Rutgers (4-2; 1-2) will host Michigan State (2-3; 0-2) on Saturday at noon ET airing on the Big Ten Network. The Scarlet Knights are two wins away from achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014. The Spartans are coming off a bye week and are attempting to end a three game losing streak. RU is currently a 5 point favorite in this key conference matchup.
In an effort to find out more about Michigan State football ahead of Saturday’s game against Rutgers, I connected with Connor Muldowney, the co-founder of Spartan Shadows, the go to source for in-depth coverage of Michigan State athletics. Following the firing of Mel Tucker, the Spartans appointed secondary coach Harlon Barnett the interim coach. MSU has lost three straight since the move. Topics in this Q&A include the ramifications of the Tucker firing, the offensive struggles and potential quarterback change, what to know about the strengths and weaknesses of Michigan State, a final score prediction and more.
Let’s kick things off here.
AB: How much of the struggles for Michigan State have been related to the Mel Tucker firing versus personnel and scheme issues that might have been a problem anyway?
CM: That’s actually a really good question and there’s no way to know for sure, but I would say it’s a combination of both. There were some obvious issues and shortcomings both schematically and personnel-wise heading into the season, but Mel Tucker’s firing only magnified them. I would say that talent isn’t the issue here, but the coaching has been lacking for years. That set this team up for failure this season, especially with the distractions.
AB: You reported that Katin Houser is set to start against Rutgers and replace Noah Kim at quarterback. Do you agree with the change and do you think Houser could be more effective?
CM: I 100 percent agree with the change and it’s been necessary for a couple of weeks now. Noah Kim is a great person and leader, from what it seems, but he just wasn’t Big Ten starter material. He struggled in key moments and even if he was just average against Iowa and Maryland, the Spartans probably either win or have a legit chance to win. Katin Houser is the change that could reinvigorate the offense. This was much needed.
AB: What are the strengths of this team?
CM: This is a tough question to answer because what strengths could there possibly be for a 2-3 team on a two-game losing streak that hasn’t scored more than 20 points in the last three games? With that being said, I’d say that running back Nathan Carter is a major strength and the linebackers on the defensive side of the ball although that unit took a hit with Jacoby Windmon out for the year.
If I had to pinpoint a single strength of this team, I’d say that it’s third-down defense, but rarely have we been able to get teams to third down in the past few games. That and Carter is a dog in the running game (if he can get any blocking).
AB: What concerns do you have entering this game?
CM: Where do I begin? I’m concerned about how the offensive line will hold up in the run game and for a brand new starting quarterback. I’m concerned about Katin Houser’s confidence if he gets rattled with a turnover early on. I’m concerned about the secondary’s ability (or inability) to stop the pass. I don’t have many non-concerns heading into this game.
AB: Who could be an x-factor for Michigan State against Rutgers?
CM: An X-factor in this one could be freshman cornerback Chance Rucker who just cracked the starting rotation and he’s getting better each week. He’s gaining a ton of confidence and I think he could have a major impact against the pass. Another major X-factor would be Maliq Carr who will be utilized heavily in the passing game.
AB: What’s your prediction and why?
CM: My honest prediction would be a 27-24 Rutgers win. I just think Michigan State is so close to ending that losing streak but poor coaching continues to hold them back. I do think Katin Houser gives them a real chance to win, but the defense won’t get the necessary stops down the stretch.
Another heartbreaking loss.
Thanks to Connor for his great insight on Michigan State Football. You can follow him on X (Twitter) here and for all of his coverage on Michigan State Athletics, visit Spartan Shadows. To read my answers to Connor’s questions, click here.
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