Michigan State @ (7) Michigan
When: Saturday October 6 at 7:30 EST
Where: On ABC and Watch ESPN
Odds (per oddshark): Michigan -10
What to expect
Expect for this game to be a defensive slugfest as both teams have top 10 ranked defenses with Michigan being #1 and Michigan State being #5. On paper, Michigan has a clear advantage but with the recent injury of Wilton Speight and the team’s struggles vs Purdue in their Big 10 opener has opened the door for the Spartans. MSU is not without their own flaws on offense but expect their defense, which seems to be improving as the season goes on, to keep them in the game.
MSU will win if they…
- Control the time of possession
The Spartans rank #6 in the country for total time of possession. In a defensive matchup like this it’s important to keep the defense well rested, and in order to accomplish that the Spartans need to keep their offense on the field as long as possible. By doing so the Spartan defense will stay fresh while wearing down Michigan’s defensive unit.
- Establish the run game
MSU plays their best when there is balance in their offensive attack. The past two weeks MSU has struggled to start and maintain a steady running game and it will be even more difficult to do so against a Michigan team that has the best run defense in college football. While Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback Brian Lewerke is a capable player, MSU can’t afford to become a one dimensional offense against the Wolverines’ elite defense.
- Limit turnovers
It’s no secret that MSU has struggled with turnovers this season. The Spartans are tied for last in the Big 10 in turnover margin with a margin of -4 (bigten.org). Perhaps the biggest offender is Junior running back LJ Scott who has a well documented fumbling issue that includes two goal line fumbles this year. If the Spartans are able to protect the football they will be competitive; if they are unable to things could get ugly quick as they did in the Notre Dame game.
U of M will win if they…
- Pressure Lewerke often
One of the greatest strengths of the Wolverine defense is their ability to put pressure on and sack opposing quarterbacks, having done so an NCAA leading 18 times this season. Lewerke has shown occasional lapses in judgement when under pressure, whether it be hap-hazard throws or attempting to do too much with his feet. The Wolverines’ ability to keep Lewerke uncomfortable and capitalize on his mistakes may be the difference maker in this game.
- Outplay MSU on Special Teams
In a defense heavy matchup like this, field position is key. MSU punter Jake Hartbarger has done a great job all year of putting opposing offenses in difficult positions, averaging 43 yards per punt this year. Last week against Iowa, Hartbarger was able to pin the Hawkeyes inside of their own 20 five times over the course of the game. Michigan must capitalize on returnable kicks by either scoring or putting themselves in good field position, especially against an MSU team that has struggled to cover return-men over the last few seasons.
- Win the Redzone
Michigan has one of the better redzone offenses in college football (#28) while MSU has one of the better redzone defenses in college football (#29). One of these teams has to break. If the Wolverines are able to beat out MSU in the redzone and score touchdowns then they shouldn’t have to worry too much about the Spartans. However, if MSU is able to hold in the redzone and force Michigan to score on “good bounces” or field goals, it doesn’t bode well for the Wolverines.
Prediction: MSU 16 Michigan 17
Stats and references courtesy of ESPN, mlive, sports-reference.com, NCAA.com and bigten.org