Michigan State vs. Maryland: View from other side

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Maryland running back Ty Johnson ranks second in the Big Ten with 557 kick return yards.

Roman Stubbs, who covers Maryland for the Washington Post, breaks down the Terrapins for The Detroit News answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Maryland game. You can follow him on Twitter @romanstubbs


Question: Maryland has done a decent job running the ball. Can it have some success against an MSU defense that allowed 335 yards last week?

Answer: That’s the plan. I fully expect sophomore Max Bortenschlager to be back in the fold at quarterback this week, which should give Maryland a little more production through the air. But obviously, the game-plan will center around running the football behind Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison.

Q. How hard has it been for the Terps to find any balance on offense with the injuries at QB?

A. It has changed the complexion of the offense completely, even though the other 10 starters have started all 10 games; when Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill went down, Maryland not only lost its two best arms, but also versatile athletes who gave this spread offense mobility and opened up the zone read game. Maryland has still been successful running the ball at times behind Johnson and Harrison, but teams have been able to load the box and force Maryland to win through the air behind Bortenschlager.

More: Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: Michigan must go forward into the past

Q. The 3-1 start must feel like a different season. How critical have the injuries been?

A. The injuries to Pigrome and Hill derailed a promising start. Bortenschlager himself has struggled to stay healthy the last few weeks, which has only complicated things from an offensive perspective. Maryland has been relatively healthy across the board; all 10 starters on offense have played all season, and the defense has largely kept all of its best playmakers on the field with the exception of senior linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who was lost for the season with a fractured ankle in the win over Texas in the opener.

Q. The defense has struggled all season. What have been some of the key factors?

A. The loss of Aniebonam, the team’s best pass rusher, was critical. He led the team with nine sacks a year ago and had the most quarterback hurries (30) among outside linebackers in the Big Ten last season. Maryland has been unable to generate a pass rush for most of the year, and its front seven has repeatedly struggled to stop the run.

Q. Is there any chance the Terps pull off two huge upsets and reach a bowl game?

A. I don’t see it, but I think there’s a chance Maryland could put up somewhat of a fight in these two games. It should have Bortenschlager back this week, which will bring stability to the passing game. Maryland should also return senior linebacker Shane Cockerille this week after he was suspended earlier this season; should he play, he’ll at least provide a boost to a thin linebackers corps that needs all the help it can get.


WR DJ Moore:  The junior leads the Big Ten and ranks 18th in nation in receptions per game (6.4) while he leads the conference in receptions with 64. Moore needs 14 receptions to break Maryland’s single-season receptions record of 77 catches by Geroy Simon in 1994. Moore also tops the conference and ranks 27th in the country in receiving yards per game (85.7), also leading the league and ranking 23th in the nation in receiving yards (857). His eight touchdown passes are also tied for the most in the Big Ten with Michigan State’s Felton Davis and he has caught a pass in a Big Ten-leading 31 consecutive games.

RB Ty Johnson: The junior is averaging 6.47 yards a carry and has run for 770 yards on 119 carries this season for an average of 77 yards a game, good for eighth in the Big Ten. He has five touchdowns this season and has run for more than 100 yards three times. Johnson ran for 67 yards against Michigan to become the 13th player in Maryland history to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Johnson also surpassed 3,000 career all-purpose yards to move into 12th all-time in the category (3,082).

LB Jermaine Carter Jr.: The junior had eight tackles in the loss to Michigan to surpass 300 career tackles, becoming the first Maryland defender to reach 300 career tackles since Demetrius Hartsfield had 339 from 2009-12. Carter currently leads the team with 67 tackles and is looking to become just the fifth Maryland player to lead the team in tackles in three consecutive seasons. Carter also has six tackles for loss this season, giving him 29 for his career. He needs three more tackles for loss to move into the top 10 in program history.


■ Last hurrah: It’s the final home game for 15 seniors on Michigan State’s roster, including C Brian Allen, LB Chris Frey, DE Demetrius Cooper and RB Gerald Holmes, all who have started extensively throughout their career. This senior class has been through the ups and downs of the program and will get credit for helping revive the Spartans. They are currently the seventh winningest class in program history with a record of 33-16 and have one Big Ten championship (2015) along with reaching the Cotton Bowl in 2015 and returning to the Cotton Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff in December 2015.

■ Playing the best: For the third consecutive week, Michigan State is ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, coming in at No. 17. The Spartans have played five CFP Top 25 teams, including wins over No. 10 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan. The Spartans are 2-3 against the CFP Top 25 overall with losses against No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 9 Ohio State and No. 23 Northwestern.

■ Taking it away: Sophomore safety David Dowell leads the team and ranks tied for third in the nation with five interceptions. Dowell had two interceptions in a win over Michigan and added another pair in the victory over 7 Penn State. He picked off his fifth pass last week in the loss at Ohio State and ranks second in the Big Ten behind Iowa’s Josh Jackson, who leads the country with seven interceptions. Dowell’s five interceptions are the most by a player in the Mark Dantonio era at Michigan State and the most by a Spartan since Broderick Nelson had five in 2001.