By Michelle R. Martinelli
Based on expectations leading up to the start of college football, it’s possible Michigan State is experiencing the most disappointing season in the Big Ten.
The Spartans advanced to the College Football Playoff last year, while Maryland finished as a 3-9 team with problems that could only be solved with a coaching change. One looked to repeat its success, while the other had few places to go but up.
Now midway through the season, with DJ Durkin at the helm, the Terrapins (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) have one more conference win than the Spartans (2-4, 0-3).
But as the teams prepare to play Saturday at Maryland Stadium for just the eighth time in history, the Terps aren’t taking MSU’s struggles into account.
“They’re just a hard-nosed football team, [so] it’s going to be a tough game either way,” said senior defensive lineman Roman Braglio, who remembers the 24-7 loss at Spartan Stadium last season and the 37-15 beat down in 2014 in College Park. “Michigan State’s a good football club — a good program — so we’re going to be ready.”
“It’s really hard to win college football games, so maybe they’re in a struggle right now, but we’re not taking that for granted,” he added. “We’re going to come out prepared, just the way we would prepare for any other team.”
Recently, Maryland hasn’t been able to contain its opponents’ run game, leading to two consecutive losses. Against both Penn State and Minnesota, more than 70 percent of the total yards the Terps allowed were on the ground.
With a mid-season quarterback competition between senior Tyler O’Connor and freshman Brian Lewerke, it’s likely MSU could employ a run-first strategy like the Terps’ past opponents. A major challenge for Maryland’s defense will be stopping tailback LJ Scott — their go-to guy — and forcing the Spartans’ quarterbacks to throw.
“When you see them over and over again, year after year, you see a consistent team,” Durkin said of MSU. “Obviously for whatever reason, they’ve had a couple losses, but when you’re watching tape and watching cutups and watching what they do, you know what you’re getting into. They’re a tough team.”
Though because of injury rather than performance, the Terps also have a quarterback predicament.
Senior Perry Hills — who has been nursing a shoulder injury and did not play last week against the Golden Gophers — is listed as the starting quarterback.
However, Hills also was listed as the starter last week, but freshman Tyrrell Pigrome ended up playing the whole game instead. Even if the Terps do start Hills, they could opt to use him sparingly and could have to rely on their run game too.
Though his production this season hasn't been as explosive as Maryland would hope, Friday's devastating news regarding the status of All-American cornerback Will Likely takes one potential threat out of the game...The three-way player, injured in the second quarter against Minnesota last week, will not only sit on the sideline for the Michigan State game, but for the remainder of his college career due to a torn ACL.
But the Terps still have lots of tools in their kit. And at the beginning of the season, it’s unlikely anyone would have called the winner of this game a coin toss. But with just one Big Ten victory between the two, they’re both desperate for a win.
“It’s a game of chance,” senior wide receiver Levern Jacobs said. “Every Saturday, anybody could lose, anybody could win and we know that.”
The Spartans do too.