It has been a very interesting last couple of weeks in the Big Ten. Following Michigan State’s upset of Penn State and Ohio State getting bludgeoned by Iowa, many wondered how the Buckeyes would respond. They took out all of their frustration on the Spartans last week in a 48-3 drubbing in Columbus.
This week, MSU decided to return a similar favor to Maryland, perhaps in a lesser degree. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the Spartans’ win over the Terps on Saturday.
DEFENSE STANDS TALL
Michigan State’s defense, which had been pretty darn good for much of the season, had been worked the last few weeks, not just against Ohio State. MSU allowed north of 500 yards against the Buckeyes and 400+ yards to Penn State and Northwestern the two weeks prior, so it was refreshing to see them bounce back and dictate this game.
Granted, it was against a less-than-potent Maryland offense and in less-than-ideal weather conditions with snow making an appearance in the second half. For what it’s worth, MSU addressed a lot of needs on defense.
The Spartans held the Terrapins just barely 200 yards of total offense, including 83 yards on the ground. This was a Maryland rushing attack that had racked up at least 140 yards on the ground in each of its previous four games. Aided by the weather and field conditions, MSU completely shut down any momentum offensively for the Terps, outside of their lone scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
One knock on the Michigan State offense has been inconsistency. When they are successful throwing the ball, they cannot or simply refuse to run it, and vise-versa. Again, while the weather compromised some of the play-calling, that was the case again on Saturday.
But much like the other previous instances, it paid off for the Spartans. On a day where quarterback Brian Lewerke was just 2/14 passing for 20 yards, the running game ultimately earned them points. Michigan State as a team rushed for 271 yards on 51 carries. Junior LJ Scott turned in another breakout performance with 147 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. Senior Gerald Holmes, one of 15 seniors honored before the game, added 64 yards on 11 rushes. And Lewerke made up for his absent passing game by using his legs, scrambling for 63 yards on the ground.
It was just the sixth game of at least 100 yards rushing for MSU this season, but fourth instance of totaling 200+ rushing yards. If anything else, when they commit to one aspect on offense, more often than not, it has worked.
COME FULL CIRCLE
It’s really hard for many to sit here right now and recognize Michigan State as a potential nine- and perhaps 10-win team this season considering the type of year they had last season and the tumultuous offseason that followed it. But alas, it is reality.
A tip of the cap to head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff this season for the job they did in getting a largely young and inexperienced team to this point in the year, contending for a Big Ten crown and actually flirting with the College Football Playoff again. While both goals have gone by the wayside in recent weeks, it should not take away the fact that Dantonio & Co. has put together one of if not the most impressive turnaround from a year ago in college football.
Many “experts” — including some here at DSN — foreshadowed Michigan State to hover around .500, give or take a game, given a lot of unknowns with the team coupled with the level of competition they were facing in the conference. But it is safe to say that Dantonio will get some ‘Coach of the Year’ consideration, both in the Big Ten and perhaps nationally, and this team appears to have a bright future ahead of them.
But MSU is not done yet. They close out the regular season on the road in Piscataway against a Rutgers team that is much improved and more inspired from a season ago.