After a long week for both fan bases, the Spartans and Wolverines are a little over 24 hours from kick-off. This game has implications for both teams beyond the obvious rivalry. Michigan is looking to compete for a Big Ten crown, while Michigan State is looking to return to league relevance, and an upset of the seventh ranked Wolverines at the Big House would certainly accomplish that. With the primetime stage set, here are four factors on the Michigan State side that will heavily influence the game.
Last week against Iowa, Beedle was left sidelined with an injury, and true freshman Kevin Jarvis played the entire game at right guard. Jarvis performed admirably against a stout Iowa defense, but the Wolverines’ number one ranked defense will be another challenge entirely. The Spartans are going to need to get Lewerke time to pass against this Michigan defense, as receivers might have trouble getting open against a reliable Michigan secondary. Even though Jarvis is a capable backup with plenty of talent, a senior like Beedle who has experience in the Big House, would be preferred for the Spartans.
With rushing likely to be a challenge, Lewerke will need to carry the offense. That is a lot to ask against the best defense in the country statistically, especially for just a redshirt sophomore. One key for the Spartans is going to be the effectiveness of Lewerke in quick, short passes on early downs to keep the Spartans out of being behind the chains on second down, and out of third and long. An accurate, efficient Brian Lewerke would be huge against the Wolverines. Also, like every game, turnovers are something the Spartans will not be able to afford. Last game, Lewerke threw no interceptions and did not fumble. The Spartans will need more of that from Lewerke.
The Defensive Line
One of the few favorable match-ups for the Spartans against the Wolverines is the Spartan defensive line against the Wolverine offensive line. The defensive line had a great showing last week, keeping Stanley off balance with three sacks and eight quarterback hurries. Looking to build off of that effort, this unit could be a difference maker against an offensive line that is largely responsible for the Wolverines ranking 109th in sacks allowed, and 118th in tackles for loss allowed.
In the Spartans’ last trip to the Big House, special teams obviously decided that game for the Spartans. In what is likely to be a defensive battle due to the strength of both defenses, as well as the weather potentially playing a factor, this game could come down to special teams. Jake Hartbarger has been fantastic so far this season for the Spartans, pinning the Hawkeyes inside their own 10 four times last week alone. Giving the Wolverines a long field could be huge for the Spartans. On special teams, containing Donovan Peoples- Jones on punts and kickoffs will also be huge for the Spartans, as he is averaging 14.73 yards with a touchdown on punt returns.