Youngstown State vs. Michigan State Odds & Pick: Bet the Big Ten Spartans to Roll in Saturday’s College Football Matchup
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kenneth Walker of Michigan State.
- The Michigan State Spartans battle the FCS Youngstown State Penguins in college football action Saturday.
- The Spartans are coming off a dominant win over Northwestern and look to continue their ways in Week 2.
- Thomas Schlarp breaks down the game below and shares a betting pick and prediction based on his analysis.
Editor’s Note: The spread for Saturday’s Youngstown State vs. Michigan State game has moved 7.5 points since publish. The Spartans -19.5 pick is no longer available in the market.
Youngstown State vs. Michigan State Odds
|Youngstown State Odds|
-110o / -110u
|Michigan State Odds|
Michigan State takes a step back in level of competition as the Spartans prepare for their home opener against FCS-level Youngstown State.
The Spartans are riding high after a tone-setting, 38-21 victory in Week 1 at Northwestern, behind a revelatory 511-yard offensive performance and a bend-don’t-break defense that held the Wildcats to just a single touchdown through three quarters.
The only question now is if the Spartans can avoid taking too large of an exhale against the Penguins as a nearly three-touchdown favorite.
It’s been a rough year for Youngstown State football, now in its second season during the calendar year after going 1-6 in the spring while playing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Penguins earned a win last week over fellow FCS foe Incarnate Wood, but it was far from easy as Youngstown State needed a 45-yard reception with two seconds remaining to set up a game-tying field goal before the Penguins prevailed in overtime.
It hasn’t been the start head coach Doug Phillips imagined when he took the job in the winter of 2020, leaving his position as running backs coach at Cincinnati, and things aren’t going to get easier as he now prepares for a game against the first FBS team in his tenure.
If there’s one player to watch on the Penguins offense, it’s running back Jaleel McLaughlin, who toted the rock 29 times for 242 yards and two touchdowns against Incarnate Wood in Week 1.
Penguins are flightless birds, a perfect metaphor for this offense as Youngstown State prefers to almost exclusively keep it on the ground, rushing 61 times to just 12 passes last week, racking up 351 yards rushing.
Only Army ran the ball at a higher rate than the Penguins in Week 1, and in 2020, Youngstown State’s rushing rate of 67.9% of plays would have ranked fifth in the FBS.
McLaughlin, who averaged 99.6 yards rushing per game last season against FCS competition, also led the team in Week 1 with 46 receiving yards, 45 of which were obtained on the final offensive play of regulation.
This Penguins defense allowed 41 points to Incarnate Wood in regulation last week and was torched primarily through the air, with 352 of Incarnate Wood’s 490 yards of offense coming by way of the pass from quarterback Cameron Ward, the defending Jerry Rice Award-winner, given to the most talented freshman in the FCS.
The Penguins secondary was also susceptible to explosive plays, surrendering five passes of at least 20 yards in length, including three over 30. This is particularly concerning against Michigan State which has a pair of the Big Ten’s most explosive receivers in Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor.
Youngstown State also failed to generate much pressure in Week 1, recording only one sack and was ineffective on the line slowing the run, allowing Incarnate Wood running back Kevin Brown to average 6.2 yards a carry.
It may have technically been the start of Year 2 for head coach Mel Tucker last week, but it truly felt like a new beginning for this Michigan State program with a wire-to-wire (literally from the first snap), 38-21 win over Northwestern in Week 1.
The game was a crucial early-season measuring stick to see how much progress Tucker’s team made over his first normal offseason as the Spartans looked to improve upon an inconsistent two-win season in 2020.
Michigan State now gets a soft reset as the Spartans open their home slate against the only FCS opponent on their 2021 schedule, before things pick up in intensity with a trip to Miami, followed by the resumption of Big Ten play.
The bane of the Michigan State offense’s existence the past three seasons has been an inability to have even a modicum of success running the ball, finishing 119th, 115th, 124th in the FBS from 2018-20 in average yards per rush attempt, bottoming out last year at 2.68 yards a carry with a Rushing Success Rate ranked 126th.
In comes one of Tucker’s many additions from the transfer portal, Kenneth Walker III, and all the former Wake Forest player did was run a Northwestern defense ragged, to the tune of 264 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 carries.
No player has more rushing yards, even accounting for the handful of players with two games under their 2021 belts.
Walker was complemented by quarterback Payton Thorne, who perhaps surprisingly got the starting job over Anthony Russo and had a fine game, throwing for 211 yards and one score. His most important statistic was not having a single turnover, something that plagued the Spartans at the position in 2020.
The Spartans also went five-for-five in the red zone with four touchdowns and a field goal, a stark improvement over their Finishing Drives rank of 122 a season ago.
Michigan State’s defensive line was anticipated as being the strength of this side of the ball, with two returning starters at defensive end and a highly-regarded Jalen Hunt at defensive tackle.
To the line’s credit, it held a Northwestern team to 115 yards rushing on 3.0 yards a carry and got home to the quarterback three times.
A similar effort is paramount against the Penguins whose bread is buttered pounding the ball on the ground with little contribution from the passing attack.
It shouldn’t be a huge area of concern this week, but Michigan State knew it had work to do in the secondary — a unit that was essentially 100% redone since 2020 except at one safety position — and the coverage was susceptible at times to explosive plays against the Wildcats, allowing completions of 47, 41, 25 and 19 yards in length.
Youngstown State vs. Michigan State Betting Pick
Even if there was any fear of this being an emotion let-down game for the Spartans, sandwiched between a pair of much more important games, Michigan State should be in for an easy 2021 debut in East Lansing.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson will probably turn to Thorn a little more in the early portions of this game than he did in Week 1 to build some more confidence in the green quarterback, and the Spartans have the weapons on the outside to expose the weakness that is the Penguins secondary.
And once Michigan State dials back the passing game, we all saw how effective the ground game was last week, albeit Walker won’t play deep into the fourth quarter with a trip to Hard Rock Stadium looming.
I said last week I’m high on Michigan State to grossly outperform preseason expectations, and I see no reason to anticipate a disappointing result in Week 2. Swallow the 19.5 points.