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Rutgers Football Game #11 Preview v Michigan State

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Spartans limp into Piscataway hoping RU is the cure for their ills.

Rutgers v Michigan State
Last year this TD was the difference, can RU do more this time?
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Michigan State (4-6; 2-5) At Rutgers (2-8; 0-7)

Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Kick-off: Saturday, November 23 at 12:03 p.m. EST

Weather: 42 degrees, partly cloudy with a 1% chance of rain, 6 mph winds

TV: FS1 with John Strong (play-by-play) and Evan Moore (analyst)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Eric LeGrand, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - Rutgers IMG Sports Network: WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 119, XM 203. (WRSU 88.7-FM)

Current Spread: Michigan State -20.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 3-7; Michigan State 2-8

Series History: Michigan State leads 7-3; last season MSU squeaked out a 14-10 victory.

SB Nation Michigan State site: The Only Colors

Michigan State Statistical Leaders

Passing: Brian Lewerke - 183 for 328 pass attempts, 55.8%, 2178 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT; Rocky Lombardi - 7 for 21 pass attempts, 33.3%, 74 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT;

Rushing: Elijah Collins - 742 yards on 155 attempts, 4.8 ypc, 5 TD; Brian Lewerke - 277 yards on 85 attempts, 3.3 ypc, 1 TD; Anthony Williams Jr. - 76 yards on 26 attempts, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD;

Receiving: Darrell Stewart Jr. - 47 catches for 694 yards, 14.8 ypc, 4 TD; Cody White - 43 catches for 605 yards, 14.1 ypc, 2 TD; Matt Seybert - 22 catches for 254 yards, 11.5 ypc, 3 TD; Matt Dotson - 16 catches for 151 yards, 9.4 ypc, 1 TD;

Defense: Joe Bachie - 72 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PD; Antjuan Simmons - 72 tackles, 14 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PD; Xavier Henderson - 64 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD

Kicking: Matt Coghlin - 24 for 24 PAT’s, 14 for 21 FG attempts, Long of 47 yards

Michigan State Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

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

What To Watch For

Senior watch

Many successful coaches at the high school and college level, particularly in football, will say that for their team to achieve its goals, the seniors need to play their best. Particularly down the stretch as the younger players and fan base may be wearing down, the seniors need to be playing like there is no tomorrow. The Rutgers offensive line has the highest concentration of seniors that will be honored in their final home game Saturday and they will have their hands full.

This group for Rutgers faces debatably the second best front they will have seen all year. Senior Captain Left Guard Zach Venesky, Senior Right Tackle Kamaal Seymour (multi-year starter), and rotational senior guard/tackle Manny Taylor face a Michigan State team that boasts seven different players with at least five tackles for loss. A subpar performance will lead to green helmets in the backfield all day. For this reason I eliminated the Pacheco watch because no matter how tough Isaih has been this year he can only do so much with nowhere to run. The other backs are in a similar situation.

McLane Carter. Art Sitkowski. John McNulty. Nunzio Campanile / Johnny Langan watch

Interim Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Nunzio Campanile will do his best to keep the ball on the ground and then build off of that with an opportunistic passing game plan. Having had a bye week to prepare, this worked against Ohio State relatively speaking. Heading into the game last week, many of us expected another one of those sub 50 yard passing performances, but Johnny Langan delivered 121 yards against the 2nd ranked team in the country. This just goes to show how embarrassing it is to throw for less than 100 against anybody, nevermind 50.

Specifically, I was pleased with how the Scarlet Knights sold their fakes in play action, not just the QB and RB, but the linemen and receivers also. From what I understand, research shows that selling the fake is even more important than how effective your running game is when running play action or in the modern day run pass options (RPOs). Michigan State has a solid defense, but they still give up 25+ points per game.

For Rutgers to make this a close game and put themselves in position where a few lucky bounces could shock the visitors, we need more in the passing game. Bo Melton finally was featured for the first time in weeks and made the most of his opportunities because he can win one on one battles. Can Rutgers use Bo to draw an extra safety to his side and then find someone like Isaiah Washington or Matt Alaimo in the vacated space? Last year Michigan State was vulnerable to RU Tight Ends, victimized down the seam for the RU TD in the 2018 contest, can we see that again? If Rutgers can provide any sort of time for Langan, maybe.

Chris Ash, Head Coach. Andy Buh, D.C. Greg Schiano, Head Coach

Michigan State’s 2019 offense (23 TD, 5.0 yards per play) would be the worst in the Big Ten most years. This year though Rutgers (18 TD, 4.5 ypp) and Northwestern (17 TD, 4.1 ypp) have been so bad, MSU is out of the basement in most statistical categories on that side of the football. They are even above Illinois in total offense per game, though they did lose to the Illini, 37-34. As uneven as the Spartans have been, they also have 30+ scoring outputs in B1G wins over Northwestern and Indiana.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke showed a lot of promise early in his career, but his 2018 struggles continued this year. If his backup was better than Rocky Lombardi (33.3% completions), we may have seen a change earlier this year. Lewerke is completing just under 56% of his passes from a combination of lackluster offensive line play, inconsistent play from his receivers, and injuries all over the rest of the offense. Leading Receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. is listed as out with a leg injury, Matt Dotson who remains 4th on the team in catches is out for the year with an Achilles’ injury, and backup running back Connor Heyward is also listed as out.

Expect the Spartans to lean on running back Elijah Collins who has about 60% of the team’s rushing total for the entire year, a crazy stat this day in age. They will try to pound the rock, control the clock, and do just enough to keep the chains moving like they did in their last visit to the banks in 2017 when MSU set a modern day record for time of possession with 47 minutes and 50 seconds. Senior Defensive Lineman Willington Previlon has been a bright spot for Rutgers this year and needs to play his best game.

Special Teams

The Rutgers special teamers have one senior starter, holder Cole Murphy. The rest of the specialists all have a year left, though we could see several other seniors on coverage units and field goal protection like Kobe Marfo, Jim Onulak, Aslan Pugh, and Prince Taylor. Can they show up fired up or the younger players bring the wood in support of their elders?

Statistically, Michigan State’s kickoff unit is just 10th in the B1G, but Rutgers dropped from near the conference best last year to the worst this year. Both teams are the middle of the pack in field goal percentage (edge RU), top five in net punting (edge RU). Neither team has missed an extra point (jinx!). So as per usual, Rutgers if they really want an upset need to widen the gap with their opponent in all facets of special teams.

Could Rutgers possibly win this game?

Yes, but they are still three touchdown underdogs. Michigan State could blow out Rutgers, I don’t see any scenario Rutgers could blow out Michigan State. In a close game, it’s edge Michigan State, because how many close games have these RU players ever even been in? One of those was last year against a demoralized MSU squad that had already clinched bowl eligibility and in the end they broke through to beat RU at home with a late score and defensive stand.

Final Thoughts

Michigan State needs to beat Rutgers and Maryland the next two weeks to lock up bowl eligibility. Will that save their head coach Mark Dantonio? Probably not. So you have to wonder, if MSU will mail it in on the heels of their five game losing streak OR will they smell blood, come in and just obliterate the Scarlet Knights?

“Right now Rutgers is just not a good football team,” that’s what I said last week. It’s still true, but the heart and grit last week was as strong collectively as any time in the post-Schiano era even when being physically overmatched by OSU. This IS the type of game that can help turn around a program. No one will remember Michigan State backed into this game, just that MSU has beat RU five straight and is a perennial bowl program and RU was the team that ended their streak if they can just come in and defy the odds. And it doesn’t matter what anyone outside the Rutgers program / recruits think anyway, who will be looking at this through Scarlet colored glasses. This game is just another game for the MSU program in many ways, but will be the one RU seniors will talk about forever if they overcome a three touchdown point spread.

Damon Hayes, I feel for you. Opponents have barely thrown the ball in his direction this year knowing they could do more elsewhere. Damon has been a starter basically all four years since slot corner is really a starter nowadays, and will go down as one of the most under-appreciated players in recent memory. Maybe he can end on a high note. The Rutgers season WILL be defined by this game IF they win. If they don’t it will just be another loss to extend the conference losing streak.

I don’t think Rutgers will win this game due to Michigan State’s superior talent and coaching, but have seen many times where a loose, energized football team shocked a better one.