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Rutgers Football Game #12 Preview at Michigan State

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2018 Season comes to an end Saturday in East Lansing.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers
MSU set an NCAA record for possession time in the matchup last season.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-10; 0-8) At Michigan State (6-5; 4-4)

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI.

Kick-off: Saturday, November 24th at 4:05 p.m. EST

Weather: 44 degrees, partly cloudy with a 40% chance of rain, 9 mph winds

TV: FOX- Brandon Gaudin, Brian Baldinger, and Sarah Kustok. Out-of-market channel finder.

Stream: FoxSportsGo

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 388. Sam Marsdale and Matt Howe)

Current Spread: Michigan State -27

Against The Spread: Rutgers 6-5; Michigan State 4-7

Series History: Michigan State leads the all-time series 6-3.

SB Nation MSU site: The Only Colors

Michigan State Statistical Leaders

Passing: Brian Lewerke - 162 for 298 pass attempts, 54.4%, 1868 yards, 8 TD, 9 INT. Rocky Lombardi - 49 for 110 pass attempts, 44.5%, 565 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT.

Rushing: Connor Heyward - 439 yards on 95 attempts, 4.6 ypc, 5 TD; La’Darius Jefferson - 243 yards on 74 attempts, 3.3 ypc, 2 TD; LJ Scott - 180 yards on 55 attempts, 3.3 ypc, 0 TD; Jalen Nailor - 125 yards on 8 attempts, 15.6 ypc, 1 TD;

Receiving: Darrell Stewart Jr. - 32 catches for 315 yards, 9.8 ypc, 1 TD; Cody White - 32 catches for 447 yards, 14.0 ypc, 2 TD; Felton Davis III - 31 catches for 474 yards, 15.3 ypc, 4 TD; Cam Chambers - 18 catches for 251 yards, 13.9 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Andrew Dowell - 85 tackles, 8.0 for a loss, 3 sacks, 7 PD, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery; Joe Bachie - 82 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PD, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble; Kenny Willekes - 73 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PD, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Kicking: Matt Coghlin - 23 for 23 PAT’s, 16 for 19 FG attempts, Long of 49 yards

Michigan State Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Michigan State I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Who starts at Quarterback?

The number one storyline for this game is who starts at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights. Art Sitkowski had really cleaned up the turnovers in the second half of the season, but his second of the game last week was one of the worst passes ever. Ok maybe not as bad as those. Good solider Gio Rescigno was inserted into the game “to give us a chance to win” yet the Scarlet Knights were not aggressive late in the half trying to limp into half. In the 3rd quarter, had Gio come down with the 4th down Philly special throw from Trey Sneed, it might have been a ballgame. It’s obvious that Art has more arm talent than Gio, but the 5th-year senior Rescigno simply is able to inspire his team more when they have the ball. Some say Gio gives the team a better chance to win, but I can understand the opposite philosophy of Sitkowski as has been true all season. If Art finally clicks with receivers and chucks the ball all over the field it could get a W and the hope everyone is waiting for. My vote of Isaih Pacheco got no consideration from the staff it doesn’t seem, but if Gio does get the start let me be the first to say he deserves it for how committed he has been these last five years.

Michigan State also has a question mark at Quarterback. Brian Lewerke who carved up the Knights last year missed last week’s game (a 9-6 loss to Nebraska). Lewerke seems to have a little Doug Flutie in him and seems to be cut from the same cloth as Spartan QBs who went to the NFL like Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins, and Drew Stanton. He won’t wow you but seems to win the games he’s supposed to win. Redshirt Freshman Backup Rocky Lombardi had a stat line RU fans are familiar with against the Huskers, 15 for 41, 146 yards, 0 TD, and 1 INT. Whichever player is under center, he is also devoid of playmakers as MSU is without their best WR and RB. The Spartans will probably try to slug it out by keeping the ball on the ground no matter who is available to carry the ball and make RU try to beat them.

Will Pat Hobbs still love Chris Ash in the morning? What about Mark Dantonio?

Rutgers Athletic Director Pat Hobbs has probably one made only one misstep since he was hired in 2015. Hobbs’s first order of business was to hire a football coach and he chose Chris Ash. Ash struggled at the helm of the Rutgers Football program, winning just seven games in three seasons. It’s not a normal rebuild with RU on probation in what is normally the toughest or second toughest division in FBS, but there simply hasn’t been enough winning regardless. Hobbs insisted he does not make in season coaching decisions, but has not publicly come out with a vote of confidence. The sad reality is that as a result, recruiting may be affected and if Ash is retained, what happens next year if RU shows minimal growth? Does Hobbs change his stance in mid-2019 or is this simply all about the money owed? This is a very tough position for all sides involved, especially as RU’s schedule turned out to be more manageable than was expected before the season began yet resulted in less victories.

MSU also has had less victories than expected in 2018. The Michigan State defense is very tough and has continued to play hard for Mark Dantonio, now in his 12th season in East Lansing. After nine straight bowl trips to start his tenure, the last three seasons have been up and down. MSU was just 3-9 in 2016, but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 10-3, then is just 6-5 in 2018. Dantonio may be a victim of his own success as fans expect a lot now especially as rival Michigan had a bounce back year. Michigan State’s defense has been very good most of the time this year, but is the defensive minded Dantonio at risk of losing his job to an up and coming offensive coach?

Injuries

The Spartans already have six wins and qualify for a Bowl game, but it has been a disappointing season for a program that adds injury to insult as 12 players are already ruled out this week due to injury. The most jarring emotionally is Senior cornerback Tyson Smith who suffered a stroke in 2016, then returned to play 13 games in 2017 with one start, but has been unable to play this season due to other undisclosed health issues.

Michigan State’s offense has fallen off a cliff most notably because star receiver Felton Davis (torn achilles) and starting running back LJ Scott (major ankle injury) who absolutely wrecked RU in 2016 are both out. Depth, long the lifeblood of the Spartans during the Dantonio era has been significantly hindered by the injury bug, too. Josh Butler, Dillon Alexander, and several players along both lines have been unable to play or practice, a key reason playmakers have been unable to step up in Davis and Scott’s shoes. And what’s the deal with so many guys out with undisclosed injuries, is that a state of Michigan lack of information thing?

Rutgers cannot blame injuries for their disappointing campaign, though. The Scarlet Knights are down nine scholarship players due to off-field discipline since January and lost probably their best player in the first game of the year (Blessuan Austin), but very few other players have missed significant time. Pass rush specialist Tijaun Mason is out for the year and Tight End Jerome Washington (perhaps the team’s second best player) has missed the last five contests. Don’t expect the Knights to get too much luckier in any other campaign.

Special Teams

The oddest thing about the Michigan State stats page is that five players (including backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi) have punted for the Spartans in a game this season. If anyone else has ever seen that at the college level please note it in the comments below. The incumbent and solid Jake Hartbarger only punted in two games then got a bad break literally with a small leg fracture. Then Tyler Hunt tore his ACL. It’s been a battle between redshirt Freshman Bryce Baringer who transferred from Illinois and freshman William Przystup since. Matt Coghlin is a solid kicker though, so it’s somewhat surprising he hasn’t gotten a shot, too.

On the other side, Rutgers has one of the Big Ten’s best, if not one of the nation’s best in Adam Korsak punting the football. Lost in the shuffle last week was Adam’s 46.4 yard average on five punts. Can RU please try a fake with his rugby rollout now that there’s no reason to worry about next week? No one tunes into the game to watch punters, but that may be the opportunity for a big play in this contest.

Final Thoughts

When Rutgers joined the Big Ten, they led the all-time series with the Spartans 3-2, including statement wins against the Tony Mandarich team and the National TV upset in 2004. However, Michigan State has totally dominated Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. The only game in doubt was about as close as it gets until a 4th down spike allowed the #4 Spartans to barely escape Piscataway alive in 2015. After that, a depleted 2-7 MSU squad annihilated a 2-7 Rutgers contingent by a score of 49-0 and last year the Spartans set an NCAA record for time of possession in a regulation contest. Yet ... this game will broadcast on FOX, while also streaming through FOX Sports GO for those (like me) outside the regional FOX affiliates carrying the telecast. There’s probably some Brooklyn Nets fans who may tune in to see Sarah Kustok as the sideline reporter, too. She is seemingly everywhere these days and you’d think would have better things to do than cover what for the outside world is a completely meaningless football game.

For those participating, there is plenty to play for. Both teams may be playing for the fate of their coaches. Michigan State is playing to prove they are way better than Rutgers like they did in 2016. Rutgers is playing for pride and the idea that this could be THE game for them in 2018. Of course both teams could come out flat as we have seen other times this season. The weather will be wet in East Lansing, cold, and pretty windy, exactly the recipe for anything to happen. For that reason, it’s definitely worth tuning in.

For the 7th time in the last 8 games (not Michigan of course) I had at least one Rutgers fan tell me the opponent was ripe for an upset. Every single time, he or she was probably right, but Rutgers simply could not avoid beating themselves. Michigan State can surely use the bowl practices to get additional reps for their underclassmen, but much like Rutgers, Maryland, and to some extent Ohio State in the Big Ten East, they are looking forward to closing the book on an emotional 2018.