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Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum (2) runs for a 67-yard touchdown against the Washington Huskies on Sept. 11, 2021 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire)
October 29th, 2021
For the first time in history, Michigan and Michigan State will face off in their annual in-state rivalry game with both teams undefeated and ranked in the top 10, when the Wolverines visit the Spartans on Saturday.
Michigan has ridden their two-headed monster to glory so far this season, as Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum are making life miserable for opposing defenses. The running backs are at the heart of Michigan’s 253.3 yards per game on the ground, fifth-best in the nation, and it has helped Michigan limit their turnovers and allowed them to win by 21 or more points in five of their seven games this season.
Michigan’s offense has scored better than 30 points in all but one game this season, which was their 20-13 win over Rutgers where they failed to average three yards per carry. Last week, they beat Northwestern 33-7 behind a 294 rushing yards as they moved to 7-0 for the first time in five years. They held the ball nearly two-thirds of the game, and rank 14th in the nation in time of possession.
Fun fact: Jim Harbaugh, who spent five years as a player for Michigan football and has spent seven additional years as Michigan’s head coach, has never lost a football game in East Lansing. The total combined score of those games: 126-30.— Scott Bell (@sbell021) October 25, 2021
Fun fact: Jim Harbaugh, who spent five years as a player for Michigan football and has spent seven additional years as Michigan’s head coach, has never lost a football game in East Lansing. The total combined score of those games: 126-30.
Quarterback Cade McNamara isn’t lighting up the scoreboard, with just five touchdown passes on the year, but he is also not turning the ball over. He has struggled with downfield passes, but may find success against a Michigan State defense that ranks 112th in passing yards allowed and will have to stack the box against Michigan’s ground attack.
Michigan's run game is super fun (especially when they go fast), and the defense is what it should be again. Buuuuuuuuut ... some, uh, holes remain in the passing game. pic.twitter.com/9Nd6QNsSIF— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) October 28, 2021
Michigan's run game is super fun (especially when they go fast), and the defense is what it should be again. Buuuuuuuuut ... some, uh, holes remain in the passing game. pic.twitter.com/9Nd6QNsSIF
Michigan’s defense has given up a lot of yardage at times this season, but their 14.3 points allowed per game ranks second only to Georgia. They have yet to face a passing attack as good as the one Michigan State can unleash on Saturday, however, and have been prone to allowing big plays downfield. Their front seven is one of the best in the nation, and will be tasked with slowing down star running back Kenneth Walker III and getting their offense back on the field.
Walker is at the heart of everything Michigan State is able to do on offense. The Big Ten’s leading rusher with 997 yards and nine touchdowns, Walker is getting Heisman talk and needs to have a huge game against the Wolverines. Before their bye week, he ran 23 times for just 84 yards against Indiana in their 20-15 win, and failed to find the end zone. It was a similar situation as their narrow win over Nebraska, in which he gained just 61 yards on 19 carries.
Would you rather have @UMichFootball's 1-2 punch of @H2_3125 and @blake_corum or @MSU_Football's Heisman contender @Kenneth_Walker9? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/BPxZqFo8Fz— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 27, 2021
Would you rather have @UMichFootball's 1-2 punch of @H2_3125 and @blake_corum or @MSU_Football's Heisman contender @Kenneth_Walker9? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/BPxZqFo8Fz
Michigan State relies on Walker opening up the play-action pass downfield, but when it isn’t there they can really struggle to maintain offensive production. Despite ranking 32nd in rushing yards, Michigan State ranks just 118th in time of possession, and run the 102nd fewest plays per game. As shown against Indiana and Nebraska, they struggle when they cannot gain big chunks of yardage, which puts more pressure on their defense.
Defensively, few teams get after the quarterback like the Spartans. Michigan State has recorded at least three sacks in six of their seven games this season, with only Youngstown State surviving that trend. They have 26 sacks on the season, but when they don’t get to the quarterback they can be gashed through the air. That is a big concern against a Michigan offensive line that has given up just three sacks this season.
Michigan State’s Defense is now tied for 4th in the Nation with 26 Sacks and 3.71 Sacks/Game (both 1st among Power 5 Teams).— Al Karsten (@bigalfredosauce) October 18, 2021
Michigan State’s Defense is now tied for 4th in the Nation with 26 Sacks and 3.71 Sacks/Game (both 1st among Power 5 Teams).
It is hard to fully predict this matchup due to the fact that neither team has played anybody worth anything this season, especially when you consider Michigan State has yet to face a team with a winning record. Therefore, I looked at the games where the two teams struggled, and tried to figure out why. For Michigan State, they struggled to move the ball against Indiana and Nebraska. In those two games, they averaged fewer than 250 yards, and gained a combined 171 yards rushing on 65 attempts. They needed turnovers and timely mistakes from their opponents down the stretch.
On Michigan’s side, their close wins over Rutgers and Nebraska came down to totally different issues. In the win over Rutgers, it was an inability to gain big plays on the ground, whereas against Nebraska, they simply fell apart defensively in the third quarter. However, unlike Michigan State, they were able to still move the ball consistently in both games.
For me, it comes down to third downs, and which offense can wear the other down faster. The Spartans struggle on third down on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense, where they rank dead last in the conference in first downs allowed. Meanwhile, Michigan’s third down offense ranks second in the Big Ten at 46% efficiency, and they love to control the clock.
This should be a low-scoring game with both defenses doing enough to disrupt the other and both coaches making sure their quarterbacks limit risks, but I like the Wolverines to pull away late as Michigan State simply tires.
Score prediction: Michigan 28, Michigan State 23
Our predictive engine is calling for Michigan to win outright.
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