View from the other side: Michigan State vs. Maryland

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Maryland at Michigan State

► Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

► TV/radio: FS1/760 AM

► Records: Michigan State 5-6, 3-5 Big Ten; Maryland 3-8, 1-7

► Line: Michigan State by 22.5

View from the other side

Emily Giambalvo covers Maryland for the Washington Post. She breaks down the Terrapins for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State vs. Maryland game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow her on Twitter at @EmilyGiam.

Josh Jackson

► Question: What are we to make of Maryland’s QB situation?

► Giambalvo: Josh Jackson definitely seems to be the preferred starter, but Maryland has lacked stability at the position. Four different quarterbacks played in Maryland’s blowout loss against Nebraska last week, but none of them could sustain drives.  Freshman Lance LeGendre had a couple long runs but dislocated his shoulder and won’t be able to play this weekend. Backup Tyrrell Pigrome, who offers much more of a running threat than Jackson, suffered what Michael Locksley called a lower-body injury and he couldn’t return to the game. Jackson has been banged up, too. He missed three games earlier this year with an ankle injury. My guess is that Jackson will play most of the game, and assuming Pigrome is healthy, he’ll have a few series, too. The offensive line hasn’t offered much help, and in general, Maryland has struggled to establish a pass game. After the first two games of the season provided some hope Jackson would be the answer at this position, the offense hasn’t been great. But I still think Jackson is the best option.

► Question: Is there any hope Maryland’s defense can find some success against an MSU offense that has lacked consistency all season?

► Giambalvo: Maybe? But I don’t feel too confident in saying that. The defense is young and has been fairly inconsistent. Maryland has given up more than 300 passing yards five times this year. If Michigan State can manage to exploit the secondary, I think the Spartans will still get the upper hand of that matchup.

► Question: How demoralizing have six straight conference losses been after a fast start to the season?

► Giambalvo: I think it’s been disappointing — and even more so because of how the season started. It’s wild to think back to then, when Maryland had its short stay in the top 25 after beating then-ranked Syracuse. Players were talking about things like “managing the hype” and already feeling like this could be a new era of Maryland football. Turns out, Syracuse wasn’t actually that good, injuries piled up, the schedule gradually became more difficult and Maryland has shown no ability to climb out of early deficits. Senior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said after the Nebraska loss: “A team that’s overcome adversity in the real life can’t do it on the football field for some reason. I don’t understand. It’s frustrating. You get down a little bit and heads start to drop, and it just spirals out of control before you know it.” That seemed like the perfect assessment about how dreadful Maryland has been when it comes to responding once a game starts poorly.

Javon Leake

► Question: What names should we watch as potential difference-makers for Maryland?

► Giambalvo: I think No. 1 on the list would be Javon Leake. He’s emerged as the go-to running back as Anthony McFarland Jr. has struggled with an ankle injury all year. Leake is super quick and dangerous on kickoff returns. (If he scores another touchdown on a kickoff return, he’ll have the school’s all-time record.) Leake had a horrible, and uncharacteristic, outing against Nebraska with three fumbles, and he’s usually a guy who doesn’t do that. So perhaps he’ll have a bit of extra motivation to bounce back from that. On defense, freshman defensive back Nick Cross has played well. Linebacker Keandre Jones, a transfer from Ohio State, and defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr. are both senior leaders of the unit and play with great effort and energy. Those are the type guys that I think Maryland rely on when it comes to trying to stop Michigan State’s struggling offense.  

► Question: Has the poor season changed in feelings about first-year coach Mike Locksley?

► Giambalvo: There’s definitely frustration, but I don’t think the fan base has fully turned on him. This is a difficult job in a tough division, and it’s still his first year. I’ll be curious to see how people feel once they can evaluate his first recruiting class, which isn’t super impressive so far. Maryland fans like that Locksley is a local guy, and he genuinely believes this is a great job. I don’t think many possible coaches could say that, so that certainly buys some goodwill. I like to think even fans can be rational and realize this is the first season, and it was never going to go that smoothly, but that can change quickly if results don’t improve in a year or two.

Players to watch

► Javon Leake, RB: The junior has piled up 1,555 all-purpose yards this season, which ranks 11th in the nation and second in the Big Ten, trailing only J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, who has 1,997 yards. Leake’s 1,555 all-purpose yards are the eighth-most ever in a single-season by a Maryland player. He’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, including on the opening play this season against Michigan, and he’s seventh in the Big Ten in rushing at 716 yards.

► Antoine Brooks, S: A second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, the junior entered the 2019 season on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy. He is currently ninth in country and first in Big Ten with 5.9 solo tackles per game and ranks second for the Terrapins with 76 tackles. Brooks has recorded five or more solo tackles in nine of Maryland’s 11 games.

Keandre Jones

► Keandre Jones, LB: The Ohio State transfer leads the Terrapins with seven sacks and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 0.64 sacks a game. The senior has a tackle for loss in 10 of 11 games this season. The former five-star recruit played in 28 games the last two seasons for Ohio State, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles while collecting 29 career tackles.

Facts and figures

► Ground game: Running backs Javon Leake and Anthony McFarland Jr. have combined for 15 rushing touchdowns this season, with Leake accounting for eight and McFarland seven, making the Terps one of only 10 teams in the country and one of only two Power Five teams to have two running backs with seven touchdowns this season. It is the first time the Terps have had two backs with seven touchdowns each in a season since 2007.

► Big plays: Maryland has 12 touchdowns of 40-plus yards this season, second most in the Big Ten, trailing only Nebraska (13). The Terps have had a 40-plus-yard touchdown in nine of 11 games, most recently a 58-yard rushing touchdown by Javon Leake against Nebraska. The Terps scored two 80-yard touchdowns against Rutgers, the first time Maryland has had two 80-plus-yard touchdowns in the same game since 1977.

► Bringing ’em down: The Terrapins have three players that rank in the top 25 in the Big Ten in total tackles. Linebacker Ayinde Eley leads the group with 79, including 44 solo stops, ranking 12th in the conference. Safety Antoine Brooks, who leads the Big Ten in solo tackles with 65, is 15th in total tackles with 76, while linebacker Keandre Jones is 25th in the conference with 63 total tackles.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau