Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the UM-Penn State and MSU-Maryland games. The Detroit News, The Detroit News
Michigan State at Maryland
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Capital One Field, College Park, Md.
TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 5-3, 3-2 Big Ten; Maryland 5-3, 3-2
Line: Michigan State by 2.5
View from the other side
Emily Giambalvo covers Maryland athletics for the Washington Post. She breaks down the Terrapins for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Maryland game at Maryland Stadium. You can follow her on Twitter @EmilyGiam.
►Question: It’s been a tumultuous week at Maryland. How will everything happening off the field affect the Terrapins on the field?
►Giambalvo: It’s hard to imagine a more chaotic week for a football program in the middle of the season. Players found out just before practice on Tuesday that DJ Durkin would be returning as the head coach, and then they found out Wednesday after practice he had been fired. I’d imagine there could be a certain degree of emotional exhaustion for the team. There was a group of players who became outspoken about their displeasure with Durkin’s return. Maryland essentially has every reason to go into this game completely worn out before it even starts. But it also reminds me a little bit of the Texas game, when Maryland upset the Longhorns when a lot of the controversy had just begun. In that game, the players seemed to rally behind Jordan McNair, the player who died, and pulled out a big win in difficult circumstances. There’s a chance Saturday could be similar.
►Question: What has made Maryland’s rushing attack so effective?
►Giambalvo: Maryland has lots of strong running backs, and that, to me, is one of the keys to an effective run game. Look at last week when Javon Leake scored four times. He was probably the fifth-string back at the start of the season, so that gives you a sense of what the depth is like in that room. Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland are both explosive running backs who can break free for long runs. They each have more than 60 carries this year and are averaging more than 7 yards per run. The other piece of the rushing attack is how it fits into Matt Canada’s offense. He loves the jet sweep, so that gets receivers and tight ends involved, and then he shares carries among players to the extreme. Sixteen players have taken a carry this season, and eight players have at least 10 carries through eight games. That makes Maryland’s run game tricky to defend.
►Question: The Terps opened the season with two straight wins but since then, consistency has been missing. What has been the key?
►Giambalvo: I don’t think it’s necessarily that Maryland has had a hard time stringing together wins. I think it’s more how the schedule happened to work out, so Maryland has faced a good defense every other week for most of the season. Michigan, Iowa and Temple all rank in the top 25 nationally in total defense, and those are the games where the offense has struggled immensely. The defense has been fine through the season, but the offense is very hit-or-miss, where it either works or it doesn’t. Maryland’s offense only seems to be effective when the run game works, which makes me think Michigan State could be able to shut down Maryland’s offense entirely.
►Question: Maryland has 14 interceptions this season, tied for the most in the nation. How eager is the defense to face a QB likely making his second career start?
►Giambalvo: The defense has taken great strides since last year, and that’s definitely been a big reason Maryland has five wins so far this year. This defense has been very opportunistic, and the team leads the Big Ten in turnover margin. The Terps picked off five passes in the Rutgers game, which shows what they can do against an iffy quarterback. But Rocky Lombardi seemed to play quite well last weekend, and I don’t think he’ll need to worry about crowd noise throwing off his rhythm in what is usually a very quiet stadium.
►Question: How important has Matt Canada been specifically to the offense and the program as a whole?
►Giambalvo: He probably deserves a lot of the credit for holding this team together up until this point. The Post reported that a parent of a current player said “things were better with (Durkin) gone,” and players appreciated Canada’s efficient approach to running the team. Canada has been extremely professional since his interim tag essentially made him the spokesperson for the team. As far as Maryland’s offense, you can already see how Canada made his mark on it. He uses lots of motion and shifts, which throw off defenses, and the jet sweep has been fairly effective. Last week against Illinois, Maryland scored 63 points, the most the team has ever scored in a conference matchup, and the offense recorded 712 yards, which is the most for a Canada-led offense in his 13 seasons as a coordinator. It seems fair to say his offense is working at Maryland, and I do think he was a key reason this season didn’t go off the rails after the university placed Durkin on leave.
Players to watch
►Ty Johnson, RB: The senior has run for 468 yards this season, moving him to fourth all-time at Maryland with 2,597 yards. He’s run for more than 100 yards twice this season and is averaging 7.7 yards a carry while averaging 7.6 for his career. Johnson is also a weapon on special teams and stands third all-time in career all-purpose yards for the Terrapins. He had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a loss at Michigan, the first of two kicks returned for touchdown this season by the Terps.
►Anthony McFarland, RB: The redshirt freshman recorded back-to-back 100-yard rushing games early in the season against Temple and Minnesota. McFarland leads the Terrapins’ deep rushing attack with 497 yards on 67 carries with a pair of touchdowns. He also has six catches for 71 yards. Along with Johnson, Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake, the Terps have had four backs gain 100 yards in a game this season, one of just five FBS teams to accomplish the feat with four different players.
►Tre Watson, LB: The senior is first in the Big Ten in tackles per game with 9.75 while also leading the conference in total tackles with 78. He’s added three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and has four interceptions, which ties him with teammate Darnell Savage for first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. In last week’s win over Illinois, the fifth-year transfer from Illinois had 11 tackles, a sack and returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown.
Facts and figures
►Air defense: Through eight games, the Terrapins have intercepted 14 passes, the highest total in the country tied with Fresno State and LSU. They are the only team in the Big Ten with at least one interception in every game this season, including picking off five passes in a victory over Rutgers.
►Big plays: Maryland’s offense has 27 plays this season of 25 yards or more – 19 rushing and eight passing. It’s the most the Terps have had in the first eight games of the season since it had 32 in 2013. Eleven of the 27 plays have resulted in touchdowns for an offense that gained 712 yards last week in the victory over Illinois.
►History maker: A victory at Maryland would be the 700th in school history at Michigan State. The Spartans enter the game with a record of 699-456-44 (.601) and will be playing in the 1,200th game in program history. They would become the 27th school to win 700 FBS games. Coach Mark Dantonio has 123 career victories, which ranks 15th among active FBS coaches.