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Rutgers Football Game #1 Preview at Michigan State

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Find out how these teams match up and what to watch for in the season opener.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers at Michigan State

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI

Kick-off: Saturday, October 24 at 12:00 PM ET

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

TV: BTN with Lisa Byington (play-by-play), Matt Millen (color), and Elise Menaker (sideline)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 14-50-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, XM 387) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Eric LeGrand, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli (sideline).

Current Spread: Michigan State -11

Series History: Michigan State leads 8-3; last season Michigan State shutout Rutgers 27-0.

SB Nation Michigan State site: The Only Colors

Returning Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Johnny Langan - 80-for-159, 50.3%, 840 yards, 4 touchdowns, 9 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 729 yards on 169 carries, 4.3 ypc, 7 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 30 catches for 427 yards, 14.3 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Defense: Tyshon Fogg - 102 tackles, Elorm Lumor and Rashawn Battle - 3 sacks

Michigan State

Passing: Rocky Lombardi - 7-for-21. 33.3%, 74 yards

Rushing: Elijah Collins - 988 yards on 222 carries, 4.4 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Receiving: Tre Mosley - 216 yards on 21 catches, 10.3 ypc, 1 touchdown

Defense: Antjuan Simmons - 90 tackles, Jacub Panasiuk - 5 sacks

What to watch for

When Rutgers has the ball

Langan and Artur Sitkowski are the two returning quarterbacks who took a snap in 2019. Langan led the way starting the final eight games of the season. Entering the 2020 season opener, it is Sitkowski and grad-transfer Noah Vedral who were listed on the two-deep. Offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson is going to have this offense moving quickly and that fits right into the play of Vedral, but it is becoming pretty clear that we will see multiple quarterbacks this season.

The good news for Rutgers is that they are returning some key play makers in Pacheco and Melton. Pacheco is a back that can carry the load on the ground but also can be used in the passing game. Greg Schiano did not hold back when talking about his running back.

“I love the way he runs,” Schiano said in a Thursday news conference. “He runs angry. He runs with an attitude. At this stage in my career, whenever I watch a college team, players remind me of someone. Isaih is unique but I like the way he runs. He’s going to be an important part of our offense for sure.”

This is an offense that finished dead last in the Big Ten last season with 13.3 points per game. The good news in this game is that the Spartans are not going to run away offensively. Their defense also lost a lot of firepower from 2019.

Michigan State lost five of their top seven tacklers from a season ago. Simmons and Xavier Henderson are the two returning players. They are returning just three players who finished with an interception last season in Henderson, Shakur Brown, and Drew Beesley. To make matters worse, linebackers Luke Fulton and and Charles Willekes have been suspended from the team indefinitely.

This is not to say that Rutgers is going to come out and light up the scoreboard but they should be able to hang around in this game. Under Schiano, the team should be more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Also, Pacheco should be even better than last season with Schiano and Gleeson taking over.

When Michigan State has the ball

Mel Tucker has kept his decision on the starting quarterback very close to the vest. With the loss of Brian Lewerke, the Spartans will have to find another starter under center. Lombardi is the leading passer of the returning quarterbacks but Tucker has mentioned other options. He has mentioned all four quarterbacks when discussing the position. Lombardi, along with true freshman Noah Kim, sophomore Theo Day, and junior Payton Thorne have been battling since the start of camp.

“As this week unfolds and the game plan is installed, we’ll make a decision,” Tucker said Tuesday on a video call. “And then we’ll go play. … We’re gonna play who gives us the best chance to win. And so we’ll just have to see how this week unfolds. The guys that we have are very capable, so we’re very fortunate to have multiple quarterbacks that we feel like can get the job done.”

Whoever is under center will have plenty of help in the backfield. the Spartans return their top two rushers in Collins and Anthony Williams Jr. They do not have the same fortune at wide receiver.

Michigan State lost its top three pass catchers from a season ago in Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr., and Matt Seybert. They return Mosley along with tight end Matt Dotson. On paper, there is nothing, outside of Collins, that jumps out about this Michigan State offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers is returning some playmakers on defense. It begins on the edge with the return of Lumor and Mike Tverdov on the edge. The Scarlet Knights bring back five of their top six tacklers along with seven of their top eight leaders in tackles for loss. The defensive front will have to impact this game and stop the run if they want any chance at being 1-0.

Could Rutgers win this game?

The beauty of the first game is that every team has the same record. There is hope surrounding each program and fans have already begun talking themselves into believing. In New Brunswick, there should be hope heading into this game. Yes, the Scarlet Knights are big underdogs but that will be the case all season. Despite this game being on the road, Rutgers has a chance to pull off an upset. Michigan State went through a massive overhaul at head coach, quarterback, and skill positions. If there is any team in the Big Ten that might be a bigger question mark than Rutgers, it is Michigan State.

Final thoughts

“We have a game here and our countdown clock going. It’s coming. I keep telling the team, whether you are ready or not, we kick the ball off at noon (on Saturday). We need to be ready. They are doing a really good job and worked really hard in their preparation. As we get into game week now, this is it. This is why you coach. This is why you play. I think there is an excitement level. You could tell the excitement level when we got back to work took a big jump. You can tell today the excitement level in the building is at a different level.”

If these words from Schiano do not get you ready for this game then you might as well not watch. The final thoughts heading into this game are that Rutgers is a massive work in progress. We all know that. Schiano first took the job in 2000 and it took five years to produce a winning season. By 2006, he had the Scarlet Knights as high as No. 12 in the country. Yes, that was in a much weaker Big East Conference but who is to say that he cannot build a winner in the Big Ten.

It’s just not going to happen this season. And that’s okay. What we want to see from Rutgers is a change in culture and a change in attitude. If Rutgers plays aggressive and competes in games, that is the most important thing. Plus, coming off a 3-21 record over the last two years, if the Scarlet Knights can win two or three games, it’s a massive improvement.

It is hard to imagine Rutgers going on the road and beating anyone right now but nothing is impossible. There is hope. When I said Rutgers has a chance to win this game, I meant it. If nothing else, the number is high so take Rutgers getting the points and hope for a close game.