Michigan State: 5 things I'd like to see this weekend at Arizona State
When the 2018 college football schedule came out, it was blatantly obvious that the nonconference game that would mean the most to Michigan State was its Saturday trip to Arizona State. The two home games against Utah State and Central Michigan would be routs, dress rehearsals at best.
But then last Saturday happened and the Spartans, then ranked No. 11 in the country, had their hands full with Utah State and were lucky to get out of Spartan Stadium with a 38-31 win. Lucky is being kind. They could have lost, very easily.
Even in winning, they looked so bad that they were dropped in the polls from No. 11 to No. 15. So yes, now the Arizona State game really matters because the Spartans have a lot to prove.
Here’s five things I want to see from the Spartans this weekend:
1. Stay awake until the finish
Because the game is in Arizona and ESPN wants late-night football, kickoff isn’t until 10:45 p.m. ET. The Spartans have never played a game that started that late.
There is no preparation for playing until 2 in the morning. Sure, the Spartans had one of their scrimmages at night during camp but that’s nowhere near the same. In what should be a tight game — the Spartans are favored by six points — they will need to be at their best far after midnight.
2. Handle the desert heat
It’s the desert in early September, so it’s going to be very hot in Tempe. It will be over 100 degrees all week — Saturday’s projected high is 107 — and the game-time temperature just after sundown likely will be in the high 90s. That’s hot. Cramping and fatigue will definitely be an issue, and overall team depth is critical in a game like this.
“There’s a lot more than dehydration that causes cramps as you learn more about it,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’re practicing hot and humid up here, 90 and humid here the next couple days. Hopefully that will get us a little bit indoctrinated. … We have a plan in place on how to handle it.”
3. Clean up untimely penalties
What kept last Saturday’s game close with Utah State was a bunch of penalties that came at the worst time for the Spartans. They survived one game while repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, but it can’t happen again.
Michigan State had an uncharacteristic nine penalties for 62 yards, but the worst part was when they happened. Twice the Spartans were knocking on the door at the 1-yard line and got penalized, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. That’s eight points right there, and the storyline is completely different. They’ll need to play a cleaner game against Arizona State.
4. Get better play from the offensive line
The Spartans did some good things on offense, converting 11 of 17 third-down attempts and dominating in time of possession. But overall, it was less than perfect and they need to be much better this week.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke was sacked three times in the first half and the Spartans ran for just 36 yards on 19 first-half rushing attempts. They can’t have that kind of slow start in Tempe, or they’ll be playing catch-up for four quarters.
5. Find a way to come home with a win
It’s interesting how quickly the conversation can change in a week. Before the season started, we talked about how the Big Ten — with five teams ranked in the top 14 — was the best conference in America and the Big Ten East was the best division.
But now Michigan lost to Notre Dame and Michigan State and Penn State barely survived against unranked foes Utah State and Appalachian State. Sure, it’s one bad week, but for the Spartans, they can’t have two bad ones in a row. The Spartans will need to step up and play well against Arizona State, who’s an interesting team.