It has been 32 years since the Spartans and the Hurricanes last squared off on a football field. The two teams have only met up twice in the last 40 seasons. Saturday marks the 4th time Michigan State travels to Miami, their toughest opponent thus far in the 2021 season. If he were to win, this contest would be marked as a signature win for head coach, Mel Tucker. With a marquee game, comes bold predictions.
Xavier Henderson Records Ten Total Tackles
Big time games require big time players to step up, and that is exactly what Safety Xavier Henderson is for Michigan State Football. The senior was recently ranked as the best safety in the nation by Pro Football Focus through two weeks of the season. He is already close to half the amount of tackles (17) he had in 2020. Declaring for the NFL Draft is most definitely in his future if he keeps up his current level of play. Whether it be sacks, open-field tackles, or one-handed interceptions, Henderson is bringing it to the Spartans defense.
‘X’ as his teammates like to call him, logged 9 tackles in the win over Northwestern and 8 in the routing of Youngstown State, so 10 is in the realm of possibility. If Michigan State is going to beat the Hurricanes, the score will be close, which calls for their best players to be on the field a lot. Henderson is a prime example of that. He has been named the captain of the defense for three straight weeks now. Keep a lookout for Xavier Henderson at the top of your box score Saturday afternoon.
Offensive Line Allows Zero Sacks
Just like Xavier Henderson, the Michigan State offensive line was graded generously by Pro Football Focus this past week. The group came in at 2nd in the entire country, only behind the Baylor Bears. Matt Allen and Kevin Jarvis lead the offensive line as its most experienced members, but tackles Jarrett Horst and AJ Arcuri have been pleasant surprises this season. MSU hasn’t had an O-Line that they could rely on in a few years, but coach Chris Kapolovic has flipped the script in 2021.
Payton Thorne has only been sacked twice this year, with both of them coming against the Wildcats two weeks ago. Thanks to this offensive line, the Spartans have had a 100-yard rusher in each game they have played. As a result, predicting the rushing attack will continue to be successful wouldn’t be that bold. Miami hasn’t put up huge sack numbers (two sacks in two games) but you have to think they are watching film on how good Payton Thorne has played while not being under pressure. If Michigan States offensive line has a good game, expect the offense as a whole to follow suit on Saturday.
Three Turnovers Forced By The Defense
Turnovers haven’t been the name of the game for the Spartans defense in the early going of 2021. Scroll up to not only see Xavier Hendersons acrobatic interception, but the only MSU takeaway thus far. Luckily, they haven’t had to rely on them to win games, but it should be a focus going into Hard Rock Stadium.
On the flip side, the Hurricanes have taken good care of the football in 2021. Their two giveaways came via D’Eriq King interceptions in a loss to Alabama. However, any turnover at the hands of the Crimson Tide should be taken with a grain of salt since every college football fan knows how good their defense is year in and year out. None the less, an early turnover by Michigan State would be huge for quieting the raucous Miami crowd. Players like Angelo Grose and Jeff Pietrowski, who had solid showings against Youngstown State, should look to build off of that momentum.
We have all seen the videos of Mel Tuckers pre game locker room speeches. They are so intense it even gives the people watching on Instagram goosebumps. Assume that the Spartans commander in chief has another in store for his team on Saturday. Also assume that because of said speech, Michigan State gives the Hurricanes their best shot and we are all in for a treat.
Follow Alex on Twitter; @almay_99