College Park, MD - Coming off of an impressive bounce-back win over Purdue last week, Michigan State hit the road to take on a Maryland team that went through plenty of turmoil throughout the week leading up to Saturday regarding the reinstatement and eventual firing of head coach D.J. Durkin.
Behind a rejuvenated rushing attack led by sophomore running back Connor Heyward and yet another dominant defensive effort, Michigan State earned a 24-3 win over the Terrapins as the Spartans become bowl eligible for a second straight season.
After Michigan State jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Spartan offense struggled to find a rhythm throughout the second quarter, the Spartans and quarterback Brian Lewerke, who missed last week’s game against Purdue due to injury, started finding their footing again midway through the third quarter.
On their second drive of the second half, the Spartans would march 69 yards in 11 plays as Heyward rushed five yards down to the 1-yard line and fumbled the ball into the end zone, where fullback Max Rosenthal recovered the loose ball to extend the Michigan State lead to 17-3 with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
The 14-point lead was more than enough for the Michigan State defense, which forced a 3-and-out and a fumble on the next two Maryland possessions, giving the Spartans a chance to widen their lead late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
But the Spartan offense was unable to capitalize on the defense’s strong stands and after Lewerke threw an interception early in the fourth quarter, the Michigan State junior signal caller was benched in favor of redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi.
The decision to start Lewerke on Saturday over Lombardi can be described as a somewhat surprising one, considering Michigan State’s tendency to go with the “hot hand” after Lombardi’s impressive performance last weekend and that Lewerke clearly wasn’t 100-percent healthy.
Lewerke finished with 87 yards and one interception on 11-of-20 passing and also rushed for 45 yards on nine carries.
On Lombardi’s first series, he was picked off by Maryland defensive lineman Byron Cowart, who looked well on his way to a touchdown, but Spartan receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. caught Cowart from behind knocking the ball free and into the end zone where Michigan State tight end Matt Dotson recovered the ball as a wild play resulted in a touchback, giving the Spartans the ball back.
On the very next play, Heyward would take a handoff from Lombardi and break through the Maryland defense for an 80-yard touchdown run, pushing the Michigan State lead to 24-3 with 11 minutes left to play.
Heyward became the first Michigan State running back to rush for over 100 yards in the 2018 season as he finished with a game-high 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 15 carries to lead the way for the Spartan offense. Going into Saturday’s game, the Spartan rushing offense was ranked No. 120 in the nation with just 107.6 yards per game on the ground but erupted for 269 yards on the ground against Maryland.
In the first half, Michigan State jumped out to an early 7-0 as the Spartans scored on their first drive of the game as Heyward found the end zone on an 18-yard run with 7:55 left in the first quarter, capping off a 12-play, 79-yard drive that lasted six minutes.
Michigan State would push its lead to 10-0 on its second drive of the game on a Matt Coghlin 33-yard field goal, but Maryland would get on the board late in the first half as Joseph Petrino booted a 23-yard field goal, making it 10-3 at halftime.
But that would be all of the offense Maryland would be able to muster up on Saturday afternoon as the Spartans shut down a usually good Terrapin offense, limiting Maryland to just 100 total yards for the game and Michigan State’s top-ranked run defense allowed just 26 yards on the ground.
Now bowl eligible, Michigan State will look to push its winning streak to three games as they welcome in Ohio State next Saturday at Spartan Stadium hoping to avenge last year’s 48-3 loss to the Buckeyes.
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