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No. 7 Michigan State looking to rebound against Maryland

Nov 6, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs for a touchdown in the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs for a touchdown in the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State dropped four spots to No. 7 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, a consequence of the Spartans’ first loss of the season last week.

The 40-29 loss to Purdue likely was fresh in selection committee members’ minds when they decided to rank Michigan State one spot behind rival Michigan, despite the Spartans’ head-to-head win over the Wolverines just one week earlier.

The Spartans (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) are not out of the running yet. They would earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game if they win out over the final three weeks of the regular season, a task that begins Saturday against Maryland in East Lansing, Mich.

Coach Mel Tucker is intent on not letting the various highs and lows of the journey affect his players.

“Like I told our team after the game, all our goals are in front of us,” Tucker said. “We met as a team (Tuesday) morning. We talked about the focus and the preparation that we needed this week. I felt like the guys were dialed in. We need to block out the noise and focus on what we’ve got to get done and not worry about anything outside our program.”

The Terrapins (5-4, 2-4) have objectives of their own, namely achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. They are coming off a 31-14 loss to Penn State last week, with Nittany Lions receiver Jahan Dotson burning them for a school-record 242 yards and three touchdowns.

“Most of the time they just caught us out of formation, out of leverage, bad technique, stuff like that,” cornerback Tarheeb Still said. “I don’t think it’s really that they’re just better than us, going out there and straight beating us.”

Maryland will pivot from scouting a star receiver to a star running back. Coach Mike Locksley is bracing his team for Michigan State’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Kenneth Walker III, who did his part against Purdue with 136 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He found the end zone five times the week before that in the win over Michigan.

Maryland’s defensive staff told Locksley that more than 900 of Walker’s 1,330 yards have come after contact.

“Which means he’s one of those guys that you better bring all your pads and all your friends when you tackle him,” Locksley said.

While Walker continues to produce, Michigan State has defensive worries of its own. After allowing 552 total yards and 26 first downs to Michigan, the Spartans gave up 594 yards and 29 to the Boilermakers. Purdue converted on 11 of 18 third downs, keeping Michigan State’s defense on the field for extended stretches.

“I don’t like ‘bend but don’t break.’ That’s not the philosophy,” Tucker said. “When you’re bending, that means you’re not getting off the field on third down.”

Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell racked up 536 yards through the air. The next passer up is Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, who ranks second in the Big Ten in both yards per game (306.1) and completion percentage (70.5).

The Spartans have yet to face Tagovailoa. Last year’s game was declared a no-contest as Maryland dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Michigan State leads the all-time series 9-2, including 5-1 since Maryland joined the Big Ten.

–Field Level Media