MSU vs. Central Michigan Preview

Ah it’s good to be home.  The Spartans are back in East Lansing this weekend to take on Central Michigan at 12:00 EST this Saturday.  It’s always a fun contest when these two meet, CMU is comprised of about 70% in-state recruits and while MSU’s recruiting has had much more of a national feel lately, this game always means a lot to both sides.  The last time they met was in 2015 when MSU won 30-10, while the last Chippewa victory came in 2009 when a Butch Jones coached team led by Dan Lefevour and Antonio Brown won a close game at Spartan Stadium.

Central Michigan has had a tough year.  They got their first victory this week against FCS opponent Maine after an 0-3 start to the season with losses against Kentucky, Kansas (their first road victory in 46 attempts), and NIU.  When looking at the record it’s ugly, when looking deeper into the stats, it’s even uglier.  Central is 128th of 129 FBS teams in total offense, roping together a lowly 138.5 passing yards per game, and 120 rushing yards per game on 3.1 ypc.  A quarterback change led to their only victory, but first time starter Tommy Lazzaro certainly didn’t impress, throwing for 82 yards 1 TD and 1 INT to go along with 44 yards and a TD on the ground.  The offense has been rough, the defense hasn’t exactly been exemplary.  While they have only allowed 140 passing yards per game, they’ve been gashed on the ground to the tune of 194 yards.  While any in-state team can make you nervous, it’s hard to feel like the Spartans are in much danger of an upset this week.

Michigan State came out of the bye week strong with a great 1st half in Bloomington, it was the 2nd half that was the problem.  I’ll spare you the whole run-down as I’ve already written my post-game thoughts here The Post-Victory Hangover.  It was a great time for a bounce back win after the road loss in Tempe, now this week would be a great time to build on that confidence.  Brian Lewerke has had his moments this year but has to improve on his 5/4 TD to INT ratio.  He has the ability to make big plays, but he knows that and often tries to do too much when nothing is there, evident not only by the 4 interceptions but by sacks deep behind the line of scrimmage.  It’s been noted quite a bit, but the offensive line has to get better after a dreadful start to the season in both run blocking and pass protection.  Cole Chewins’ return to the lineup brings some much needed experience, and hopefully comradery to a unit that’s been riddled by injuries.  Along with Chewins, Kevin Jarvis and David Beedle have been banged up at certain times this year, while Tyler Higby seems to have lost the center spot to Matt Allen.  On defense this team relies on it’s strength, stopping the run.  MSU has allowed just 98 yards on 1.14 yards per carry through 3 games, both best in the country by some margin.  While they’ve been elite against the run, slowing down opponents through the air has proved more difficult.  Indiana feasted on quick underneath throws just like Utah State and Arizona State, and if MSU doesn’t find a way to adjust, more talented teams are going to take advantage in a big way.  Getting Josiah Scott back will surely help, but I’d like to see some schematic adjustments like bringing in a nickle DB more often to slow this down.  All in all this defense is what we have grown to expect under Dantonio, a stout, disciplined defense that is relied upon to carry this team to win the field position battle and come away with key turnovers like Joe Bachie’s game sealing interception against Utah State.

Injuries

Michigan State

As mentioned, the offensive line has been banged up, but we should have everyone in some capacity ready to go on Saturday afternoon. RB LJ Scott dressed but didn’t play last week, and though he’s listed as the starter in this weeks depth chart, the nature of this game tells me he won’t see more than 5-10 carries if he plays at all. Josh Butler and Darrell Stewart both left and didn’t return against Indiana, but are both listed as starters this week. As far as we know Jake Hartbarger and Josiah Scott are still out and not practicing.  With all the injuries there is some good news coming out of East Lansing as Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press reported that Dillon Alexander is back at practice this week and there’s a chance he may suit up.

Central Michigan:

CMU comes in with a pretty clean injury report with only running back Romello Ross listed as questionable.

Keys to the Game:

Turnover Free Football

As mentioned, Brian Lewerke has been spectacular at times, but has often tried to do too much, headlined by the bone-headed pitch attempt on a 4th quarter option against Indiana while getting hit.  A turnover free game on offense would be a welcome sight for Mark Dantonio.

Big Plays

Michigan State traditionally leans on field position and ball control as an offensive philosophy under Dantonio, but that doesn’t mean it’s been an offense absent of big play ability. We’ve seen Jeremy Langford bust off big runs, Keshawn Martin make plays through the air and return game, yet this year we haven’t seen much until Jalen Nailor’s game sealing 75 yard run. Plays like this aren’t just exciting for the fans, but they’re a catalyst for more. Keeping a defense on its heels is a key to any great offense, and to contend with the likes of Ohio State and Penn State this season we’re going to need a lot more where that came from.

MSU Run Game vs Porous CMU Run Defense

I said the same thing last week and I’ll keep saying it until it’s true, this should be the week MSU breaks through for a big game on the ground. We finally have (relative) health on the offensive line, and with or without LJ Scott this should be a game we see 200+ rushing yards. Central Michigan is near the bottom of the FBS giving up 194 yards per game, and if MSU can’t put it together this week we might have to watch Lewerke dial it up 50+ times a game from here on out. This would be a great week for a confidence booster, I expect to see the Oline come out opening holes and the backs to find some chunk plays on the ground. Pound green pound.

Prediction:

The spread, according to betonline.ag is set at 28.5, one that if it holds at kickoff will be the largest spread in the history of this matchup. I expect MSU to win, I expect MSU to cover. Give me the Spartans over the Chips by a score of 41-10.

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