If you are a Michigan football fanatic who likes Men in Black, take out your Neuralyzer right now and use it.

Following a rain-soaked heartbreaker last season, a narrow win over a mediocre Michigan State the year before and … that play three years ago, the sixth-ranked Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) visit the 24th-ranked Spartans (2-1, 4-2) for the 111th installment of the in-state rivalry.

Much has changed from over a year ago. But for the Michigan-Michigan State game, predicting a victor by looking at a stat sheet or whatever your crazy uncle said is a fool’s errand. Alas, we try to do it anyway.

The Daily breaks down how the teams stack up, if it even matters:

Michigan pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense

The Spartans’ secondary has been mediocre. In the FBS, it is a bottom-15 team in both opponents’ completion percentage (63.9) and opponents’ yards per game (286.3). Part of this is by the sheer volume of targets they see. Michigan State’s secondary is allowing just 10.7 yards per pass — a middle-of-the-pack number, and over two yards fewer than other teams surrendering a lot of passing yards. This weakness is exacerbated with the loss of Josiah Scott, an All-American freshman last season who is sidelined due to injury.

This neatly coincides with Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson finding a groove. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he has only tossed three interceptions this season bad news for a Spartan team that could certainly use one Saturday. The Wolverines’ receivers took a step back against Wisconsin last weekend, struggling to find separation against what was essentially a back-up unit. But with another week of game experience and swirling rumors of the return of sophomore receiver Tarik Black, the advantage is clear.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan rush offense vs. Michigan State rush defense

Even when things have looked to be going south for the Wolverines, senior running back Karan Higdon has found a way to get the job done. After accumulating just 16 yards on 10 carries to begin Saturday’s contest against the Badgers, Higdon picked up steam as the game went on and finished with 105 yards and a touchdown. But it was the quarterbacks, Patterson and backups Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton, who flashed their legs for 156 combined yards last game. The run game has been an anchor for a growing offense, and this weekend’s game will most certainly start with that mindset.

But the Spartans hold the No. 1 spot in rush defense. Yes, they surrendered 162 yards to Penn State’s Miles Sanders, but Sanders is a running back with All-American talent. Michigan State has given up just 212 yards in its other five games. Led by defensive end Kenny Willekes and hard-nosed linebacker Joe Bachie, this defensive front is stout.

Edge: Michigan State

Michigan State pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

Brian Lewerke is one of the better quarterbacks the Wolverines’ secondary will face this season. But it’s not the Lewerke that they expected. After a breakout sophomore campaign, Lewerke has hardly had the growth that was expected, tossing just eight touchdowns and seven picks so far. A porous offensive line allowing 2.5 sacks per game hasn’t helped.

The health of junior defensive end Rashan Gary remains a question, but with last Saturday as evidence, it’s not the biggest difference maker. The Michigan defense has 20 sacks on the season and far more quarterback hurries. Combined with the efforts of a swarming secondary that has allowed just 129.1 yards per game, Lewerke could have some fits. Wide receiver Felton Davis III, who caught the game-winner against Penn State, is certainly a problem. But not enough to shake up this defense.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan State rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

LJ Scott is a talented running back, but he hasn’t suited up since week two for Michigan State. And as a result, the Spartans’ run game is a mess, averaging just 123 yards per game — 115th in the FBS.

The Wolverines just held one of the nation’s best running attacks to its lowest yardage total of the season. Against Michigan State’s lackluster offensive line? That’s home cooking.

Edge: Michigan

Special teams

An injury to preseason All-Big Ten punter Jake Hartbarger was a subtle, yet impactful loss for Michigan State. Hartbarger’s replacement, Tyler Hunt, has netted just 39.5 yards per punt. Sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin is a perfect 17-for-17 on extra points and 8-for-8 on field goals, though only one was greater than 40 yards.

Will Hart has been the benchmark of consistency for Michigan. The sophomore is netting 51.1 yards per punt, offering nice field position for a forceful defense to operate. Redshirt sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin has been acceptable, but not much more. Nordin is perfect under 40 yards but just 3-for-6 beyond that distance.

On kickoffs, the Wolverines have scored one return touchdown, and the Spartans have allowed one. It’s not much clearer than that.

Edge: Michigan


To believe in Michigan State winning on Saturday, one must also believe in the power of the intangibles. Sure, it’s a home game for the Spartans, but they last left Spartan Stadium with a loss to Northwestern. It’s a factor, but not the biggest.

Even during Michigan State’s 3-9 season in 2016, the Spartans played an undefeated Michigan team until the fourth quarter in a one-possession game. It’s indescribable. It makes no sense. But Michigan State, riding the high of last season’s victory, will certainly play to a level above what they have showed so far this season.   

Edge: Michigan State

Pick: Michigan 31, Michigan State 20


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *