Michigan State vs. Rutgers Prediction, Betting Pick, and Latest Odds
Spread: Michigan State - 5
Game time: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
Where to watch: Big 10 Network
Michigan State vs. Rutgers - Out of the Tunnel
This is what ugly looked like in 2020 at Michigan State: losses by 42 points to Iowa, 40 points to Ohio State, 24 points to Indiana, and 15 to Penn State.
Fast forward to 2021, and Mel Tucker’s second season as coach at Michigan State has rolled into the second week of October without a loss.
The Spartans are unbeaten, but more than that, they’re smart, tough and playing with a purpose. They’re everything Tucker has been preaching since Day 1, when he walked into East Lansing and realized the enormity of the turnaround.
He started weeding out those who didn’t want to work, and zeroed in on recruiting – both high schools and the transfer portal. Both have been significant in the quick turnaround.
It’s a mirror plan for Greg Schiano at Rutgers, only Schiano has been through the process once before in Piscataway. He pulled Rutgers from the depths of college football nearly two decades ago, and did so by keeping elite New Jersey high school players home.
It took Schiano years to see the return on investment then, but it’s a much quicker turnaround now. The transfer portal has allowed coaches who know how to use it and understand roster management, to thrive in this new era of player procurement.
When Michigan State has the ball
One thing Tucker realized when he arrived at MSU last year: the program wasn’t physical or tough enough. Tucker searched the portal for a tailback who could bring that intensity to the offense.
He found a jewel tucked away and overlooked for two years at Wake Forest, and now Kenneth Walker III is the nation’s leading rusher.
The Spartans want to run the ball to set up play action passes from QB Payton Thorne. It has worked beautifully over the first five games of the season.
Walker has 680 yards rushing (6.8 yards per carry) and x TDs, and Thorne has been nearly flawless with the benefit of a strong run game forcing defenses to use safeties in run support. Thorne has completed 64 percent of his passes, and has 11 TDs and only 1 INT.
The Spartans have found a dynamic threat at wideout in Jayden Reed. He’s averaging 23.1 yards pe catch, and has scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one kickoff return). Rutgers had a top 10 defense in the nation, and was top 10 against the run, until Ohio State scored 52 on the Scarlet Knights last week, including 208 yards rushing.
The plan won’t change for MSU: run with power, set up play action.
When Rutgers has the ball
Remember the idea of the mirror plan between MSU and Rutgers? It extends to offense – where Rutgers, too, wants to run the ball to set up play action.
The big difference: the Rutgers offense is run through dual-threat QB Noah Vedral. TB Isaiah Pacheco and Vedral work the zone-read option, the primary function of the offense, and throw off it on play action.
Pacheco is a grinder, a surprisingly tough runner who can push the pile and get hard yards. Vedral isn’t a dynamic runner, but he’s a willing runner and a threat if he keeps on the option.
The difference between the two offenses is Rutgers isn’t as efficient in the passing game. While Vedral completes a high percentage of his passes (66.7), they’re mostly safe, short routes and very rarely second-level throws. There’s a reason he’s averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt.
Rutgers is 102nd in the nation in total offense (350.2 ypg.) and wants to dictate tempo and control the game with stout run defense and an offense that can take advantage of field position – and not be reckless with the ball.
Rutgers had just one turnover in its first four games, and three last week against Ohio State (all Vedral interceptions) – and that contributed to an ugly 52-13 loss.
Michigan State is tied for fourth in the nation with 18 sacks and will force Vedral into quick decisions.
Michigan State vs. Rutgers Prediction - The bottom line
They both want a physical game, and both want to impose their will with a strong running game. Rutgers needs turnovers early to throw doubt into Michigan State’s big-play ability on offense.
The Scarlet Knights keep it close early, but Michigan State pulls away in the second half and covers.
The score: Michigan State, 30-17
Michigan State vs. Rutgers Pick: Michigan State -5 @ -110