With offensive uncertainty lingering, the Michigan State Spartans have a chance to get relatively healthy this week with a visit from the Youngstown State Penguins.
Though Youngstown State is 2-0, that record is a bit flimsy, given the record of their initial competition is 1-3, and the Penguins rank 15th in total defense in the FCS, giving up 280.5 yards per game. Knowing these statistics, the Spartans should be able to move the ball no matter who’s playing quarterback, which has remained topic of intense debate around East Lansing for yet another week. That makes for one more interesting game prior to a showdown with Notre Dame. How will Michigan State enter that contest undefeated? What do the Penguins have to do in order to score a major upset? Here’s some ideas.
Michigan State’s Key To VIctory: Move towards a decision at quarterback.
Last week, the game of quarterback musical chairs continued, as Connor Cook, Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor all saw time and took snaps. None of them played particularly well, but the Spartans found a semblance of flow with Maxwell by running the ball and mixing in some passes. Despite this, Mark Dantonio said this week that Cook is still the first option, while freshman Damion Terry will be the number two this week. The Spartans should move towards some sort of consistent decision this week, being that the confusing three quarterback shuffle won’t work against the Fighting Irish. Michigan State won in spite of the play of their offense again, so it will be up to either Cook or Terry to move the ball confidently and make better decisions. Given they’ve outscored the offense, count on the Spartan defense to play well again. The key for the offense this week is seeing if one quarterback can do the majority of damage, or at least set the Spartans up for success.
Youngstown State’s Key To Victory: Run wild.
The Penguins have put up some eye-popping rushing statistics in their first two games. Adaris Bellamy rushed for 203 yards and a touchdown against Dayton. As a team, Youngstown State ran for 367 yards and four scores on the ground that day. That performance was nothing like their next against Morehead State though, where the Penguins put up a school record 718 yards of offense. 359 of those came on the ground with six touchdowns. Despite the lower level of competition, Youngstown State won’t bring a pushover offense Michigan State’s defense has seen the last few weeks, so if they want to pull the upset, they will need to run right at the Spartans and put their tough defense to the test. If the Penguins can move the ball at all on the ground, Michigan State could be in for a battle, given all their offensive woes.
Michigan State And Youngstown State Players To Watch: Bennie Fowler and Andre Stubbs
Fowler, a senior holdover from Michigan State’s Big Ten title team, hasn’t exactly gotten his final season off to a hot start with only three receptions for 34 yards. Whether quarterbacking issues are to blame or not, it’s time for Fowler to step up and be the unquestioned leader of the wide receiving core. Dayton put up 195 yards receiving against the Penguins, so the opportunities should be there for Michigan State and a veteran like Fowler, who should be able to make plays.
Stubbs, another wide receiver, has proven just as dangerous on the ground (68 rushing yards on two carries against the Flyers) as he has through the air (31 yards and a touchdown against Morehead State). In need of playmakers to win on the road, Stubbs is a definite candidate to do something positive in order to light a fire under the Penguins. Michigan State needs to watch him closely at every point on the field.
Intangibles: A strange start time.
For the third consecutive week, Michigan State will start at a different time. This week, the Spartans will kick things off at 2:00 p.m. at home, which is different than a nighttime start or last week’s, which kicked off late thanks to storms. All of this can work to jumble a team up, so how will the Spartans respond to all the schedule adjustments? Sometimes, this can hurt the home team and aid upset-minded opponents like Youngstown State. The Spartans must focus and start the game strong.
Prediction: Though they’ve put up some interesting offensive numbers, Youngstown State hasn’t gone on the road to face a defense like Michigan State’s. Expect their statistics to take a significant hit. The Spartans’ offense continues to struggle, though, but Terry comes in and gives fans something to be optimistic about. The Spartans pull away in the second half again. Michigan State 30, Youngstown State 13
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax