No. 7 Michigan State took care of business and remains in control of its destiny after a 40-21 win over Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
It was a complete performance for the Spartans, who flashed that explosive offense once again and showed improvement on the defensive side of the football.
With the win, Michigan State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) is set for a massive showdown with No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0) next week in Columbus, Ohio. But first, let's take a look at the good and the bad from today's performance.
1. Payton Thorne was on the money
The Spartan quarterback had his "A-game" going on Saturday against the Terrapins. Thorne threw for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns on 22-of-30 passing, and spread the ball around to 9 different receivers. The redshirt sophomore was in complete control in this one, dicing up Maryland's secondary any way he pleased. Thorne did throw an interception, but that was on a Hail Mary heave to end the first half, and it didn't end up costing the Spartans in any way. Excellent performance today by the Spartan signal-caller.
2. Kenneth Walker grinds out a good day
It was tough-sledding for Walker in the first half, as he was limited to just 2.8 yards per carry. The junior found more room to run in the second frame however, finishing with 148 yards on a career-high 30 carries and 2 touchdowns. Maryland, as you would expect, dedicated a lot of defenders to slowing Walker, and that opened up a lot of opportunities for Thorne and the passing attack. So although he didn't put up the gaudy numbers we've seen from him at times this season, Walker definitely impacted this game in a major way.
3. Spartans get off the field on third down
This was a huge point of emphasis for Mel Tucker this week. Michigan State's defense has struggled to get off the field in third down situations all season. But on Saturday, MSU defensive coordinator Scottie Hazleton dialed up more blitzes on third down and it worked. The Terrapins converted on just 3-of-13 attempts on third down today, which is a major improvement for Michigan State's defense. In addition, Maryland was just 2-of-5 on fourth down conversion attempts as well. This wasn't a flawless performance by any means, but this was a step in the right direction.
1. Too many explosive plays allowed
Michigan State's defense looked better this week. But the Spartans still allowed too many explosive plays today. Maryland's second touchdown drive was four plays, 80 yards and just 46 seconds long. The third Terrapin touchdown came on a 3-play, 64-yard drive that lasted 1:04. Michigan State allowed 7 explosives (plays of 20 yards or more) in total to Maryland. Those are concerning with the high-powered Ohio State offense up next for the Spartan defense.
2. Too many penalties, again
Another area of concern for Michigan State has been penalties. The Spartans entered this game as the most penalized team in the Big Ten, and they added 8 penalties for 79 yards to their tally today. Of the two teams on the field, Michigan State was actually the more disciplined of the two, with Maryland commiting 13 penalties for 93 yards. However, the Spartans will want to continue to clean up the miscues.
3. Too many pass yards allowed...but understandable
I'm not going to spend too much time on this, because sometimes stats can lie. Michigan State surrendered 350 yards through the air today, but a lot of that is due to the game situation. The Spartans were in control throughout the day, and led by two scores for the majority of the game. When that happens, opponents are forced to throw the ball a lot. Yes, Michigan State gave up a lot of yards, but most of these could be labeled as "meaningless yards". The Spartans stiffened up in the red zone against today, and only surrendered 21 points. That's a good effort by this defense.