MIAMI GARDENS — Michigan State’s offense has been a surprise this season.
So has Miami’s, in a very different way.
The Spartans (2-0) are moving the football more easily than they have in years, and they’ll look to keep that going on Saturday when they visit No. 24 Miami (1-1) in the first matchup between the schools in more than 30 years.
Michigan State has put up at least 38 points in back-to-back regular season games for the first time since 2015 and has topped the 500-yard mark in consecutive games for the first time since 2014. Plus, the Spartans have led for nearly impossible 99.7 percent of the time in their first two games — after getting 75-yard touchdowns on the opening play of each contest.
“Obviously, we want to be efficient when we run the plays,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “The plays are drawn up to be successful, not to fail.”
The Hurricanes averaged 440 yards of offense per game last season and 6 yards per play; so far this season, they’re averaging 320.5 yards of offense and 4.6 yards per play. Granted, playing No. 1 Alabama in the opener skews those numbers considerably — but Miami heard plenty of boos from its home fans last week when it had to squeak out a 25-23 win over Appalachian State on a late field goal from Andres Borregales.
And there is no escape from the criticism, apparently. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that even his wife and kids were grilling him at home about why certain plays were called at certain times.
“We have to play a lot better,” Miami quarterback D’Eriq King said.
Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III has provided a huge lift for Michigan State, with 321 rushing yards already this season. He’s gotten 30 carries in the two games for the Spartans and was stopped for a loss only once.
“He’s explosive, he’s got good vision, he’s got very good ball skills, plays with really good toughness,” Tucker said. “And getting to know him, he’s a first-class individual. He’s very high character, unselfish, team-oriented player and those are the types of players we need here that can help us be successful.”
Entering the week only six teams — Bowling Green, North Texas, Navy, Arizona, New Mexico and Ball State, combined record 4-8 — had worse rates of scoring touchdowns in the red zone than Miami. The Hurricanes have been inside the 20 on eight occasions this season, scoring six times but getting touchdowns only twice. Michigan State is on the other end of the scale, with eight touchdowns and a field goal in 10 red zone trips this season.
Michigan State’s pair of 75-yard scoring plays to open each of its games this season are two of the four plays going for 50 or more yards by the Spartans so far in 2021. Miami hasn’t had a 50-yard play from scrimmage yet this season and it might be tough to change that this week, considering that the Spartans’ defense hasn’t allowed any so far. The Hurricanes gave up one such play, a 94-yard scoring pass from Alabama’s Bryce Young to Jameson Williams in the opener.
Drive for 5
The Hurricanes are 4-0 all-time against Michigan State. Miami could become just the third team to win each of its first five meetings against the Spartans; Notre Dame started 8-0 against Michigan State and Nebraska started 7-0.
See you in 2033
The last meeting between the programs was in 1989. Back in 2010, the schools announced a home-and-home that was supposed to begin at East Lansing last season but couldn’t be played because of the pandemic. The Hurricanes will now make good on their commitment to play at Michigan State on Sept. 10, 2033.
Tucker was an assistant coach for the Ohio State team that defeated Miami in the national championship game that closed the 2002 season. “Very talented, both sides of the ball, lot of NFL players, very well-coached, lot of energy,” Tucker said when asked to recall that 2002 Miami team. “That’s the type of Miami that I remember and that’s the type of Miami that I see on tape.”
By TIM REYNOLDS AP Sports Writer