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Know Your Foe, Week 12: Michigan State Spartans

Oh, how the mighty Spartans have fallen.

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Michigan State University

Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Enrollment: 50,543
Home Stadium: Spartan Stadium
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio, 10th year, 89-40 (.690)
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)

Series History

First Game: November 13, 1914 (Michigan State won 6-3)
Last Game: November 28, 2016 (Michigan State won 55-16)
Overall: Michigan State leads 15-1-14
Current Win Streak: 3, Michigan State

Last Season (12-2 overall, 7-1 conference)

The Spartans had an incredible run in 2015, finishing the regular season with just one loss to Nebraska, one of the most successful seasons in school history. Michigan State shared the East Division championship with Ohio State, and since they’d defeated the Buckeyes outright, earned a spot in the Big 10 championship game, where they beat Iowa. The reigning Big Ten champions finished the season No. 3, and played No. 2 Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Cotton Bowl, losing in an absolute shutout to the Crimson Tide 38-0.


The Spartans lost quite a few key players to the NFL draft, including first round draft pick offensive tackle Jack Conklin, third round pick defensive end Shilique Callhoun and quarterback Connor Cook, leaving big shoes to fill.

Things didn’t get much better in the spring, when Michigan State saw the departure of the defensive line, with sophomores Craig Evans and Montez Sweat leaving for personal reasons, and Damon Knox declining his last year of eligibility to pursue career goals. In August, redshirt freshman Enoch Smith Jr. and sophomore Cassius Peat transferred out.

Michigan State’s 2016 class was ranked as the nation’s 17th recruiting class (3rd in the Big Ten) as compared to PSU’s 2016 class ranked at 20th in the nation, 4th in the Big Ten. They’ve got some solid talent coming up in the ranks, if they can get past issues they’ve had in 2016.

Last Week

On Saturday, Michigan State almost pulled out a close one over No. 2 Ohio State but lost 17-16. The Spartans had the chance to tie the game with an extra point, but instead Dantonio opted for a 2 point conversion that failed, with under 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter.

Currently the Spartans are 3-8 overall (1-7 in the Big Ten, tied with Purdue, and above only zero-win Rutgers) –and will not be bowl eligible- a far cry from their 2015 season.


So what happened with the Spartans this year? Michigan State returns 26% of their offense (and Penn State returns 53%). They’re a young team but they’ve got veterans on offense like senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor, senior wide receiver RJ Shelton, and a host of senior wide receivers and running backs at their disposal.

Their offense has struggled mightily – 72nd in S&P ratings in total offense. Last year they were 28th in S&P. One issue has been offensive line protection of their quarterbacks, who have been sacked 23 times. Another issue is penalties, with the Spartans pulling in the most penalties of any Big 10 team this year, with over 700 yards in penalties and an average of 63.7 yards per game.

The Spartans play two quarterbacks, with senior O’Connor playing the most, and Damion Terry, the backup, jumping in for the dual threat. O’Connor has thrown 9 interceptions this year, but thrown for 16 touchdowns and 1852 yards completing 137 of 229 passes with an average of 8.1 yards per attempt.

Michigan State has struggled running the ball but has had some success with sophomore LJ Scott, who’s run for 935 yards on 168 attempts, with an average of 5.57 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns. The Spartans are more focused more on passing to leader Shelton, who has 48 receptions for 715 yards and five touchdowns, and filling in with receivers Donnie Corley and Josiah Price.


The Spartans returned 64% of their defense this year (and Penn State returns 63%). They were 12th in total defense last year in S&P ratings, and have dropped to 46th this year. They’ve struggled with rush defense and pass defense, and saw a large portion of their defensive line leave the team in the preseason.

The Spartans have been relying heavily on junior All American Malik McDowell (34 tackles, 7 TFL) and end Demetrius Cooper (21 tackles, 5 TFL). They’ve been steady all season, but McDowell has been plagued by some injuries throughout the year. Other defensive players have lost time with injuries including linebacker Jon Reschke, and corner Vayante Copeland.

Linebacker Chris Frey is the team tackle leader with 90 tackles this year and 3 TFL.


Read more about Michigan State football at the SB Nation blog The Only Colors.