the season. And obviously Minnesota’s running attack, Mohamed Ibrahim, will be a sight to behold (more on them later). But based on what we saw in Seattle on Saturday against Washington, it’s clear the offensive line can dictate what kind of a night Michigan State will have.
MSU’s run game was abysmal against Washington, and the Huskies’ run defense isn’t even a world-beating unit. Minnesota’s run defense has been stout this season, holding opponents to just 2.8 yards per carry.
HOWEVER, there are two reasons to believe this should be a get-right spot for the Spartans offensive line. 1.) Minnesota’s opponents have essentially been the Minneapolis VFW, the Mall of America Security Team and Minnehaha Academy’s tennis team (Ok, it was New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado, but still). So, 2.8 yards per carry against isn’t that impressive when you look at who they Golden Gophers have played. 2.) The Gophers also only have six sacks against that weaker competition, which is tied for second-worst in the Big Ten.
If Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne can go most of the afternoon without scampering for his life, and if MSU can get its run game going, I like the Spartans to win the race to 28 points. And that responsibility falls on an offensive line that struggled mightily last weekend.
Don’t Let Third/Fourth Downs Break Every Vertebrae In Your Back This Time
Another back-breaker last weekend was the third-and-fourth-down conversions Washington was getting at will. On Washington’s second touchdown drive, the Huskies converted a third-and-6. On the dagger touchdown drive before halftime, the Huskies converted a fourth-and-5.
Equally as damaging, even on the goal-line stops MSU had, there were conversions of fourth-and-5, third-and-12 and third-and-8. Both of those drives held great opportunities to get off the field, but instead turned into impressive stops at the 1-yard-line...where disaster ensued quickly after thanks to poor field position.
Taking advantage of those opportunities is obviously easier said than done, as displayed last weekend when the Huskies really didn’t have to even strain for those conversions. Also, Minnesota has been converting third downs at a nation’s-best 77.5 percent. Now that number is sure to drop eventually as only one team has
A SINGLE INTERCEPTION???
WOULD IT KILL THIS TEAM TO EVEN GET ONE (1) INTERCEPTION BEFORE OCTOBER STARTS?!
ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW WHAT MIGHT JAZZ ME EVEN MORE? JUST BEING EVEN SOMEWHAT CLOSE TO INTERCEPTING A PASS OR TWO. ALMOST EVERY SINGLE PLAY LAST WEEK SAW THE RECEIVER CATCHING THE BALL WITH NO SPARTANS EVEN IN THE CAMERA FRAME.
I’m fine. Everything is fine. Go get ‘em, boys.
2 KEY STATS
(Enter literally any Mo Ibrahim stat here)
Minnesota’s running back, Mohamed Ibrahim, is as close to a Madden Create-A-Player character as you can find. Ibrahim’s seven rushing touchdowns tie him for the nation’s best. His 154.7 rushing yards per game is second-best in the nation. His 6.9 yards per carry is best in the Big Ten amongst running backs with at least 35 carries. He has 12-straight games of 100-plus rushing yards.
Point blank, the guy is a work horse’s work horse.
I think asking for Michigan State to stop Ibrahim might be a bit unrealistic, but MSU can certainly mitigate the damage. That’ll be a tougher task if run-clogger Jacob Slade is still out again, but MSU’s defensive front is still deep, and the Spartans’ run defense over the last two seasons has been stout.
Nov. 16, 2019
That’s the last time Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan threw for more than 300 yards. That was Week 10 of the 2019 college football season. And yet, Minnesota has been moderately successful despite those numbers from the game manager-style quarterback.
That says two things — Minnesota will go as far as Ibrahim takes them, and that MSU’s secondary might not be in danger this week...possibly. Look, if Morgan throws the ball all over the yard on Saturday and shreds Michigan State without his top target, there are defensive issues so serious that it might be time to go to DEFCON 1.
1 BEST BET
Michigan State +2.5, over/under 51
I could sit here all day and make arguments for why Michigan State is rightfully underdogs in this game. I could also spend an additional day talking about why that line might be a bit nonsensical.
I think MSU wins this game, but with the Spartans’ volatility and Las Vegas putting that stinky line out there, my confidence to actually bet them isn’t there.
So we’ll go ahead and hit that over of 51. I trust Minnesota’s offense — and almost any Power Five offense, really — to put up scores against Michigan State’s defense. And on the flip side, I think MSU does the same and gets the passing game going against Minnesota’s “ehh” pass defense.
Pick: Over 51
What is your best bet for Saturday afternoon?