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2021 Rutgers Football Game Preview #6 vs. Michigan State

The Scarlet Knights will host the Spartans at SHI Stadium on Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Illinois at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

No. 11 Michigan State (5-0; 2-0) at Rutgers (3-2; 0-2)

Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ (Game Day Policies)

Kick-off: Saturday, October 9 at 12:00 PM ET

Weather: 69 degrees, cloudy with a 24% chance of rain, 11 mph winds

TV: BTN with Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), James Laurinaitis (color), Rick Pizzo (sideline)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 14-50-AM, WOR 710-AM, XM 196, Sirius 132) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Mike Teel and Eric LeGrand (analyst) and Anthony Fucilli (sideline); WRSU 88.7 FM - Chris Tsanokas & Dennis Geissler

Current Spread: Michigan State -4.5

Series History: Michigan State leads series 8-4, Rutgers defeated Michigan State last season 38-27

Michigan State SB Nation Site: The Only Colors

Michigan State scouting report

Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Noah Vedral - 93-for-138, 66.7%, 914 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 267 yards on 71 carries, 3.7 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 24 catches for 253 yards, 10.5 ypc, 2 touchdowns

Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi - 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Max Melton - 2 interceptions

Michigan State

Passing: Payton Thorne - 82-for-130, 63.1%, 1,263 yards, 11 touchdowns, 1 interceptions

Rushing: Kenneth Walker III - 680 yards on 100 carries, 6.8 ypc, 8 touchdown

Receiving: Jayden Reed - 20 catches for 463 yards, 23.1 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Defense: Xavier Henderson - 45 tackles, Jacub Panasiuk - 4 sacks, Xavier Henderson, Chester Kimbrough, Ronald Williams, Angelo Grose - 1 interception

What To Watch For

When Rutgers has the ball

The offense has left much to be desired this season. In two Big Ten games this season, the Scarlet Knights have scored 26 total points and Noah Vedral has turned the ball over four times.

Last week against Ohio State, the wheels were taken off early. The Scarlet Knights are not built to play from behind and that handcuffs them a bit. There is pressure on the defense to get stops because the offense has struggled to score the ball. Isaih Pacheco is the team’s leading rusher through five games this season with 267 yards.

This was a unit that was expected to continue to improve this season after a jump in 2020. That has not been the case thus far. Michigan State is scoring at a high clip which means Rutgers needs to find a way to hit some big plays or sustain drives. They were unable to do either one against the Buckeyes last week.

To stay in this game, the Scarlet Knights will have to go back to taking care of the ball and putting drives together. Can that happen? It is yet to be seen.

When Michigan State has the ball

Michigan State had plenty of question marks heading into the season. Could Mel Tucker turn this thing around soon? Is Payton Thorne a capable starter? What would be the identity of this team?

So far, all questions are being answered.

Thorne has thrown for 1,236 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception. Pair that with a strong duo at wide receiver and a running back averaging 6.8 yards per carry, the Spartans have it working. Kenneth Walker III has been the workhorse of this team with 100 carries through five games. Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor are weapons on the outside for Michigan State.

This is a team that turned it over seven times against Rutgers this season. That very same Scarlet Knight defense has not been taking the ball away with the same effectiveness in recent weeks and that could be a problem. Michigan State knows how to put points on the board and that can continue against Rutgers.

Could Rutgers win this game?

At the beginning of the season, this was one of the popular games circled on the calendar as a victory. That is because the Scarlet Knights were able to get it done in East Lansing to begin the year. With that being said, Michigan State is a different team but that fire should still be there for Rutgers. If they can pull this game out, there is a clear path to six victories. Even without it, there is still a path but an 0-3 start in Big Ten play does not keep Rutgers trending in the right direction.

One thing to watch for is that Rutgers leads the Big Ten with 18 fourth down attempts. They’ve converted 8 which is only the 11th best rate in the conference. Opponents have converted 15 of 19 fourth down attempts against Michigan State this season, which is the worst in the Big Ten. Expect more risk taking and aggressive play calling in this game from the coaching staff. If they connect more times than not, it could propel them to victory.

Final thoughts

The line in this game is intriguing. The Spartans have looked like the clear superior team but are giving just 4.5 points on the road as the No. 11 team in the nation. There are some out there who believe in Rutgers in this game. At home for the second straight week, the Scarlet Knights should have something to prove after that debacle against Ohio State. This could be the statement game the team is looking for. Michigan State will not be easy and are still the better team on paper. However, this is why they play the game.