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Maryland Terrapins vs. Michigan State Spartans: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat., Nov. 14; Noon ET
Where: East Lansing, MI; Spartan Stadium (75,005)
TV: ESPN 2
All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 5-1
Last Meeting: Michigan State win, 37-15 (2014)
Line: Michigan State -16.5

The regular season is coming down to the wire, and these last few weeks will be critical for a lot of teams, and Michigan State’s situation is no different. After an unexpected and somewhat controversial loss last week on the road in Lincoln, the Spartans are now on the outside looking in towards inclusion in the College Football Playoff, but there’s still a chance and it all depends on how Sparty takes care of business going forward. A win is needed here at home to set up a big, big showdown next week in Columbus.

For Maryland, this season is one to forget. The program is in a state of flux with a lame-duck interim coach, and wins have been few and far between. Mike Locksley has made some nice moves since wearing the headset — most notably naming Perry Hills the starting QB and utilizing Will Likely more on the offensive end — but despite more competitive and improved play, the forward momentum has yet to show up in the win column. The Terps would love nothing more than to spoil the Spartans’ season.

1 Burning Question: Can the Spartan Defense Show Improvement in the Secondary?

If there’s one area that has held the Spartans back, it’s been limiting the passing attack of the opposition. Gone are the days of the ‘No Fly-Zone.” After being one of the top programs in defending the pass over the last couple of years, they are ranked a less-than-impressive 85th in the country so far this year, giving up almost 250 yards a game. So I guess it’s good news that the nation’s 113th ranked passing team is coming to town. You like the chances of MSU to show improvement then in this game, and they’ll need it to gain some confidence for the showdown next week with Ohio State. It’s the glaring aspect of the team that HAS to get better.

2 Key Stats:

— 5.0. That’s the average yards per rush for the Maryland Terrapins. The passing game is almost non-existent, so the Terps will try to do their damage on the ground. The problem there is that despite the issues in the secondary, the front seven of MSU has still been very productive on defense this year. It’ll be tough to get anything consistent against the Spartan defense, but it’s what Maryland does, especially from the quarterback spot when things break down. And break down often they do.

— 33.4. It’s the amount of points Maryland is giving up to the opposition. When you have an offense that struggles to move the chains and score, having a defense that ranks a dead-even 100 out of 128 teams doesn’t help the cause. Somehow, the Terps have to find a way to slow down Connor Cook and gang or it’ll be a long, long day.

3 Key Players:

Will Likely, Maryland DB — He’s Maryland’s best player arguably in all phases of the game. He’s dangerous in the return game, can cover up opposing receivers in pass defense, and has started to be utilized more and more on the offensive side of things to get some kind of game-breaker on the offensive end. With so many chances to make a difference, his play will be key to keep the Terps staying in the game.

Perry Hills, Maryland QB — Hills isn’t going to scare anyone with his arm, but he does have some savvy and toughness to tote around. He’s a big kid, but he’s quick for his size and has had some success sustaining drives with his ability to scramble when things aren’t open down the field. He’s got to make some pass plays against a Michigan State secondary that’s struggling, and then follow that up with some yards on the ground to get some kind of offensive momentum going.

Connor Cook, Michigan State QB — At this point in the season, it’s not like the Spartans are all of a sudden going to find that rushing attack it has so sorely missed. They’ll be riding the right arm of Connor Cook for better of for worse the rest of the way, and he should have an opportunity to have a big day against a poor Maryland defense. An off day however, and a Maryland team that has been playing more competitive might make a game of it.

4 Bold Prognostications:

Michigan State will force at least three turnovers. The Maryland offense is balanced, and by balanced, I mean they don’t do much of anything well. It’ll sputter again and the defense won’t be able to consistently stop the Spartan offense. The Terps will fall behind and be forced to try and get things done through the air. More passes against the pass rush of Shalique Calhoun in company will mean rushed throws and balls thrown or fumbled to the opposition, even against a struggling Spartan secondary.

Perry Hills will rush for over eighty yards. It seems to be the most effective play right now for the Terps. They try to drop back and throw only to have things break down and force Hills to tuck it and run for his life. Suprisingly, he’s had some success at improv, and he’ll have some modest gains that add up in this one as well.

It’ll be a game at half-time. Michigan State has played down to the competition week-after-week. So much so that it finally got burned last week when Nebraska scored twice with under three minutes left to steal one away. Maryland has been more competitive lately, and the Spartans will suffer from a Nebraska hangover and struggle at first. It’ll be close at halftime, then things will be sorted out and Maryland will be forced to play catch up once the fourth quarter rolls around.

Will Likely will score on special teams and on offense. The Spartans have struggle in special teams coverage at times this year, and Will Likely is one of the best return men in the league. They’ll go against the grain and actually kick to him only to give up a big return for a score. On offense, he’ll have an expanded role to try and spark an offense stuck in the mud, and he’ll get a touch in the red zone that produces a score.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Michigan State 42-17 (73-19 overall; 41-50 ATS)
Dave: Michigan State 39-3 (75-17 overall; 48-42 ATS)
Greg: Michigan State 37-23 (68-26 overall; 50-40 ATS)
Matt: Michigan State 34-21 (73-19 overall; 53-37 ATS)
Phil: Michigan State 42-27 (27-12 overall; 14-22 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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