The Michigan Wolverines (6-1) head into East Lansing this Saturday to face their in-state rival, the number 24 ranked Michigan State Spartans (4-2). Michigan is looking to add on to their six game winning streak after a statement win at home over 15th ranked Wisconsin last weekend. Michigan State is still clinging onto Big Ten Title hopes after an upset win at Penn State on Saturday.
Michigan opens as a touchdown favorite and is clearly the more talented team, but I fully expect this game to be close throughout as MSU always plays Michigan extremely tough. Mark Dantonio is 8-3 against Michigan in his career while Jim Harbaugh is just 1-2 against MSU. Harbaugh needs to win this game not only to keep Michigan’s College Football Playoff hopes alive, but also to quiet the doubters who constantly criticize him for his 1-5 record against rivals in his tenure at Michigan.
In order for Harbaugh to save his legacy and the Wolverine season, these are the keys to victory for Michigan at Spartan Stadium…
Unleash Shea Patterson – Shea Patterson has been excellent for Michigan all season long and has been especially efficient completing 69% of his passes which is good for 13th in the country. He has yet to eclipse 300 yards but will be facing a Michigan State defense that has allowed three 300 yard passers this season and ranks 117th nationally against the pass. This could be Shea Patterson’s coming out party.
Michigan will look to establish the run early on but the Spartans host the best run defense in the country allowing only 62.3 yards per game. The Wolverines are going to need Patterson to step up, especially if Karan Higdon isn’t able to get anything going on the ground. Shea Patterson has made big plays all year for the Wolverines which is something that they clearly missed from the quarterback position last season. A few big plays from
Patterson could finally give Harbaugh the commanding win over his rival that he has desperately needed.
Establish an effective run game – As I mentioned above, Michigan State’s run defense is the real deal. With that being said, Michigan is a team that clearly wants to run the football. They are averaging more than 40 rushing attempts per game and they use Karan Higdon as a focal point of the offense as a true bell cow back. Higdon has proven he can take advantage of a large work load as he has rushed for over 100 yards in the last five games he has played in.
If Higdon is able to get it going against this stout MSU defense, it is going to be a long day for the Spartans. Not only will an effective run game control the clock for the Wolverines, but it will open up the already exploited Spartan secondary even more giving Shea Patterson wide open throwing lanes all day. If Michigan can run the ball effectively, the Wolverine offense will dominate Michigan State on Saturday.
Limit Brian Lewerke – Michigan State clearly relies on Brian Lewerke and the passing attack as they average 38 passing attempts per game. Part of this is due to the abysmal MSU rushing attack that ranks 114th nationally. The main reason the Spartan run game has struggled is due to starting running back L.J. Scott missing the last four games because of injury. He didn’t travel with the team last week to Penn State and so it is unlikely he will play again this week vs. the Wolverines. If Michigan State is going to pull off the upset they will need a great game from Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke.
In last season’s game against Michigan, Lewerke only passed for 94 yards in large thanks to horrendous weather conditions but he did manage one touchdown. He also led the Spartans in rushing with 61 yards and a touchdown as well. This season, he has passed for 250+ yards four times but has thrown an interception in every game so far. The Spartans live and die by Lewerke’s arm and if he struggles, so will MSU.
Michigan has the nation’s number one passing defense and is limiting opposing quarterbacks to just 129.1 yards per game. The Wolverine defense has only allowed five passing touchdowns all year. Those are incredible numbers, but Lewerke is arguably a lot better than the other quarterbacks the Wolverines have seen this year.
If Michigan can make Lewerke uncomfortable by providing enough pressure, Lewerke is going to struggle against the best defense he has faced all season. Michigan has a fast, relentless defense that has the potential to dictate the outcome of this game. If they shut down Lewerke, the Paul Bunyan trophy will be making its way back to Ann Arbor.
Forget the past – To say Michigan has struggled against MSU in the last decade is an understatement. The Spartans have certainly had the Wolverines number the past decade.
Michigan cannot head into this game dwelling on the past 10 years. They have a new quarterback who hasn’t played against Michigan State and they have a different team than they had last year.
Michigan is more skilled, matches up well with the Spartans, and still has a legitimate shot at a Big Ten title. The only thing that can get in Michigan’s way in this game is themselves and if they can get past that, Jim Harbaugh may finally get that signature win he has been looking for.