With four weeks down, the Hawks sit with an overall record of 3-1, but if I were to gauge the optimism around the program and the season I imagine it’s pretty high, even following a close defeat to the Penn State Nittany Lions.
With that said, it’s a different week and, once again, that means a different opponent. So, let’s start turning our attention to the Hawkeye’s first real road test in East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans.
Ground and Pound
Over the years, the Spartans have been known for their physicality on both sides of the ball. Even despite early season turnovers and a slow start for the running game, the Spartans are still looking to get things to going on the ground.
The Spartans’ running game is led by a trio of backs, as well as quarterback Brian Lewerke. The lead back is a player Hawk fans are very familiar with — BIG Championship flashbacks — in L.J. Scott. However, the Spartans’ running game also features a power back in Gerald Holmes and a do-it-all back in Madre London who could also provide problems for the Hawkeyes’ run defense.
As a runner, L.J. Scott is a powerful back with surprising quickness, burst, and lateral ability given his size. With that said, this season he’s getting bitten by the turnover bug, and it’s something he’ll certainly be looking to correct heading into this week’s matchup.
Quite the Turn of Events
Two seasons ago, the Michigan State Spartans were Big Ten champions and participants in the annual College Football Playoff. However, last year took quite the unexpected turn when the team finished 3-9, which happened to be the worst record since the Mark Dantonio era began.
Will the last Michigan State student please turn off the lights. pic.twitter.com/zYOcNWfWEE— Angelo Di Carlo (@angdicarlowndu) September 24, 2017
Last season’s overall record was a bit of a surprise for the Spartans and this offseason did their team no favors with the distractions of all the suspensions looming over the program.
With that said, the Spartans currently sit at an overall record of 2-1, and look to increase that to 3-1 on Saturday. Whether they’re able to pull that off is a different story entirely.
Pieces to Build Around
As I mentioned earlier, this Spartans team is certainly in a rebuilding phase. However, with an inexperienced team, that typically means there’s some young players to build around and that’s certainly the case for this team.
Michigan State's Josiah Scott has been targeted 7 times on 37 coverage snaps in 2017. He's allowed 1 catch for -5 yards & hauled in an INT. pic.twitter.com/0w2FkZmbNg— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 21, 2017
On the back-end of their defense, the Spartans have seemingly successfully found yet another another great corner in freshman Josiah Scott who has been shown to be lockdown and a playmaker through the first three weeks of the season, as well as sophomore Justin Layne who has also proven to be more than serviceable through the first three weeks.
In addition, the aforementioned Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke has also shown quite a bit of promise through the first three games alongside freshman receiver Hunter Rison who performed very well in last week’s matchup against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Lastly, with center Brian Allen, guard David Beedle, and tackle Cole Chewins, the Spartans offensive line seems to be in a good place, as they seemingly always are.
Expectations For Saturday
After examining the Spartans’ performance against Notre Dame last Saturday and after watching the Hawkeyes’ performance against Penn State, it’s hard not to go with the Hawkeyes in this one, as they were easily the more impressive team on tape.
With that said, the Hawkeyes are facing the first real road test this week and are going up against a quarterback who has been able to make a serious impact with both his legs and his arms through the first three games.
If the Hawkeyes hope to find success on Saturday, they’ll need to have improved interior play as well as great play from linebackers, as they did last week.
At the end of the day, I do think the Hawks pull this one out but it’ll almost certainly be a low scoring game as well as a game that’s entertainingly close throughout.