Sunday, October 2, 2022
Freshman kicker Stephen Rusnak (98) kicking the ball during the game against Maryland on Nov. 13, 2021 at the Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated Maryland 40-21.
After two weeks of total collapses on both sides of the ball, Michigan State football is playing a competitive game against Maryland – despite trailing 21-13 at the half. Here are a few takeaways from the first 30 minutes of play.
Defense still struggling to get off the field on third down
After reviewing the film from the loss against Minnesota, Head Coach Mel Tucker gave a list of things the team needed to get better at. High on that list was the need to get off the field on third down and give the ball to the offense.
After one half against Maryland, it appears the Spartans still need some improvement in this area.
The Terrapins were able to convert on third down twice in their opening drive and once on fourth down, ultimately leading to a touchdown. Not only did the MSU defense continually allow Maryland to convert on third down, they struggled to cover the receivers in the secondary, allowing redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to throw for 216 yards in the first half.
After allowing Maryland to score twice relatively quickly, the defense has bounced back and even forced back-to-back three-and-outs from the Maryland offense late in the first half. Despite the solid play for parts of the first half, MSU still allowed Tagovailoa to carve up the secondary in Maryland's final drive of the half, resulting in another touchdown for the Terrapins before heading to the locker room at the half.
Offense bounces back
After being shut down by Minnesota last week, the MSU offense is showing what they’re capable of. In a complete 360 of what happened against the Gophers, redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne has completed 76.9% of his passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.
In Michigan State's opening drive, Thorne went 5-5 for 58 yards before handing the ball off to redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins to do the rest. Collins, who hasn’t seen as much playing time as fellow running backs, fifth-year Jarek Broussard and redshirt sophomore Jalen Berger, outmaneuvered three members of the Terrapin defense to find the end zone and equalize the game at 7-7.
The team emphasized the need to get the run game back on track after largely being shut down in its last two matchups, and they could be well on their way with these three in the mix.
After a quiet return from injury against Minnesota, redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed has made his presence known today as well. Reed currently leads the receivers with 50 yards and a touchdown.
The offense had quite a scare in the final minute of the half when Thorne's pass to Reed bounced off his hand and into the arms of Maryland's Dante Trader Jr., who ran it back to the two-yard line for what certainly would have been another touchdown. However, the play was reversed due to a personal foul call on the Terrapins and MSU regained possession and got within field goal range, but the kick was blocked to end the half.
Elijah Collins is back in the game
Elijah Collins was responsible for MSU’s first touchdown of the game, the team’s first rushing touchdown and running back carry to go for more than 10 yards since playing at Washington two weeks ago. In fact, Collins was responsible for the only rushing touchdown against Washington as well.
With the team emphasizing the need to get the run game back in the picture, Collins has been playing a crucial role. He’s established himself as a reliable player the Spartans can go to when they need someone to make up some yards or punch it into the end zone for a touchdown.
The veteran player currently leads the running backs with 31 yards in four attempts. It's no doubt he’ll be a player to watch in the second half, and going forward in the season.
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