The Rutgers football team is taking on the state of Michigan in back-to-back weeks. Last week, the Scarlet Knights (4-5, 1-5) lost at home to Michigan and will now travel up to East Lansing, Michigan, to face Michigan State.
To break down the Spartans (4-5, 2-4) team, The Daily Targum interviewed Jenna Malinowski, a football reporter for Michigan State’s student newspaper, The State News.
2021 was head coach Mel Tucker’s second season as head coach. His philosophy and plan for the program started to click with the players. Tucker helped guide the Spartans to an 11-2 record and a bowl game win against Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the program has come back to Earth in 2022.
“It hasn’t been the season they wanted for sure, and they’re very open about that,” Malinowski said. “But they have made it clear they’re still playing for something … I’d say their record this year, and I don’t want to place it all on one player, but I think losing (Kenneth Walker III) was huge for the team.”
Rutgers fans know Walker very well after he torched the Knights' defense for 233 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown last season. In his place, there has been a rotation of running backs led by Jalen Berger, a native of Newark.
“Berger’s going to have to be the future of the team unless they get some transfer that can run the ball a little better,” Malinowski said. “I think he’s been pretty solid amongst the three running backs they’ve had out there, (Jarek Broussard) and (Elijah Collins) as well. I think they all kind of play a part, and they’re splitting the role that (Walker) had.”
If Michigan State struggles to run the ball, its passing offense should be its bread and butter, right?
Not necessarily. That part of the game plan has not lived up to the expectations from last season. Quarterback Payton Thorne had a great season last year, but is now trying to develop chemistry with the team's leading receiver Keon Coleman.
“(Coleman), I think, was the wild card going into the season,” Malinowski said. “From game one, (he) just went out there, and he doesn’t play like he’s scared at all, despite being young ... and (Thorne), I mean after last season, he knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran.”
While the defensive side of the ball has taken a step back this season, Malinowski still says there are a few guys on that end Rutgers should circle, including recent Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Cal Haladay.
"(Haladay’s) basically just your typical football guy … he doesn’t even wear gloves. He’s just one of those tough guys where he’s out there no matter what," Malinowski said. "One of the guys that everyone should look out for is Xavier Henderson. He’s a fifth-year safety, so he's a veteran and been here before … When he tackles somebody, he’s looking to force a fumble, you can just tell … he can really create some chaos on defense."
When Malinowski was asked how the Knights could leave East Lansing with a win, she said the best way would be to attack the Spartans' secondary. Michigan State's defense allows an average of 426.7 yards of offense per game. The team has 12 turnovers on the season, but just two came from interceptions.
But even after giving Rutgers fans hope that the Knights offense might use this as a "get right game," Malinowski still believes that the Spartans will win the game given that 3 of their 4 wins this season have been at home.
"I think it's going to be similar to the Wisconsin game. I think the teams are pretty evenly matched," Malinowski said. "Being a home game for Michigan State, I think they’ll be able to pull this one off just because they perform better at home, and the student section has been kind of a sixth man in basketball for them … 27-24 Michigan State."
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