No. 18 Michigan State is hoping to run the table in its three-game nonconference schedule on Saturday when it hosts Arizona State at Spartan Stadium (Gametime 4 p.m. ET: TV: FOX) The Spartans have wins over Tulsa and Western Michigan so far and would love to head into the Big Ten season unbeaten.
Arizona State beat Michigan State in the desert a year ago, the first sign that there might be issues with the Spartans offense. The Sun Devils won 16-13, but it was a clear sign that the offense wasn’t quite right. It stayed that way throughout the season, where the Spartans scored only 57 points total in their six losses, an average of just 9.5 points per game.
Here are five things I want to see Saturday:
1. A big encore for RB Elijah Collins
Elijah Collins, the redshirt freshman from Detroit, had his big coming-out party last weekend against Western Michigan. He rushed for 192 yards on 17 carries, and this came from a kid who had 25 career rushing yards prior to that. Collins showed some explosiveness against the Broncos and it would be nice to see more of that against Arizona State, a team that’s pretty good against the run. The Sun Devils rank No. 22 in the country — out of 130 teams — by allowing only 81 yards per gam on the ground. This will be a good test for Collins and the Spartans
2. Steady offensive production from the first whistle
It was a pleasant surprise to see Michigan State score 51 points a week ago, because if this offense can be productive, then the Spartans can win a lot of games. We know the defense is solid, so if the offense can come out early and put some points on the board, it changes the entire dynamic of the game. Arizona State, which has wins over Kent State and Sacramento State so far, has allowed only 14 points in two games. But forcing them to play from behind might make a big difference.
3. Dominance upfront with the Spartans’ offensive line
What really helped turned the Michigan State offense around last week was the offensive line creating huge holes for Collins and keeping senior quarterback Brian Lewerke clean. This proud group is tired of getting criticized and they seem dead-set on doing something about it.
4. Continuing to stop the run at an elite level
Michigan State is No. 1 in the country at stopping the run and they are the only team in the country that has allowed negative yardage so far. It helped that they held Tulsa to minus-73 yards in the opener, and Western could only muster 67 more themselves. This group controls games, and they’ll need to do more of the same Saturday. Arizona State is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, and that’s against less-than-average opposition. A complete shutout in that department again could be huge.
5. Staying healthy going into the bye week
Big Ten play starts next weekend with a tough road game at Northwestern. The Wildcats, defending Big Ten West champions, will come after you, so it would be nice to head into that game as healthy as possible. That’s oftentimes wishful thinking in college football, because injuries can’t be controlled.