In Rutgers game against the Spartans, they face a team that is a bit deflated after a loss to intra-division rival Ohio State. What are the expectations now? Pete Rossman of The Only Colors talks about what's next after the loss to the Buckeyes, Connor Cook, and more.
Q: What is the state of the fanbase right now after the tough loss to Ohio State? Is there excitement for the possibility of a New Year's Six bowl?
Pete Rossman: I think most fans have come to terms that MSU isn't going to reach the heights they did last year. No doubt the loss to Ohio State initially stung, especially due to the nature of the loss (if MSU gets any points of an OSU turnover at the Buckeyes' 20, I think that game proceeds very differently). However, a Big Six bowl game would still be a great end to the season, especially if it's to a bowl MSU hasn't frequented as much, like the Peach or Fiesta Bowl.
Q: Connor Cook is having an exceptional year at quarterback, leading the B1G in passing yards per game and ranking second in pass efficiency and total offense. Where does he rank all-time in program history?
Pete: Tough to say at this point, because he'll most likely be staying for his final year of eligibility. At the beginning of the season Cook looked like he was going to erase all the passing records, but he's had major problems with accuracy in his last few games. Part of me suspects he's injured, because a few of his deep balls have been so far off the mark at times. However, if he regains his accuracy and can complete 60%+ of his balls from here on out, I think he'll rank as the best quarterback of the past 25+ years, possibly ever (I am a bit too young to have seen Earl Morrall play, so it's hard to make a comparison).
Q: Of course, Cook has had a great receiver to throw to in Tony Lippett, who needs just one yard to reach 1000 for the season. Are there any other passing threats whom Rutgers should worry about?
Pete: Two come to mind. The first is MacGarrett Kings, a wide receiver who's a bit shiftier than Lippett. He turned a short catch into a 50+ yard gain against Maryland; he's also MSU's punt returner. The other threat Rutgers should worry about is tight end Josiah Price. Price isn't especially a deep threat, but Cook's found him multiple times over the season to turn 3rd and somewhat longs into first downs. Really though, Rutgers needs to focus on Lippett -- Cook hones in on him heavily.
Q: Last year, the secondary was nicknamed the "No Fly Zone" for its exceptional pass defense. This season, the strength seems to be the defensive line. What's the best way for Rutgers to find success against the Spartan defense?
Pete: It may have been the No Fly Zone last year, but it's definitely not this year. Opponents have found success against the Spartan defense by throwing deep to receivers covered in either one-on-one coverage, or not even covered at all at times. I'm not sure if it's entirely the scheme or the players' fault (probably a mixture of both), but the safeties have been confused at times this season. The big caveat here is that to beat MSU this way, you need to have a quarterback who can consistently throw the deep ball accurately. Marcus Mariota and J.T. Barrett could. Gary Nova's numbers compare well to Cook's (except for the interceptions), so we'll see if he can do it.
Q: What's the feeling on Pat Narduzzi? Will he ever leave East Lansing?
Pete: He has to at some point. He was offered the UConn job last season, but wisely turned it down. MSU bumped his salary to keep him, but if the right head coaching job comes along he'd have to take it, and the fan base definitely wouldn't begrudge him for that.
Pete: Although Cook's had his problems with accuracy, Jeremy Langford has run for 100+ yards in 13 straight Big Ten games for a reason. I think Nova completes a couple long passes to keep it close, but MSU eventually wins out, 35-21.