Michigan State – despite a 2019 campaign that can only be described as disappointing – is a heavy favorite over host Rutgers this Saturday.
But the Spartans and the Scarlet Knights have each disappointed point-spread gamblers at about the same clip. The programs have only covered the Las Vegas point spread 5 combined times in 16 attempts.
Last week, Rutgers became something of an odd national story, covering a massive spread vs powerful Ohio State even as the Scarlet Knights were blown-out yet another time to fall to 2-8 overall.
Could Goliath – a somewhat-weaker Goliath – be annoyed by David for the 2nd week in a row?
Who: Michigan State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: Saturday, November 23rd, 12 PM EST
Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Lines: MSU (-20.5) at Rutgers (+20.5) / O/U Total (43.5)
Michigan State is one of those rare hard-nosed, defense-oriented teams which can often pass better than it can run. This season is no exception, as MSU has averaged only 3.7 yards per-carry on the ground. But quarterback Brian Lewerke has had his problems through the air as well, tossing 9 interceptions and only 13 TD passes while missing the mark on nearly 45% of his throws.
It’s been up to a vaunted East Lancing defense to hold up the fort against the Big Ten. The unit looked fine against a beatable early stretch of the schedule, holding Tulsa to just 7 points in a victory (not bad considering the AAC is a strong point-scoring league if nothing else) and holding Northwestern to just 10 in another blow-out win. Michigan State’s D even shined in an early OOC loss to Arizona State.
But injuries and a lack of dominating front-7 presence have ground down on MSU, and a miserable 5-game losing streak has threatened to derail the Spartans’ bowl hopes. Michigan State actually looked pretty good in a 37-10 loss to Ohio State in early October, but last week’s 44-10 rivalry loss to Michigan helped to demonstrate how far a 4-6 team has fallen. More from CBS Sports:
Big Brother? Little Brother? On Saturday, No. 15 Michigan was Better Brother as it crushed Michigan State 44-10. The 44 points the Wolverines scored are the most it has scored in a game against Michigan State since a 45-37 victory in 2004. It was Michigan State that struck first in this game, taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but that was the end of the fun for the Spartans. Michigan took control from there, outscoring the Spartans 44-3 over the final three quarters. Quarterback Shea Patterson led the way, as he had what was likely his best game in a Wolverines uniform. Patterson’s 384 passing yards were 164 more yards than Michigan State’s offense had in the game. It was a thoroughly dominating performance by the Wolverines, who improve to 8-2 on the season.
As Brian Lewerke goes, so goes Michigan State. That hasn’t been a good thing often enough. Now, to be clear, Lewerke isn’t the problem with this Michigan State team. It has numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, and it lost its defensive captain to a PED suspension. Still, it would be nice to have a more consistent quarterback. You almost get the sense that the more open his target is, the further off-target the throw will be. Again, I don’t mean to say Lewerke is the problem. He’s not. He’d be helped out quite a bit if Michigan State had any semblance of a run game … but the Spartans don’t.
I believe the injuries have even more to do with MSU’s struggles than pundits think, since the Spartans are not able to recruit 2 and 3-deep at every position as effectively as some Big Ten rivals. Michigan State is always a blue-collar team that needs its best players healthy and put in position to succeed.
Meanwhile, did Rutgers’ offense come alive last week vs Ohio State or did the Buckeyes simply let down, knowing that they could coast to the finish line? OSU always had a stinker performance or 2 per-year in conference play under Urban Meyer, and perhaps that tendency still hasn’t gone away completely. Yet the Scarlet Knights only had 231 combined rushing and passing yards despite scoring 21 points by the end.
Las Vegas appears to have the Over/Under total about right – I can see Rutgers scoring 1 or 2 TDs against a beaten-up Michigan State defense and would be surprised to see MSU score under or over the range of 25-35 points on Saturday.
But the point spread may have tightened just a wee bit too much.
Rutgers matches-up like a team that could potentially cover vs Michigan State at home. MSU’s coaching situation may be up in the air after this year, the Spartan defense is on its last legs, and the visiting QB has had little support from the run game.
But we’re still talking about a 2nd or 3rd-tier Power-5 program against a dreadful outfit that’s been blown-out by almost every competent opponent over the last 2 years. And with bowl eligibility in the balance, MSU is going to want to get ahead, stay ahead, and make absolutely sure there is no way Rutgers – which benefited from OSU’s cautious 2-deep rotations and play-selection at times last Saturday – can possibly come back in the 2nd half.
Last but not least, the early east-coast kickoff time could actually help Michigan State psychologically. There won’t be much time to stand around and remember the bitter losses of the last month – only time to wake up, warm up, and play.
Take the Spartans to cover (-20.5) in New Jersey.