Michigan State Football vs. Rutgers Preview

As we get closer to kickoff Spartan Nation previews Michigan State vs. Rutgers and predicts the outcome.
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East Lansing, MI – In early February, Mark Dantonio's retirement forced MSU to create a search committee and look for a new head coach for the first time in 13-years. 

Eventually, Michigan State hired Mel Tucker away from Colorado to take over the program he began his career with as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban. 

MSU didn't have spring practices to install new schemes, and when preseason camp opened on August 7, they had four practices before the Big Ten postponed fall sports.

Once football was reinstated by the league and slated to begin on October 23-24, Michigan State returned to the practice field and wore pads for the first time on September 30.

Shortly after, the coaching staff saw their team go full-speed (wearing pads) in a scrimmage setting for the first time. 

Not to mention, Tucker's first game on the sideline will feature an empty Spartan Stadium without cheerleaders, the marching band, nor Sparty himself.

In spite of everything, here they are, set to kickoff at noon against Rutgers.

The Basics

Rutgers

The Numbers From Last Year

  • Overall Record: 2-10
  • Big Ten Record: 0-9

Last Five Games of 2019

  • 11/30 – Penn State, L 6-27
  • 11/23 – Michigan State, L 0-27
  • 11/16 – Ohio State, L 21-56
  • 11/2 – Illinois, L 10-38
  • 10/26 – Liberty, W 44-34

The Scarlet Knights are ushering in a new era of Rutgers football, albeit a familiar face, but new head coach Greg Schiano is back in New Jersey. 

From 2001-2011, Schiano compiled a record of 68-67, leading the Scarlet Knights to six bowl game appearances and five victories while appearing in the AP Top-25 three times (2006, 2007, 2009). 

In his final seven seasons, before leaving for the NFL, Schiano finished 56-33 and won multiple coach of the year awards, including the George Munger Award (2006).

Upon his arrival, he dealt with many of the same challenges Tucker and his staff did.

Scarlet Knights To Know

Sitkowski
  • QB Artur Sitkowski (6'5", 224, Junior): 44-for-68 (64.7%), 429 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions
  • QB Noah Vedral (6'1", 195, Senior, Transfer from Nebraska): 34-for-52 (65.4%), 418 passing yards
  • RB Isaih Pacheco (5'11", 210, Junior): 169 carries, 729 yards, seven touchdowns
  • LB Tyshon Fogg (6'1" 232, Senior): 96 tackles (37 solo, 59 assists), 1.5 sacks, one pass-deflection

Earlier this week, Rutgers released its week one depth chart, the most interesting part being an apparent quarterback competition.

Sitkowski played against Boston College and Michigan before Chris Ash was fired by the university and decided to redshirt. 

He entered the transfer portal on November 25 but withdrew his name one day after Rutgers hired Schiano. 

Vedral, a transfer from Nebraska, played in six contests and started two games for the Cornhuskers. 

Both have impressed their new head coach throughout camp. 

"There's a reason why it's Art and Noah as the 'or' because they've kind of established themselves as the top two," Schiano said during his weekly press conference. 

Much like Tucker, he wouldn't get into specifics.  

"My use of 'or' is for several reasons," said Schiano. "It could be injury; it could be competitive; it could be not certain. I won't go into in-depth what the 'ors' are. They are what they are. We'll find out at game time."

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 1.44.40 PM

Outside of quarterbacks, a large chunk of their rushing production from last season is back. 

Isaih Pacheco led the way with the most rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns coming out of the backfield. 

Four players with double-digit receptions in 2019 may help improve Rutgers passing attack, despite not naming a starting QB. 

Bo Melton led the team with 30 catches for 427 yards and two touchdowns. 

Whereas, Isaiah Washington ended the year with 18 receptions, 272 yards, and one score.

The Scarlet Knights return eight starters on defense, including an experienced core of linebackers featuring Tyshon Fogg and Olakunle Fatukasi. 

How the Spartans Match Up

Nailor

For Michigan State, it begins with a changing of the guard. 

A new head coach. 

A new culture, one many players have seemed to embrace. 

Senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons has been one of Tucker's biggest supporters, saying, "he's everything you want your coach to be."

After 13 seasons with Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have bought-in to a new style of thinking. 

Like most coaches, Tucker wants his team to be physically and mentally tough while being detail-oriented. 

But it's more than that; the team consistently praises its new coaching staff and loves the level of intensity Tucker brings. 

"It wasn't very hard to buy-in to this coaching staff. We all love all the coaches. There's not one coach that we don't get along with," said redshirt junior Noah Harvey. 

His style helped the Spartans quickly get ready for kickoff. 

"There was a little rust, but I mean that's shaken off now. Coach Tucker, he's an intense guy, and we got after it. We got after it pretty hard. So, that rust is gone; it's been gone for weeks," Harvey said. "We all feel like we're back into the swing of things. We're looking pretty good right now."

But what does it all mean? How will Michigan State perform against Rutgers?

With three returning starters, the Spartans are tasked with reshaping their defense. 

Five of the top-six players leading the team in tackles for a loss are gone. 

Antjuan Simmons and Xavier Henderson are the only players left from the squads' top-seven tacklers. 

Michigan State intercepted the ball 12 times last season; spread out amongst eight Spartans, only three are back in 2020. 

It could be tough sledding for MSU, but with Rutgers juggling multiple quarterbacks, they could be okay in the home opener. 

Offensively, Tucker didn't name a starting quarterback, nor did he release a depth chart. 

Rocky Lombardi completed 75-of-175 passes (42.9%) for 812 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions in two seasons. 

The on-field experience gives him an edge, but Theo Day and Payton Thorne are clearly nipping at his heels. 

Elijah Collins, the Spartan standout from 2019, rushed for 988 yards and five scores. 

He expects to do even more damage this season, but MSU will have to see how healthy and improved their offensive line is before any offensive production becomes a reality. 

Prediction

Lombardi

Neither Rutgers or Michigan State had the ability to move or score the ball last season. 

Total Offense

  • Michigan State: No. 95
  • Rutgers: No. 129

Scoring Offense

  • Michigan State: No. 105 (22.4 ppg)
  • Rutgers: No. 129 (13.3 ppg)

Passing Offense

  • Michigan State: No. 55 (244.8 ypg)
  • Rutgers: No. 121 (139.3 ypg) 

Rushing Offense

  • Michigan State: No. 113 (127.2 ypg)
  • Rutgers: No. 101 (133.8 ypg)

I'm expecting a low scoring game, and for that reason, the outcome may fall on the shoulders of both defenses. 

MSU 17 Rutgers 10