Michigan football heads to East Lansing to take on a perennial thorn in their side, the in-state rival Michigan State Spartans this weekend, kicking off at noon on Fox. The Wolverines are coming off one of their most impressive wins under coach Jim Harbaugh, a 38-13 demolition of Wisconsin. Michigan State has been up and down this season, but last week they reached their highest peak thus far, defeating then 8th ranked Penn State in Happy Valley on a late touchdown, 21-17.
Offensively, the Spartans are a slightly more pass first version of the balanced attack the Wolverines feature. Second year starter quarterback Brian Lewerke hasn’t lived up to the few Heisman sleeper whispers that followed him into the season but has been productive. He’s completing passes at a rate of 60%, with 7 YPA and 8 scores to 7 interceptions, while providing occasional yardage with his legs. His preferred target is senior wideout Felton Davis III, followed by receiver Cody White and Connor Heyward out of the backfield. La’Darius Jefferson could lead the backfield in carries, with LJ Scott still nursing an injury and his status looking murky for this week. He handled ball carrying duties for the most part against Penn State and was serviceable. The offensive line has been suspect this season and could be in over their heads this week trying to handle the Wolverine front 7. As is always the case in this rivalry game, the Spartans will have a handful of trick plays ready to go that will test the discipline of the aggressive Michigan defense.
On defense, Michigan State leads the country in rushing yards allowed per game, at 62.3 YPG and 2.3 YPC. They hadn’t allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards in their last 8 games before Penn State ran for 205 last week. While the Wolverine rushing attack is more similar to Penn State than that of any other MSU opponent thus far, the Spartans are more than capable of slowing down the ground game. The pass defense is a different story. The Spartans rank 112 in the nation, allowing 286.3 YPG and a 64% completion percentage against. The pass rush has notched 14 sacks on the season, 5 of which belong to defensive end Kenny Willekes. They’ll be a test for the vastly improved Wolverine offensive line. How exactly Michigan decides to attack this defense will be interesting. Could the disparity in the air and ground stats for the Spartan defense cause the Wolverines to attack more through the air than they have thus far? Or will they stick with what’s been working, a run heavy attack that’s been mostly opportunistic in the passing game? Smart money is on the latter.
The feelings entering this game are all too familiar for Michigan fans. The Wolverines are riding high, up to 6th in the AP Poll, while the Spartans are ranked, but have reasons for concern. In multiple previous seasons, a loss at the hands of Michigan State has led to a late season swoon for Michigan. A few very important things about this Wolverine squad are different however. The quarterback and offensive line play are as good as they’ve been in Ann Arbor for quite some time. The defense will give the offense short fields to work with by forcing a few turnovers, and the offense will do enough to win a physical, old-school Big Ten game, snapping the streak of losses on the road to ranked opponents.
Matchup to Watch
Wolverine OL vs Spartan front 7
If the offensive line continues to trend upward, the Wolverines win the game.
Final Score Prediction
Michigan 24 Michigan State 20