Scouting Report and Prediction: Michigan State 5-3 vs. Maryland 5-3
A look at this week’s opponent…
The Spartan season is on the uptick. They found some mojo in freshman QB Rocky Lombardi. His pre-snap reads allowed him to utilize more people in the passing game and his quick release made the OL look better. Lombardi’s accuracy made the passing game more lethal (along with his pre-snap reads) and the rushing game improved as the opponent couldn’t load the box to stop the run. This team has new sea legs and while they need some help, they are in the hunt for a Big Ten title should UM lose to PSU this weekend.
To me, this week is about MSU. Maryland has had an emotional roller coaster week and I expect them to be emotionally jacked, but if the Spartans can weather an early storm, to emotionally fizzle out. This is about the Spartans.
Some wanted to anoint Lombardi Kirk Cousins after one game. That was foolish. He has only had one game. But you saw enough to be energized and that is encouraging. But this week is about Michigan State. Being the team we expected. They should beat Maryland. Will they? Was last week’s emotion a onetime thing or are they back on the right road with an outside shot at a Big Ten title?
Dantonio said of Maryland that, “Opportunity to go to Maryland this weekend, an away game. Opportunity to go 6-3 playing against a football team that’s 5-3, as well, and be a good challenge for us as we go away.”
When MSU has the ball…
The Maryland D is not getting the respect that they deserve. They are ranked third in the Big Ten. Everyone knows that the MSU D is good (4th in the conference), but this will shock many of you, Maryland is statistically ranked higher at third.
The Terrapins are ranked 28th nationally as a defense while MSU is 40th. This is going to be a real test for Lombardi. On offense the Spartans are ranked 13th in the Big Ten and Maryland is 11th.
Dantonio has been impressed with Lombardi since he recruited him. But long readers of Spartan Nation know that we have reported and asked about him many times and Dantonio has never hidden that he was impressed.
So what did he think of his young stars first start? He didn’t hold back. “First of all, he played very well. We just run our system. So he’s been here for, you know, I guess redshirt freshman, a year and a half, so he runs our system. So we don’t really curtail. We favor things, maybe one quarterback to another but we’re going to run our system.”
He went on to say, “I was impressed. As I said yesterday to our football team, I thought he played with authority. Threw the ball with authority. Played with authority. Led with authority. He did a great job. We always talk about he was the one that brought us back, so we give a team award called “The One,” and he won that award within our team this past week and did a great job.”
One thing Lombardi did was that he used his impressive pre-snap read skills and the Spartans tight end play re-emerged. It has been an issue.
I asked Dantonio this week about Lombardi’s pre-snap read skills. Here is the full exchange:
Hondo Carpenter: I'd like to ask you about Rocky's pre-snap reads, does very well in his first start. Is that something that surprised you or something that you had seen prior to the first start?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: I think it's something that Coach Salem does a great job with teaching progression. I think as the game progressed, Rocky got more and more confident and I think playing football at this level, you've got to be a confident player. The more you do something, the more you see things, and the more you see things and understand what the file if I of whatever is, better you're going to play and I think he grasped that as the game progressed and did an outstanding job.
Here is a question I asked of Dantonio back on September fourth when the TE spot was not being used.
Hondo Carpenter: Tight end production was down last year, production last week was down. Is that a concern to you or a trend you see it going that way?
MARK DANTONIO: Production is play in, play out to me. It's how the block, catch the football, run your routes. You can't say, Hey, you got to throw the ball to this guy. You're going to take what's available in terms of your reads as a quarterback. I don't think that production is down. I think we've got other guys we're throwing to, as well. Got a variety of targets out there. Everybody gets opportunities and looks.
Here is what he was asked this week. You can tell by judging the change in his tenor:
Q: You completed five passes to the tight end on Saturday and you've only completed six through the prior season. Is that deliberate or is that --
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: It's about time, yeah, so -- quarterback makes decisions, he goes through his progressions just like anybody. They are out there, they have got to get open and certain things are designed to go to them but other times you've got to find them. So I thought that he did a nice job finding those guys this past week and continuing to use our tight ends. They are good pass catchers.
I AM NOT reporting that this is 100%, but I can tell you I do expect Cody White to be back. He and Lombardi are very close personally and they have spent countless hours throwing to each other in the offseason. This will make Lombardi even better, getting the Spartans best wide receiver back.
I think against a better D than Purdue, Lombardi will take some time to get his sea legs, but I do think that he will. MSU will finish this game strong and I predict will run for over 125 yards and close to 150 as Maryland will be forced to adapt to Lombardi’s prowess with his arm. This will be the classic pass to set up the run game we have wanted.
When MSU is on defense…
The Terps are rated 2nd in the conference in rushing offense, but they are facing a juggernaut Spartan rushing D rated first in the conference.
Dantonio said of the Maryland offense that, “You look at Maryland right now, you look at their offensive personnel, and they have a very explosive football team right now. A lot of big-play guys, 700-plus yards this past week and really, you look at their roster, you see a lot of guys making a lot of plays. It will be a great challenge for us. Explosive, explosive football team.”
He added, “Matt Canada does a great job offensively, he’s done a nice job as (interim) head football coach as well right now. When you look at their defense, I think they play extremely hard. I’ve been very impressed with their secondary, using a lot of different people to get pressure up front and solid and play aggressively. I think the best way to do this, I’ll just take some questions and go from there.”
DT Coach Ron Burton says of the Maryland rushing attack that, “Well, I think it starts with their personnel, four tailbacks. Number one, being able to keep them fresh and athletic and being able to run. Number two, their quarterback that makes them go and then their backup quarterback. We haven't even started to talk about their veteran offensive line, number one, and their wide receivers. So the complete group of 11 that's on the field is a big part of that, but I think it's the athleticism of the group that keeps you on your toes because they all can run the ball and they all can catch it.”
Maryland has a super rushing attack. But they are not going to run all over the Spartans. They have not faced a rushing D like the Spartans and while I expect them to get over 75 yards, they are not going to dominate the Spartans.
When this game is over, if the Terps have 300 yards or less, the Spartans will have won this game. Write that down. I think that is a stretch for them. I will be stunned if they get over 250 and the return of super pro prospect Josiah Scott, that doesn’t benefit them at all.
Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don’t remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and give up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus-five ratio at least every game. Teams that win the rule of five wins 91% of ball games.
Dantonio was asked this week for maybe what Lombardi didn’t do so well. Longtime readers of Spartan Nation can attest that I have said many times about my friend, “He may not always tell you everything, but he won’t lie.” That remains 100% accurate. That is why his answer to the aforementioned question the following.
“He made quick decisions on Saturday. I think that was one of the biggest things that he needed to clean up, and I thought he did that on Saturday. He called -- I guess he called 1 on 2 and came out but he played pretty effectively. If you're looking back on it, he had some drops. He had five drops. We had guys out there banging the ball around a little bit. Some of the things going on with their injuries.”
He went on to say, “So he had a couple drops there but I thought he played very well and he could have hit a couple deep ones. He had a couple deep ones that were a yard or two overthrown and he comes up with those, he's having a career day. I think he left some out on the field. I think he would agree with that but I thought he played very solid, and from a leadership standpoint, he did very, very well. He's got a big arm. I think that's just, you know, I think he over through Justin maybe twice. Justin and he probably had not worked that much together. Just the way the ball flew I think.”
Dantonio’s praise told us one thing: He knows that Lombardi is a rising star. Can’t anoint him yet, but what he does on Saturday could propel him forward.
This Maryland team is disheveled. For some reason, the people who run the program thought it was a good idea (it was not) to bring back Coach DJ Durkin this week. Then some players revolted, and he was fired. I have talked with multiple people around the program who told me that there is not a divided locker room. READ THIS STORY HERE. But I say this. Maryland will come out on fire and the Spartans need to weather the storm.
MSU needs to pull away in the third quarter. If the game is close in the fourth that will give the Terps fire. But I expect MSU and impose their will in the third and in the fourth the emotionally drained Terps to roll over. When that happens I think they wither into the night.
If Lombardi starts, and I expect it (I do not believe Lewerke is 100%) I say MSU wins this 35-14.
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