Week 8 Preview: Michigan at Michigan State
When: Noon ET Saturday, October 20
Where: East Landfill
Line: Michigan -7
You can feel the excitement in the air as we enter week 8 which features a heated rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State, in the Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Trash talk is flying left and right from fans of both sides of this matchup, although many Michigan fans are a bit guarded after recent history has given them a bit of PSD. Here’s some advice for both sides, trash talk is ok, it’s part of the rivalry. Let it fly. Just remember you’ll only have to eat crow for a year if your team loses, until the next time the two teams are able to settle it on the field once again. Trust me, neither side is going to go easier on you if you decided to mute yourself prior to the game, rather than participating in the banter. So you might as well enjoy yourself, you know, if you enjoy that sort of thing.
Michigan leads the all-time series a lot to a little and in Spartan fans’ minds, none of that matters, it was all in the past. The only past history that matters is the last decade or so in which Sparty has dominated the rivalry. Funny how that works. Being completely honest though, even while Michigan has dominated the series long term, it would be nice to back that up with some more recent dominance. Jim Harbaugh has the opportunity Saturday to even the series as far as it goes while he has been the headman for Michigan. A win Saturday would make him 2-2 against Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. A loss will seemingly corroborate the following narratives: “Harbaugh can’t win big games”, “Harbaugh can’t beat ranked teams on the road”, “Harbaugh can’t beat his rivals”, and “Michigan is lil’ sister!”.
Both teams have scores to settle and Michigan is on its Revenge Tour.
Speaking of both teams, both teams are coming in with a bit of momentum. Michigan State, after losing to Northwestern at home, went to Happy Valley and somehow escaped with a win, which is pretty impressive considering the Northwestern and Arizona State loses. This will provide their momentum. Michigan, on the other hand, is riding a nice 6 game win streak, after complete and utter domination against Wisconsin last week who was ranked number 15. The Wolverine offense has continued to improve and the defense has remained stout.
This will be another top 25 matchup and as mentioned before, gives the Maize and Blue the opportunity to beat a ranked opponent on the road.
Michigan vs Lil Bro Statistical Analysis
First, we will look at some key statistics.
|Team||Record||Avg Point Diff||Off YPP||Off YPG||3rd Down %||Def YPP||Def YPG||Def 3rd Down %||T/O Diff.||PPG||PPG Allowed|
|Team||Rec.||2ndO Wins||S&P+||S&P+||Rk||Off. S&P+||Rk||Def. S&P+||Rk||ST S&P+||Rk||Last Week||Chg|
|Lil Bro||4-2||3.8 (-0.2)||76.20%||8.3||33||28.1||75||20.1||21||0.2||36||31||-2|
Ok, football fans, I will qualify this with the good old adage, “Football ain’t played on paper”, but if it were, this would be a capital A type ass…k me no more questions type of butt-whoopin’. For the first time all year, the Wolverines play a team wherein every single category of this site’s featured statistics, the Wolverines hold the edge. It can’t be this easy though, I must dig further to find out how this could possibly be a close game or even a loss for Michigan. Before I do that though, I just want to put out some ranking comparisons regarding the first set of stats above.
Michigan is number one in defensive yards per play and per game to Sparty’s 33 and 32 ranking respectively. Michigan is ranked 15 in points per game while Sparty is number 70. Michigan boasts the 6th best scoring defense in America and Sparty is the 33rd best scoring defense in America. Lastly, in offensive 3rd down percentage, Michigan has climbed all the way to number 13 in the nation where Sparty is near the bottom at 102.
Also, just take a look at the S&P rankings above – Michigan is number 4 overall while Sparty is 33. Broken down further, we have Michigan’s number 27 S&P Offense against Sparty’s 21 ranked defense and conversely, Michigan’s number 1 ranked S&P defense against Sparty’s 75th ranked offense.
So right there, maybe we have our first glimpse into how this can be made close. Sparty’s defense isn’t terrible, it just isn’t Michigan’s defense in comparison. Michigan’s offense isn’t the best in the country, heck Sparty’s defense is ranked higher in comparing offense to defense, but it’s quite a bit better than Sparty’s offense. The thing is, offense doesn’t play against offense, it plays against defense. So the Michigan offense still has a decent test in front of it.
Time to dig for Spartan gold. Lil bro is actually big bro when it comes to rush defense. Michigan State is only giving up 62.3 yards per game, good for best in the nation. We all know that Harbaugh and running the ball go together like chickens and nervousness so my educated guess is that MSU will be looking to stop that there run. Now I know I’m supposed to be digging for things Sparty can hang their hat on but, context. The best running team Sparty faced so far this year was PSU, and last week, PSU put up 205 yards rushing where their average is 251.7 per game. Exactly zero of the other teams that MSU has played this year are among the top 50 best rushing teams and only Utah State is above 80th at 56th.
Michigan State is creating almost 2 turnovers per game, which is decent, except they are also giving up about 2 per game. Michigan has done a fair job of getting more takeaways than they have giveaways. Michigan State is allowing less punt attempts per game than Michigan at 5.7 to Michigan’s 6.6 but wait. . . I guess that’s better for Michigan too since you kind of want to force punts and the Wolverines are doing so more often. Sheesh, digging for gold is hard. I give up.
Who are these guys?. . .
They are the proud Spartans where pride comes before the fall, or so they say. Joking aside, Michigan State has some good players and as previously qualified, the game is not played on paper. In fact, it was fun writing the preceding section, but you might as well throw it away after it hopefully made you laugh a bit. Rivalry games are extremely strange in that they can make unthinkable things happen. We don’t need reminders of this phenomenon but it’s true.
Michigan State’s best player might be WR Felton Davis III. Dude is kind of a beast and if there’s any one player that scares me on that squad it’s Mr. Davis. QB Brian Lewerke will almost certainly throw about 10 or so back-shoulder fades to Davis during this game. Lewerke was once thought to be a Heisman candidate, during the preseason, but then the season started to happen and he’s not very Heisman-y. He’s still a good QB but he’s thrown the ball 66 more times than Shea Patterson and has just 276 more yards than Shea. Lewerke has also thrown 8 touchdowns while throwing almost as many interceptions with 7. Lewerke’s one thing though is his ability to escape pressure and make things happen with his legs. He’ll have to do that a lot against this defense.
The Spartan running backs have struggled for the most part this year as LJ Scott has been out for a good part of the season. In his absence, Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson have been shouldering the load. Both have been adequate but not stellar.
Defensively, MSU also has a few good players. LBs Joe Bachie, and Andrew Dowell are probably the best defenders that the Spartans have and they are good. Edge guy, Kenny Willekes, is also having a great season. DBs Justin Layne and Khari Willis would be the other two names I would look for to make plays for Dantonio’s defense. Either way, look for the Spartans to stand “unided”.
Lil Bro wins if. . .
They can play up to their rush defense ranking and force Shea to pass the ball, a lot. However, they must also defend the emerging passing game that Michigan is showing, along with their propensity to dial up read/options and other tricks to help balance the attack. MSU must find a way to get the ball into their offense’s hands by getting Michigan off the field, stopping them on 3rd down. It’s also a road game for Michigan, so the crowd needs to be a factor. The Spartans would also benefit from another botched snap on a punt or something that allows them to take advantage of a Michigan miscue. If the Spartans can play a clean ballgame, penalty-wise, while winning the turnover battle, winning the 3rd down battle, and keeping the crowd into it – they certainly have a chance in this game.
Michigan wins if. . .
They can find a way to come out fast on the road. It is the slow starts and letting an inferior team hang around, that typically bites the Wolverines as it almost did against Northwestern earlier this year. Michigan needs to set the tempo early and take the crowd right the heck out of this game. There should be a decent gathering of fans donning the maize and blue, so it would be nice to hear a bunch of cheering from them and not so much from the green and white. Look for Michigan to continue to bring more and more read/option into the game, whether it’s Shea, Dylan McCaffrey or now Joe Milton, this will certainly be an element that is featured. Also, look for Jim Harbaugh to continue to establish his run game but don’t be surprised if they cut Shea loose a little in this one. The kid has that killer instinct and has a firm grip on the playbook these days. Not to mention, his accuracy has been incredible. Defensively, I like the Wolverines to get tons of pressure on MSU’s QB and to continue to make it tough on the run game. Michigan has the best pass D in the nation, but it will be interesting to see how they do against Felton Davis and Co. Shut them down, shut down the Spartans.
Injury/Missing Player Report:
Out: Brad Robbins, Ben St. Juste, Luiji Vilain
Questionable: Rashan Gary* (shoulder), Ben Mason (undisclosed), Tarik Black (foot)
Probable: Shea Patterson (Hand), Michael Dwumfour, Carlo Kemp
*Gary could play if needed but leaving him in questionable because I’m of the opinion he may be waiting until 100% health beore returning. Here’s to hoping that comes this week.
Out/Doubtful: P Jake Hartbarger, CB Tyson Smith, LG David Beedle, WR Cody White, CB Josiah Scott
Questionable: WR Darrell Stewart Jr., WR Cam Chambers, WR Felton Davis III, WR Brandon Sowards, WR Jalen Jailor, RB LJ Scott, RG Kevin Jarvis, CB Josh Butler, DE Dillon Alexander, DT Mufi Hill-Hunt, TE Noah Davis, LB Ed Warriner, LB Chase Kline, OL James Ohonba
Probable: FB Collin Lucas
Thoughts From The BluePrint Family
Michigan is coming off its biggest win of the season and the biggest win under Jim Harbaugh since beating Wisconsin back in 2016, but this time it was in dominating fashion. I liked the play calling for the offense. They began to look like the Michigan Wolverines that we have been wanting to see Jim Harbaugh trot out since he became Head Coach. This week we have a big rivalry game in East Lansing against Michigan State.
MSU also had an impressive comeback win against Penn State on the road. The narrative of Michigan being 0-17 since 2006 for ranked road games has been brought up to all of our attention again this week but I honestly think that Michigan will finally break that streak. With Shea Patterson at QB, this team will get the job done. This defense will continue to play great and will continue the ”Revenge Tour”.
It will be a dawg fight but I expect Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to bring Paul back to Ann Arbor this year. The Michigan offense will continue to dominate the front 7 of MSU’s defense to run the ball consistently and MSU will be the laughing stock in front of their home crowd because Michigan will win by a couple of possessions.
I think Michigan will win 24-14 and bring Paul back to Ann Arbor. Jim will even the series in the MSU rivalry in his tenure at 2-2.
Michigan coming off of a hard-fought, impressive win at home over Wisconsin looks to continue their success and improve on the road against a Michigan State team that is coming off a last-minute upset win against Penn State. Needless to say, when it comes to this game and this series it’s all heart and grit; these teams have to have specialized game planning and execution to win.
Michigan’s pass rush has to get to Lewerke, contain him and his exit lanes- Last year in the rain Lewerke damaged the Wolverines by playing the game safe, being secure with the ball, and finding that first down. Lewerke hasn’t had the best season up to this point but I’m not ruling out his best game of the season coming tomorrow. The secondary of Michigan has to be ready for their toughest game as well.
Don’t commit turnovers- a lot of these things sound cliche like “sack the qb” “don’t turn it over”, but over the past few seasons the turnover bug has been the most detrimental thing to the Wolverines leading directly to two losses in 3 seasons against MSU.
Let Shea be Shea- He’s been the guy for a few weeks now. He’s starting to look pretty good heading into this game. I would tailor the game plan to be heavy run with a lot of Shea play actions, rollouts, RPOs you name it. If ball carriers can find running lanes expect the Wolverines to capitalize and take shots downfield early and often. MSU’s secondary has been shaky all season no reason not to test them directly.
Well… it’s 1 of the 2 most important games of the season.
Paul wants to come back to Ann Arbor… and HE WILL.
Yes, little bro can stop the run up the middle but how much success will they have stoppingd all of the runs? I say not much. I do believe we will run the ball well.
Plus, our defense is too much for Lewerke. He makes a lot of mistakes and I can see that continuing this week as well. All I want is an open lane…. Bush, Winovich, Paye, or Uche to get a clean hit on Lewerke.
By the way, the before second-guessed Metellus will also continue to outshine his haters.
Winovich is going to continue to be the best player on the defense as well.
What do we need most to win this game? Shea Patterson. If we can have the Shea we have had all season (especially last week) this will be a fun game. Spoiler Alert- we will!
Little bro 14
GO BLUE! #BeatState #RevengeTour
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