Last week, Michigan was able to hold a vaunted Minnesota offense to only 24 points on the road, and there were several standout performances, such as Kwity Paye's two-sack effort or Michael Barrett's knack for the big play.
Now, the Wolverines turn their attention to Michigan State, a team that was only able to muster 27 points against Rutgers in Week 1. While it may seem as if U-M has a decided advantage in this particular matchup, rivalry games can never be taken lightly, so Wolverine Digest caught up with Spartan Nation's Mclain Moberg to get the skinny on MSU ahead of this Saturday's contest.
Q: How did Michigan State QB Rocky Lombardi look in his Week 1 start against Rutgers?
A: Rocky Lombardi came into the Rutgers game with a 2-1 record as a starter filling in for former Spartan Brian Lewerke when he was injured during the 2018 season. His performance in week one was a mixed bag filled with ups and downs, but overall he managed to keep the offense moving and complete 72% of his passes with a non-existent run game and insufficient protection from the offensive line. Lombardi finished with 319 passing yards, three touchdowns, two picks, and two fumbles (one lost). It was a decent debut, but when the offense turns the ball over seven times while averaging 1.3 yards per carry, no one looks good.
Of course, there are things he needs to work on. He and Jalen Nailor failed to communicate early on in the game resulting in a bad interception, and by not feeling pressure from his blindside, he fumbled near the goal line. However, he did some good things throwing the football and looks to be the leader Michigan State needs moving forward.
Q: Does MSU have a more potent rushing or passing attack with Elijah Collins returning? Who are the standout players at each spot?
A: It might not have seemed like it, but Michigan State had some bright spots offensively, including wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Despite exhibiting ball security issues, both showed the ability to be playmakers within the offense. The Spartans offensive line doesn’t seem ready to compete within the Big Ten East, and the rushing attack was dreadful.
Michigan State failed to run the ball effectively, outside of a few impressive runs from freshman RB Jordon Simmons. Connor Heyward started over Elijah Collins, the near 1,000-yard rusher from last year, but neither looks like they are ready to carry the load in the backfield. Right now, if the Spartans are going to be successful on offense, it will be through the air.
Q: Is the MSU offensive line filled with returning starters? How'd the Spartans do up front last week?
A: It's no secret the offensive line has plagued the Spartans for a few years, and after watching the Rutgers game, not much has changed. However, eleven different players had in-game experience, so some familiar faces are still here, consisting of C Matt Allen, LT A.J. Arcuri, LG Blake Bueter, RG Matt Carrick, and RT Kevin Jarvis. Yet, they didn't look good as the Scarlet Knights consistently got in the backfield finishing with three sacks, two quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for a loss. The lack of push was evident all day, but none more so than when people saw Michigan State carry the ball 39 times for 50 yards and no touchdowns while averaging 1.3 yards per carry. It didn't help that LT Devontae Dobbs and RT Mustafaa Khaleefah weren't active for Saturday's matchup, especially because the Spartans already lack depth at the position with Jordan Reid and Justin Stevens opting out.
Still, MSU needs to find answers to these glaring issues before kicking off against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Q: MSU was a bit more productive on offense in the second half. Did the Spartans figure something out that worked well then?
A: I think offensively, the Rutgers game is an anomaly because of the seven turnovers, something Michigan State hadn't done since 1981. It's true; the Spartans gained a lot of momentum in the second half; at one point after MSU forced back-to-back fumbles and came within eight points of the lead, it felt like a game again. But aggressive and conservative play-calling by Mel Tucker and his new coaching staff didn't do Michigan State any favors. Tucker often says he wants MSU to run the ball on their terms, yet, with the state of the o-line, it doesn't seem possible, which is why I disagreed with going for it on fourth-and-3 in the third quarter rather than attempting to kick a 38-yard field goal. If kicker Matt Coghlin makes it, the score reads 28-23, with 5:16 left in the third. Instead, MSU failed to convert, and Rutgers remained in control.
How do you see the Michigan-MSU game playing out? Will the Wolverines hold Michigan State under 20 points? Let us know!