3 reasons MSU will beat Miami and improve to 3-0
Just 8 days into the 2021 season, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker matched his win total for last season, and doubled the number in the win column for his MSU career.
So, what’s next?
Game 3 of this season will be far more of a test for the new-look Spartans than were their first 2. Northwestern isn’t the team it was last season, and Youngstown State didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the up-and-coming Michigan State offense. Neither team really put up much of a fight.
But Miami (FL) is next on the schedule, and an entirely different story — or is it?
Here are 3 reasons the Spartans just might come away with a win on Saturday in South Florida.
The Canes are underperforming
The Hurricanes opened their season against a pair of good defenses — including a spectacular one in Alabama that resulted in a 44-13 loss. So while they have struggled, getting a good gauge of what the Spartans will be dealing with isn’t as easy as it would seem. The anticipation of a bounce-back game against Appalachian State didn’t happen, as Miami was barely able to come away with a 25-23 home victory against the Mountaineers.
The Canes are averaging just 19 points per game, a number that stands as 111th in the country, with only Syracuse averaging fewer in the ACC. The total offense numbers have them putting up 320 yards per game, which is just one position better nationally at 110th.
So who are the Hurricanes?
Quarterback D’Eriq King has just 1 touchdown, while throwing for 379 yards with a 68.3 completion percentage. The running game is led by Cam’Ron Harris, who also has just 1 touchdown and 128 yards rushing. The Canes’ receiving corps is led by Key’Shawn Smith, who has 8 receptions for 110 yards. All those numbers are through 2 games, in case you were confused.
Those numbers aren’t very impressive, but Miami is widely known as a talented offensive program, so a concern for the Spartans could be that the law of averages would start to come into play. Oddsmakers have the Canes as nearly a touchdown favorite.
Protection has been an issue for Miami’s offensive line, as King has already been sacked 6 times, with the O-line allowing 7.5 tackles for loss per game, which ranks 103rd in the country. The Canes have a host of returnees on the line with experience producing in the past, but it just hasn’t been the case thus far this year.
MSU’s offense can come from anywhere
In their 2 games, the Spartans have produced with all facets of their offensive scheme. The opener with Northwestern saw Kenneth Walker III run for 4 touchdowns, while against Youngstown, it was quarterback Payton Thorne’s turn to shine, running for 1 touchdown and throwing for 4 while converting 15 of 21 passes for 280 yards.
Walker ran for 264 yards on 23 carries against the Wildcats, but it was sophomore Jordon Simmons who led the charge against YSU, carrying 19 times for 121 yards to complement Thorne’s performance over the air.
The Spartans are running behind an offensive line that started the same 5 against Youngstown but continued to rotate in backups throughout the game. The Spartans’ 408 yards of total offense before halftime were their most in a first half since getting 438 against Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 1, 2007.
Simmons had high praise for the O-line.
“This week, we split carries in practice. It wasn’t that going into the game I thought I was going to be the workhorse,” Simmons said. “Throughout the week, we just practiced hard. And when we came in here, he trusted me out there, and I went out there. The O-line also did a great job blocking up front.”
Whichever attack Tucker opts to use against the Canes, the success of those first 2 games can breed confidence.
“We want to have balance on offense,” Tucker said. “Jay (Johnson) is a very experienced play-caller. You always want to make sure you can get players the ball where they can make plays and be a factor.”
The Spartans are focused
Under normal circumstances, a 2-0 team heading into a game with an 1-1 team would likely be looking past their opponent, but in this case the Spartans are not your typical 2-0 team and the Canes are not the typical 1-1 team.
The Spartans are a new-look team, with a host of new faces trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season. The Hurricanes are clearly more talented than their record represents. Tucker is widely known for keeping his focus on the next game and not looking at what happened last week — just look at his Twitter feed.
After the win against Youngstown State, Tucker addressed the differences in the opponents so far this season, and wants his team to treat each game the same.
“The opponents change, but the standard does not change,” Tucker said. “There’s a sense of urgency and hunger to get better. We haven’t reached our full potential yet. We have room to grow offensively, defensively and certainly on special teams. We have a process, and we stick with the process.”
The thought of Michigan State opening the season with a 3-0 record and Miami starting 1-2 may have seemed a stretch before the season began. But this is 2021, and after Florida State fell to Jacksonville State on Saturday to drop to 0-2, who knows?
It’s safe to say, anything can happen.