Chris Solari Detroit Free Press
Published 2:21 PM EST Nov 22, 2018
Looking ahead to the Michigan State football’s regular-season finale Saturday against Rutgers.
Matchup: Michigan State (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (1-10, 0-8)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.
TV/radio: Fox, WJR-AM (760).
Line: MSU by 27.
Out: RB LJ Scott (ankle, season), WR Felton Davis III (torn left Achilles, season), P Jake Hartbarger (right leg, season); P Tyler Hunt (torn ACL, season), CB Tyson Smith (illness, season). Questionable: LG David Beedle (left arm); OG/OT Luke Campbell (undisclosed), QB Brian Lewerke (right shoulder), FB Collin Lucas (uncisclosed), WR Jalen Nailor (undisclosed), WR C.J. Hayes (undisclosed), CB Josh Butler (undisclosed), CB Tre Person (undisclosed), DE Dillon Alexander (right foot), DT Mufi Hill-Hunt (knee), TE Noah Davis (undisclosed), OL James Ohonba (undisclosed). Probable: C Matt Allen (left foot), WR Darrell Stewart Jr. (undisclosed), WR Laress Nelson (leg).
Out: DB Blessuan Austin (knee, season), DL Tijuan Mason (leg).
When MSU has the ball
The Spartans’ offense has been their biggest albatross all season, especially since QB Brian Lewerke injured his shoulder at Penn State. It remains unclear if he will start this week or if Mark Dantonio will go back to Rocky Lombardi, who went 15 of 41 for 146 yards with an interception and a fumble in last week’s 9-6 loss at Nebraska. The Spartans’ ground game did find some traction on a sloppy, cold, windy day with 143 yards on 38 attempts. Still, MSU is on pace for its worst offensive season under Dantonio. The Spartans are ranked 120th out of 129 FBS teams in scoring (20.3 points), 113th in total offense (346.0 yards), 117th in rushing (120.6) and 124th in third-down conversions (31.9 percent). Rutgers is improved defensively, but that is partly because of how bad they have been in recent years. The Scarlet Knights are the 117th-ranked defense against the run (221.9 yards), 102nd in points allowed (33.0 per game), 119th in sacks (1.27 per game) and 125th in third-down conversions allowed (49.1 percent). They are stopping the pass however, at 24th (187.9 yards) to rank 77th in total defense (409.8 yards). Linebacker Trevor Morris is tied for second in tackles in the Big Ten with 101.
More: Michigan State football’s Connor Heyward: Don’t blame Dave Warner
More: Mark Dantonio: Michigan State football still can have successful season
More: Inside the Spartans: Dantonio has tough decisions ahead about offense
When Rutgers has the ball
As good as MSU’s run defense has been all season, the Spartans now rank 19th in total defense (320.1 yards) thanks to a secondary that has given up 187.3 yards in the past six games. MSU is up to 83rd nationally against the pass (241.2 yards) after allowing 305.2 yards through the air in their first five games and were at one point 122nd nationally in pass defense. Teams continue to struggle to run against the Spartans, who remain No. 1 in rushing defense (78.9 yards), and their 18.7 points allowed per game ranks 17th nationally. The Scarlet Knights possess one of the worst offenses in the nation. They rank 128th in scoring (13.8 points), 127th in total offense (270.7 yards), 125th in passing (134.3 yards) and 102nd in rushing (136.5 yards). Rutgers converts just 32.7 percent of its third downs to rank 120th and is scoring on just 73.1 percent of its red-zone trips, which is 128th out of 129 teams in the nation. The Scarlet Knights have averaged just 11.25 points against Big Ten opponents, including Saturday’s 20-7 loss to Penn State.
Know the foe
The Scarlet Knights’ QB decision, like MSU, remains a game-time decision. Senior Giovanni Rescigno (Warren De La Salle) took over for freshman Artur Sitkowski in last week’s 20-7 loss to Penn State, and neither was effective — the two quarterbacks combined to go 5 of 15 for 46 yards with two interceptions and four sacks. Sitkowski has received the bulk of the reps, completing just 49.1 percent of his 134 passes for 1,158 yards in his 11 games. He has just four TD passes to 18 interceptions. In his six appearances, Rescigno is 26 of 57 for 261 yards and two picks with no touchdowns.
More: Michigan State football, Rutgers face similar QB issues in season finale
More: Mark Dantonio still not committing to Lewerke or Lombardi at QB
Rutgers gave coach Chris Ash a two-year contract extension Monday, just hours after reporters grilled him about his job security and if he would return next season. Ash is just 7-27 overall in his third season, and the Scarlet Knights are on the verge of their worst season since 2002. They have not won a Big Ten game since beating Maryland on Nov. 4, 2017, an 11-game conference losing streak. Rutgers’ 10-game losing streak this season is the program’s longest since dropping 11 in a row between the 1998 and ’99 seasons, and the Scarlet Knights are just 10-35 in Big Ten games since joining the league in 2014.
Rutgers does have two running backs who have been productive this season. Sophomore Raheem Blackshear leads the Scarlet Knights at 52.7 yards rushing on 133 carries with three touchdowns, and he is a threat in the pass game out of the backfield with a team-high 41 catches for 338 yards and two more TDs. Freshman Isaih Pacheco averages 46.6 yards per game on his 102 carries with three scores.
MSU won the regular-season finale last year at Rutgers, 40-7, which at the time was a season high in points for the Spartans. Their last defensive shutout came two years ago at home against Rutgers, a 49-0 blowout during MSU’s bowl-less 3-9 season. The Spartans have not lost to the Scarlet Knights in their four Big Ten meetings, winning those games 165-34 combined, and hold a 6-3 all-time series lead.
The Spartans will honor 17 players before the Rutgers game, including two juniors (LS Collin Caflisch and OL Noah Listermann). The 16 seniors who will be recognized include DE Dillon Alexander, OG David Beedle, LB Byron Bullough, WR Felton Davis III, LB Andrew Dowell, TE Chase Gianacakos, FB Ben Line, FB Collin Lucas, QB Micky Macius, LB Grayson Miller, S Matt Morrissey, DT Gerald Owens, LB Jon Reschke, TE Matt Sokol and S Khari Willis. Also taking part in the ceremony will be former CB Tyson Smith, who has remained with the program as a student assistant after being forced to sit out this season due to medical issues. Three other senior Spartans — RB LJ Scott, WR Brandon Sowards and P Jake Hartbarger — will not take part in the ceremony and are expected to return next season.
MSU 23, Rutgers 3
The team that wins the battle of weaknesses — MSU’s struggling offense against Rutgers’ porous defense — gets the feel-good, end-of-season victory Saturday. Expect the Spartans to pound the ball on the ground to continue to build consistency with their offensive line and running backs. And expect MSU’s defense to fight for a shutout to exorcise some of their frustrations about what could have been this season.
Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices.
- Kansas Jayhawks football vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Prediction, kickoff time, TV
- Michigan State football vs. Arizona State: Live blog
- Michigan State football vs. ASU live game blog, 10:45 p.m.!
- Michigan State football vs. Arizona State: Time, game info
- K-State Wildcats football vs West Virginia Mountaineers: Prediction, kickoff time, TV
- K-State Wildcats football vs. TCU Horned Frogs: Prediction, kickoff time, TV
- KU Jayhawks football vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Kickoff time, TV, 5 things to know
- Kansas Jayhawks football vs. TCU Horned Frogs: Prediction, kickoff time, TV
- Kansas Jayhawks football vs. West Virginia Mountaineers: Prediction, kickoff time, TV
- NFL Supplemental Draft 2018: Scouting reports, predictions for eligible players