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Maryland searching for weakness in traditionally stingy Michigan State defense

Maryland quarterback Perry Hills, second from back left, throws a pass to wide receiver Levern Jacobs (8) in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Baltimore.
Maryland quarterback Perry Hills, second from back left, throws a pass to wide receiver Levern Jacobs (8) in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Baltimore.(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

During a run in which it has won a Big Ten Conference-best 61 games since 2010, Michigan State has built a reputation around a hard-nosed, stingy defense. In the past four years, the Spartans have ranked at least seventh or better in yards allowed per game and 12th or better in points allowed per game. The unit has helped Michigan State win the Cotton Bowl and the Rose Bowl in the past two years.

This season, though, things are different in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans rank 50th in yards allowed per game (372) and 47th in points allowed per game (24.0). It's uncharacteristic, and it's due to vulnerabilities through the air: Michigan State allows 249.8 yards per game through the air, which ranks 90th nationally, one spot above Maryland's 250.1 yards per game.

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If the Terps want to take down the No. 13 Spartans and snap a six-game losing streak that has knocked them from bowl contention, then quarterback Perry Hills and the passing game will have to turn in a good performance.

"We definitely are going to have to attack their secondary," Hills said Wednesday. "They do have a great front, but that's not going to stop us from running the ball as well. We definitely are going to have to take advantage of that."

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Michigan State has been hit by injuries in the secondary and has used six different lineups in nine games this season. The Spartans have had three different starters at the two safety positions and one of the cornerback spots with an inexperienced group. Fifth-year senior Arjen Colquhoun (six career starts) and junior Demetrious Cox (10) are expected to start at cornerback, while freshman Grayson Miller (three) is slated to start at one safety spot and freshman Khari Willis (three) or sophomore Montae Nicholson (eight) will start at the other.

Maryland is coming off another subpar passing game in its loss to Wisconsin. Hills and backup Caleb Rowe, who entered in the fourth quarter, combined to go 13 of 34 for 204 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The stable of Maryland wide receivers, including Levern Jacobs, D.J. Moore and DeAndre Lane, has shown playmaking ability this season, when the quarterbacks have been able to get them the ball.

Maryland still leads the nation in interceptions with 25.

"It's nothing they can really do to make life miserable for us," Jacobs said. "I think if we just go in there, execute the things we need to execute, we can win the game. Every game we go in each weekend, we've kind've been beating ourselves. We've been in each and every game this year, and we haven't executed on some of the small things, and I think that's what we need to do this week. Try to execute on the little things and I think we'll come out with the win."

Whichever quarterback is under center for Maryland, they'll have to watch for Michigan State's ferocious front seven, which boasts star defensive end Shilique Calhoun. But if the offensive line featuring redshirt freshman Brendan Moore making his first career start at left guard can give Hills time, the Terps can get the ball downfield.

Hills had a 40-yard touchdown pass to Moore along the sideline last week and also hit Lane for a 41-yard gain.

"I felt like it's something we can build on," Lane said. "We can throw the ball a lot more. They gave up a lot of passing yards, but we do have a strong running game, so I feel like it'll probably be equal."

daniel.gallen@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7895

twitter.com/danieljtgallen

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