Scarlet Report Game Preview: No. 4/3 Michigan State at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers faces its biggest challenge of 2015 to date when top-five foe Michigan State comes to down for a blackout battle. Significant underdogs as the home team, how can the Scarlet Knights even the odds against the Spartans? Scarlet Report previews and predicts the action.

No. 4/3 Michigan State (5-0) vs. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1)

Time – 8 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium Piscataway, N.J.

TV/Radio – Big Ten Network, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR

Series – tied, 3-3

Last meeting – Nov. 22, 2014, Michigan State won 45-3

Coaches: Rutgers – Norries Wilson (Interim 1-1, 17-43 in 6 seasons at Columbia); Michigan State – Mark Dantonio (12th season, 98-48, 9th at MSU, 80-31)

 

Storyline Central

Back in Black – Rutgers coach Kyle Flood reinstated star receiver Leonte Carroo, who will play tomorrow against Michigan State. Carroo missed more than three works of team activity because of his suspension. But after the Piscataway Municipal Court dropped all charges against him, Carroo returned to Rutgers practice for the end of the week. Rutgers has its all-time leading touchdown receiver back for the blackout battle with the Spartans.

Pay the Price – Michigan State did not treat Rutgers well on or off the field in last year’s battle, including a pile-on fake field goal in a game that was already not competitive. Rutgers, and Flood, remember. It was a theme in practices during the week, and Rutgers wants to exact revenge despite its status as a significant underdog. Does Rutgers have trick plays of its own ready to go?

The End? – Tomorrow marks the final day of Flood’s university-enforced suspension. Interim coach Norries Wilson excelled in his interim role, but Rutgers hopes for a return to normalcy after the final on-field game without Flood.

 

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers RT J.J. Denman vs Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

The former Middletown (N.J.) North star lines up everywhere for Michigan State, and expect the Spartans to attack Denman, who has had highs and lows at right tackle. Rutgers doesn’t get the ball to Carroo if it cannot protect quarterback Chris Laviano, and Calhoun is out for a big game in his first game at home since high school.

 

Scarlet Knights win if …

Magic Intervenes – The facts and stats are clearly against Rutgers. But that is no reason for surrender. Rutgers shocked Michigan State during the Spartans’ last visit to campus, a 19-14 win in 2004, and plays traditionally well in “blackout” games. It may have been a hollow No. 2 rating for South Florida in 2007, but top-five upsets are possible. If Purdue could do what it did, then why not Rutgers?

 

Spartans Win if …

They Swarm Laviano – Rutgers had a tough enough time with a senior quarterback last season, and it will be twice as tough for Laviano. The first-year starter faces perhaps his biggest challenge to date, and Michigan State is not going to make it easy for Laviano to execute the playbook. The play-actions and bootlegs will not fool Michigan State, and the more pressure the Spartans create, the easier it will be to win as massive road favorites.

 

KICKOFF PRIMER

 

Impact Player

RB Josh Hicks – The running game was not bad against Michigan State last season, all things considered. Hicks and Robert Martin both averaged four yards per carry. Hicks is the clear best option at running back, and needs another chance to make plays. The attention will be on Carroo, but there are no big passes without a running game to open up options for offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels.

Something to Prove

WR Leonte Carroo – Not only does the team captain have to prove he still has it after three weeks away from football activity, but Michigan State shut him down last season. After just one catch for six yards at MSU last season, Carroo needs to be an impact guy for Rutgers to sniff an upset bid.

Looking to Build

SS Kiy Hester– Hester flew all over the field in his first career start, but can’t afford some of the mental erros against an offense as refined as Michigan State.

Freshman to Watch

CB Blessuan Austin – Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is a different level of test for a true freshman cornerback. The secondary fared well against future NFL draft pick Christian Hackenberg, but Cook is a step up as a passing threat. He will be ready to test the young secondary, and Austin can expect plenty of action in his direction. 


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