By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio figures Michigan State has a little more work to do before the Spartans can start making grand proclamations about a major turnaround.
“I think we can make that statement at the end of the season, not with three games left,” the Michigan State coach said. “But we’re working our way in that direction. I don’t know that we’re there yet. We need to keep pushing.”
The Spartans went 3-9 last year but appear to be back on track in 2017, last weekend’s blowout loss at Ohio State notwithstanding. If No. 22 Michigan State beats Maryland and Rutgers, the Spartans will have flipped that regular-season record around completely to 9-3, but Dantonio and his team can’t afford to take anything for granted Saturday against the Terrapins, who still have fading bowl hopes to play for.
Maryland (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) lost to Michigan last week and now has to play Michigan State and Penn State to end the regular season, and the Terps need to win both to secure bowl eligibility.
Maryland and Michigan State (7-3, 5-2, No. 17 CFP) are both trying to bounce back from one-sided losses. The Terps lost 35-10 to Michigan, and the Spartans were routed 48-3 by Ohio State.
“They’re coming off a loss as well so I know their focus will be up this whole week,” Maryland coach DJ Durkin said. “That’s a program with a lot of pride, for sure. … Big challenge for our guys. I really believe our guys are up for the challenge and will respond.”
Here are a few more things to know when the Spartans host the Terps:
TOUGH SCHEDULES: Maryland has played the second-toughest schedule in the country in terms of opponents’ winning percentage, and Michigan State’s is third-toughest. The difference is that the Terps are going through the hardest part of theirs right now.
QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE: The Terrapins have started four different quarterbacks this season, three of whom have produced victories.
Max Bortenschlager, who missed last week’s game with an apparent head injury, is expected to return Saturday. Sophomore Ryan Brand, who got his first career start against Michigan, will be available if needed.
“We don’t have many more guys at the position,” said Durkin, who has employed five QBs over the course of this frustrating season.
Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill were lost in September with torn ACLs. Bortenschlager engineered wins over Minnesota and Indiana.
SWAN SONG: The Spartans will recognize 15 players in a Senior Day pregame ceremony. This is their home finale. Michigan State’s senior class has won 33 games, tied for the seventh-most in program history. That includes last season’s swoon and this year’s improvement.
“I feel like we were divided last year a little bit, but from the start of this offseason throughout the entire year I think we’ve done a very good job as a senior class and as a leadership council to bring this team together as one,” linebacker Chris Frey said. “That was the main focus and I think we did a very good job of that this offseason and continued into this season.”
THE OTHER GUY: Maryland junior DJ Moore leads the Big Ten with 64 catches, 13 short of matching the single-season school record set in 1994 by Geroy Simon.
Moore is the Terrapins’ most potent receiver, though senior Taivon Jacobs has proven to be a very ample target. Jacobs had eight receptions for 92 yards last week and has 40 catches for 482 yards and five touchdowns for the season.
“He’s playing really well. He’s making some big third down catches for us,” Durkin said. “His numbers are continuing to go up and he’s doing some things blocking on the perimeter and in the run game that’s really helping us. Very pleased with him, happy how he’s progressing.”
DOUBLE THREAT: Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for only 156 yards in a loss to Maryland last season, but he ran for 79. The Spartans had 270 yards rushing in that game, and the Terps had 247.
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