In the first matchup between Miami and Michigan State since 1989, and only the fifth all-time, the two historically-renowned programs did not necessarily bring their A-game to Hard Rock Stadium throughout the day on Saturday. But the team that has been on the rise - the Spartans - took advantage of a tumbling Canes’ program.
For the third week in a row, the Canes played a mediocre game, this time against a Sparty opponent that appeared inferior on paper. And, in the second consecutive week, Miami’s play left a lot to be desired due to sloppy mistakes, undisciplined execution, and failure to capitalize. Despite eking out a close victory over Appalachian State last week, they had no such luck on Saturday as they lost 38-17. Miami drops to 1-2 and the Spartans lead the Big Ten at 3-0.
As the Canes received the ball to start the game, the issues started right away as QB D’Eriq King (38-for-59 for 388 yards, two TDs, and two INTs) and company were finding a rhythm in OC Rhett Lashlee’s spread offense. However, as they crossed into MSU territory and were approaching the red zone, King fumbled. The loose ball arguably could have been picked up by Miami receivers but instead resulted in a turnover.
Similarly, Miami had its fair share of struggles in establishing the run game. To that end, starting right tackle, Jarrid Williams, was pulled after a holding penalty early in the game and replaced by DJ Scaife, and Navaughn Donaldson subsequently slid in at left guard after a Jalen Rivers injury. Lashlee’s play-call remained steady in the first half but a drop by wide receiver Mike Harley Jr. (four catches for 51 yards) and a key drop by tight end Will Mallory (two receptions for 29 yards) in the end zone not only stymied the rhythm, but the Mallory drop resulted in a 14-point swing (freshman kicker, Andres Borregales missed a 27-yard chip shot after holding penalties, which led to a Sparty TD drive).
The one bright spot on offense was Charleston Rambo, who was steadily working curl patterns and sideline routes, as well as a fourth down touchdown where King connected with a wide open Rambo against the grain - and he added another impressive TD haul in traffic. Rambo tied a school record with 12 receptions and also tallied 156 yards and two TDs. Beyond that, not much shined for the Canes in Miami.
Early in the game, Miami’s defense displayed good bend-don’t-break capability in part thanks to key sacks by LB Waynmon Stead (filling in for injured Keontra Smith) and DE Chantz Williams. Similarly the interior defense initially kept Michigan State’s star running back, Kenneth Walker III, in check on inside runs. However, as the game progressed, Walker wore down Miami’s personnel, which opened up the game for Sparty.
To that end, poor tackling/containment, which was the biggest issue from last season and the early part of this season, continued on Saturday. After Walker established the run game by tallying 172 yards on 27 carries (6.4 yards per carry)(as well as three receptions for 17 yards and a TD), HC Mel Tucker kept the gameplan simple for QB Payton Thorne (18-for-31 for 261 yards and 4 TDs) who worked rudimentary routes on easy dump passes and screens. Solid blocking by Michigan State, but even worse tackling by Miami, resulted in big gains by Connor Heyward (three receptions for 49 yards, 24-yard long), Jalen “Speedy” Nailor (four receptions for 82 yards and two TDs, including 28 and 39-yard catches), and Tre Mosley (51-yard long), the latter of which was almost at touchdown if not for a James Williams tackle.
After a defensive first quarter that ended 0-0, Sparty carried a 10-7 lead into halftime after the teams exchanged touchdown passes from King-to-Rambo and Thorne-to-Walker.
Midway through the third quarter, Michigan State opened the lead up to 17-7, but the Canes gained some momentum thanks to the King-to-Rambo connection and cut the lead to 17-14. However, Miami had a brief scare as King was driven down hard on his right shoulder and was brought to the locker room for treatment. He returned on the following series, but appeared to wince at points as the game rolled along.
Michigan State wildin’ on Miami now…— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
Jalen Nailor takes home a 39 yard TD for the Spartans pic.twitter.com/qZ4XNCl72Q
In the very next series on the following drive, Miami’s left tackle, Zion Nelson missed a block on Michigan State’s Drew Beesley that resulted in a King strip sack. Immediately thereafter a quick receiving touchdown by Sparty receiver Jayden Reed (three receptions for 32 yards and 1 TD) where Thorne caught the defense sleeping on third down to open the visiting team’s lead to 24-14.
Miami countered with a five-minute drive but were stopped short and attempted a long 55-yard field goal, which Andres Borregales nailed with ease - the longest field goal since Jose set the Miami record last year from 55 yards to narrow the lead to one score at 24-17.
On the following drive, Miami’s bend-don’t-break capability finally broke. The Canes allowed Thorne to scramble on a key third down and subsequently gather a first down on a fourth and one QB sneak. On the very next play, Thorne found Naylor wide open as he burnt cornerback Tyrique Stevenson on a 39-yard catch, which put the game at 31-17.
As Miami tried to mount a two-score comeback, King threw a pick on the next play from scrimmage to Michigan State’s Ronald Williams. The Spartans poured it on with a Reed 8-yard end-around touchdown scamper to put the nail in the coffin at 38-17.
PENALTIES AND TURNOVERS:
Besides the missed tackling and dropped passes, another issue from last year carried over to this year - penalties. There were a slew of holding penalties by the offensive line, as well as unnecessary defensive penalties that added up as Miami had 10 penalties for 93 yards.
Going hand-in-hand with penalties, Miami turned the ball over four times - compared to Sparty’s zero - two King picks and two King fumbles (one on the Nelson blown block).
Rambo tied a school record with most receptions in a single game with 12 receptions. Rambo tallied his 12th reception midway through the fourth quarter, but was unable to break the record previously set by Willie Smith in 1984 and tied by Philip Dorsett in 2012.
Left Guard, Jalen Rivers, left in first quarter, returned with a knee brace. On top of losing linebacker Keontra Smith and running back Don Chaney last week, and now Rivers, Miami has had to call in the reserves early and often. King’s shoulder issue, which appeared to be injured on a hard tackle and looked like he winced a few times as game progressed, is something to monitor.
After one of the toughest out-of-conference slates in college football, Miami has their final non-ACC matchup against non-major, Central Connecticut State next Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 12:30pm at Hard Rock Stadium. Thereafter, Miami heads into the ACC Conference slate where they must show vast improvements to stay in contention in the Coastal.