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MSU vs. Rutgers: Time to shift into higher gear

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Chris Laviano

Matt Charboneau breaks down Saturday's Michigan State-Rutgers game at High Point Solutions Stadium (8 p.m., BTN / WJR 760).

Scarlet Knights to watch

Chris Laviano, QB: The sophomore took over as the starter in Game 2, and has completed 72 percent of his passes (72-for-100), which leads the Big Ten, and is second in passing efficiency (148.5). He played in the second half in the opener and completed four passes, three for TDs to Leonte Carroo. He finished his first start against Washington State with 204 yards and a TD and was 27-for-42 for 251 yards in his first road start at Penn State. He threw two TDs in the win over Kansas and completed passes to nine receivers.

Josh Hicks, RB: The sophomore is sixth in the Big Ten in rushing (92.8 yards) and has gone over the 100-yard mark in two of the four games. He opened the season with a 118-yard performance against Norfolk State.

Steve Longa, LB: Now a junior, the former freshman All-American leads the team with 39 tackles while adding a half-tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He is the school’s active leader with 264 tackles and is fifth in the Big Ten with a 9.8 average. Longa has had 10 or more tackles in a game twice this season.

Intangibles

Time to shine: Michigan State says a win is a win, but after dropping in the polls from No. 2 to No. 4 following a near-miss against Purdue, it will be looking to put together a more dominant performance. The Scarlet Knights have struggled defensively and could be the perfect team for a Spartans offense that desperately needs to explode.

Looking ahead: It will be hard to completely put out of its minds, but Michigan State is playing a team tied for last in the Big Ten West while next week’s showdown against Michigan looms. Michigan State has done a decent job of taking each week as it comes, but there’s little doubt thoughts of its biggest rival could be creeping in at some point.

Thinking payback: It might be hard to think about revenge when you program has been struggling on the field while dealing with all sorts of off-field turmoil this season. But Rutgers was embarrassed last year, 45-3, and will be looking to make amends. The Scarlet Knights have a history, too, beating the Spartans in their last trip to Piscataway, 19-14, in 2004.

Coming home: It will be a big day for Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun, who hails from nearby Middletown, N.J. It will be the only time the fifth-year senior will have a chance to play near his hometown during his Michigan State career. The area has also become a fertile recruiting ground for the Spartans and it’s their first chance to play in the area in more than 10 years.

Road dance: Michigan State has played at home four straight weeks and heads to the road for the first time since the season-opener at Western Michigan. With plenty of scrutiny over their performance the last couple weeks, it could do the Spartans good to get away and eliminate any outside distractions.

Facts and figures

*Michigan State enters Saturday’s game having won nine straight, dating to last season. It is the second-longest winning streak under coach Mark Dantonio (11, 2013-14). The nine-game streak is the fourth-longest active streak in the FBS (Ohio State 18, TCU 13, and Memphis 12).

*The Spartans are 23-9 in Big Ten road games in Mark Dantonio’s tenure, including a school-record 10-game winning streak and a 17-3 mark since 2010. Dantonio has won at least one road game at every Big Ten stadium except Rutgers.

*Fifth-year senior QB Connor Cook became the winningest quarterback in Michigan State history last week with No. 28, which ties for most of any active starting quarterback in the FBS. With three more TDs, Cook will become the third Spartans quarterback to throw for 60 TDs.

*Freshman RB LJ Scott ran for a career-high 146 yards in last week’s victory over Purdue, the most by a Michigan State freshman since Javon Ringer had 194 against Illinois on Sept. 24, 2005. Scott leads the Spartans in rushing with 376 yards on 61 carries, while his four TDs is tied for most on the team.

*Rutgers has two victories over top-10 teams — No. 3 Louisville in 2006 and No. 2 South Florida in 2007. Both victories came at home for Rutgers, which last beat a Top 25 team in 2009 when it knocked off No. 23 South Florida.