Maryland hosts Michigan State Oct. 22 in College Park, Md., and to gain more insight into the Spartans we spoke to SpartanNation.com publisher Hondo Carpenter. Our question-and-answer session with Carpenter is below:
Terrapin Times: We’ve become used to Michigan State challenging the Big Ten’s upper tier year in and year out, but this year it looks like the Spartans are in a free fall. What’s gone wrong and what’s the mindset of the team right now? Is there any chance they can right the ship or is the season seemingly in a downward spiral?
Hondo Carpenter: The Spartans have not only fallen from a Final Four team, but they have digressed to a team that is discombobulated in every phase of the game. Their special teams are terrible, offense is struggling, defense can’t get a pass rush and falters in the second half and coaching blunders not seen since John L. Smith as the head man.
The mindset is that of a team waiting for something to go wrong and not someone waiting for a good thing to happen. This team has issues on and off the field, but that doesn’t mean that this team is lacking talent. The issues on this team are not talent.
TT: Head coach Mark Dantonio is one of the best around, but I know he’s been facing some criticism recently. He’s a defensive minded guy, and his defense hasn’t been nearly as stout as it typically is. What’s the feeling about him now in East Lansing, what’s up with the defense, and how has Dantonio reacted to the skid?
HC: He is facing criticism, but he has a ton of collateral for what he has done. The defense can’t get a pass rush and is vulnerable through the air. It is a brutal combination. The people of the Spartan Nation love the man, but he has been let down by some on his staff, and frankly by his own rigid commitment to certain styles. He has stayed true to who he is, and that is steadfast in the midst of the storm.
TT: MSU has changed quarterbacks four times. Why the constant rotation, and who is next to start? Is anyone getting close to solidifying a hold on a starting spot, and what does that signal caller bring to the table?
HC: This is a great question, but MSU isn’t losing because of QB play. They are losing because along both lines on both sides, they are getting beat. Brian Lewerke and Tyler O’Connor are in the battle for the starters’ job and the feeling around the team is that both will play and Lewerke will start versus Maryland.
TT: If Michigan State is going to bounce back, who are the “X factors” who can get the job done? Who are the key playmakers to watch for?
HC: This is an easy question without a sexy answer, but a boring truthful one. The Spartans lineman on both sides of the football need to play up for the Spartans to end their losing skid.
As you watch this game on Saturday, keep a keen an eye out for true freshman Donnie Corley. One of the most sought after recruits in the nation with the 2016 class, he has made some amazing catches, but is still waiting for that breakout game. He has been open and frankly missed when his QB didn’t have time to find him. If the MSU QB can get time from his offensive line, Corley could have his coming out party on national TV in prime time. If you are a Maryland fan, his stats will tell the story.
The other name to watch for on offense is RB Gerald Holmes or LJ Scott. Again, the MSU offensive line struggles have not let either of the Spartan NFL bound running backs accomplish much outside of the Notre Dame game. If the Spartans can get over 100 yards rushing in Maryland, that means that the offensive line has come together and these two young men will tell that story.
On the defensive side of the ball, one of the Spartans key players to watch is true freshman DE Josh King. Another one of the nation’s elite 2016 DE recruits was King. He is growing into the star that everyone expects him to be, and everyone is waiting to see him have that coming out party. Every game he has gotten better, and is ready to break out.
Another name is Demetrious Cooper. The Spartans need this young man to play up the hype of his recruiting and somehow give the Spartans the pressure that they desperately need. MSU has been anemic with the pass rush and the sack totals will tell the story. If the Spartans get sacks, you will know they are in contention to win. They haven’t as of yet this year. The MSU defense is predicated on pressure. MSU hasn’t gotten it. If they don’t they will leave Maryland with a loss. Cooper is a key to getting the win against the Terps.
TT: This will be Michigan State’s first time traveling to College Park in a couple years. Considering there are a number of MSU alums in the D.C. area and it’s the initial meeting in College Park, is there any excitement or intrigue surrounding this game from a Spartans’ fan perspective? Or do the fans really not care that much about UMD and are more concerned with what’s going wrong with their own team?
HC: There is a ton of excitement for the Spartans return to Maryland. The played there back in 2014 and won 37-15. Just like 2014, they are expecting a large contingent of Spartans at the game.