This Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines travel to the Spartan Stadium to face their instate rival, the Michigan State Spartans. After a 7-1 run in the early 2000s, Michigan dropped 4 in a row and stole last year’s game in a tight 12-10 victory. After a 6-1 start full of close calls and question marks, Brady Hoke the #21 Wolverines are looking for a signature victory for his program.
On the otherside, Mark Dantonio has his team sitting at 7-1 and at the top of the Big10 Legends Division. Dantonio, who is 4-2 against the Wolverines, seems to have no problem getting his team prepared for the game. This would be a good victory and another step closer for the #22 Michigan State Spartans towards playing in another Big 10 Conference Championship.
If we compare offensive units between the teams, Michigan’s passing attack has the advantage. Devin Gardner has thrown for 1779 yards and 13 TD over Cook’s 1238 yards and 12 TDs. Victory could very well be in Devin Gardner hands. Although he has been a more productive quarterback than Connor Cook, he isn’t without problems. Gardner has thrown 10 picks this year and has been sacked 11 times. He is a much better quarterback at home and has only managed to complete 51% of his passes and throw 3 TDs while playing on another school’s field. Across the sideline is Connor Cook who has only thrown 2 interceptions and has only been sacked 5 times all year. While I believe that Gardner has all the tools that a college quarterback needs to be successful, he seems to have taken a step back this year and has some mental block to keep him from playing up to his full potential.
When the ball is on the ground, State has the advantage. We see Fitzgerald Toussaint has run 575 yards and scored 11 TDs compared to Jeremy Langford’s 655 yards and 9 TDs, and Langford has 14 fewer attempts than Toussaint. Michigan has 3 players, including Gardner, who have over 100 yards for the year. Michigan State has 4, including Cook. Since Dantonio has taken the head coaching position at State, he has revived the “Pound Green, Pound” mantra from the late 80s. The game plan has always been to create a power running offense to control the clock and the game.
Over all, the Wolverine offense has won games by stacking points on points. The offense is ranked 8th in the nation with an average of 42.4 points a game. In contrast, State scores a modest 29.9 points a game, which puts them in the middle of the pack at 66th best in the nation. Luckily for the Spartans, that is only half the story.
Defense is where the Spartan’s shine. Allowing only 12.3 points a game, which is the third lowest average in the nation, the Spartan’s defense has literally won games for the team. They lead the nation in allowing fewest yards per game, fewest yards per play, and have the third lowest allowed 3rd down conversion rate (28%). On 49% of it’s opponents drives, the Spartan defense has forced a three-and-out. Obviously, this defensive unit can end drives and get off the field. However, Michigan does lead the Spartan’s in total interceptions, 11-9. Michigan allows an average of 26.7 per game and has allowed over 40 points twice this season. The defensive advantage obviously goes with the Spartans.
I expect the Spartan defense to annoy Gardner all game and get a few sacks. If he gets rushed too often, Gardner will become a turnover machine. The chances of a UM victory drop if that happens. Fitz Toussaint will definitely gain some yards, but State has held it’s opponents to less than 100 rushing yards a game, so Toussaint won’t look amazing. Michigan’s best bets are with receiver Jeremy Gallon and tight end Devin Funchess. Gallon and Funchess are two of the best MSU will face this year, both men are top 5 in the Big 10 in receiving yards per game. While MSU has great secondary, the MSU defense backs and safeties play aggressively which, against the Wolverines, traditionally means yellow flags will fly. If MSU can play a clean game, they should be able to keep Gallon and Funchess from doing too much damage, otherwise it could be a big day for big blue.
The Spartan defense should create turnover opportunities and may score at some point in the game. Otherwise, I’m looking for Jeremy Langford to gash the Wolverine d-line up the center and for senior Bennie Fowler and sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr to lead the MSU receiving corp. Darqueze Denard and Isaiah Lewis are going to have to make plays against the Michigan Receivers if State wants to win. I also expect to see Shilique Calhoun and Max Bullough taking care of Gardner and Toussaint the entire game.
Saturday’s game is another step for each team in the path to the Rose Bowl. MSU has a two game advantage over Michigan and the other teams in the Legends division, but still needs to win at least 3 of the next 4 games to secure a bid to the Big 10 Championship game, based on the current standings. Michigan essentially needs to run the table to make up ground on the Spartans in the conference race. This is a hugely significant game for both teams, and I expect all involved will treat it as such.