Wolverine nation will be alright if they never hear, “Whoa, he has trouble with the snap, and the ball is free…” again.
It’s a new season and you better believe Harbaugh and company are looking for revenge for last season’s last second loss to Michigan State. The fire is lit not only because they lost the game, but also because Spartan fans, players and coaches haven’t shut their mouths about it since. From MSU head coach Mark Dantonio making snarky comments to current and former players digging their graves on twitter, the list goes on. It’s time for all the talk to be put to bed and for the players to play the game.
Rushing Offense against Michigan State
It’s no secret that both of these teams will try and establish a running game early but the question is, will it actually convert positively for either team?
Malik McDowell is hands down the best defensive lineman that the Spartans have. McDowell is an in-state recruit that both teams salivated over, with him ultimately choosing the rival Spartans. It seemed like the right choice for his first two seasons, but the junior has seen his team struggle in what is likely his final season on campus. McDowell is a lock to be a first round pick if he decides to forgo his senior year, which most expect him to do. In the meantime, however, Michigan State will move him all over the line, and the Wolverines will need to account for him on every snap. McDowell has 32 tackles from the defensive line and will be hungry to leave East Lansing unbeaten against his biggest rival. He’ll need some help from his linebackers who have been below average, at best, thus far.
The Wolverine backfield continues to make waves. With another new left tackle (Ben Braden), Michigan looked like they’ve never missed a step last week. Karan Higdon continues to impress and show his breakaway speed, something the team has been lacking for several seasons. Will Chris Evans be available? The fan base can only hope, but there is no clear-cut answer to that question yet. Once we get closer to the coin flip, there should be a more definitive answer.
Other than the questionable Evans, the Wolverines stable remains ready.
- Advantage: Michigan
Michigan State has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns and 160 yards per game. Harbaugh is relentless when it comes to trying to establish the run, and he will not shy away from it. Jabrill Peppers is the difference maker in this category. I’m thinking this will be the first game we see Jabrill Peppers and Eddie McDoom in the game at the same time, and that spells trouble for the Spartans.
Passing Offense against Michigan State
Wilton Speight has started to garner some national attention recently for his cool demeanor while leading the #2 team in the country. Speight is not your stand-out superstar, but he makes all the necessary throws and does so with accuracy. This will be Speight’s toughest test of the season and will determine if he has the big game bone in his body. Michigan State has lost five straight games, but people would be foolish to think that this team won’t show up for an in-state rivalry matchup where blood is boiling.
McDowell and linebacker Chris Frey headline this MSU pass rushing attack; it’s one that has been dominant over the years and still has some viable talent left among it. As a team, the Spartans have only tallied seven sacks, though they do have 22 hurries and 32 tackles for loss.
The Spartan secondary is banged up and may need to rely on some younger guys to step up and fill the void this weekend. It worked last year as then freshman Grayson Miller held down a safety position in a Spartan victory. Starters Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox exited last week’s game against Maryland early, and there has been no word on if they plan to play this weekend.
- Advantage: Michigan
Speight has yet to make a game-changing mistake and if he keeps that up, it will do wonders for the Wolverines offense. Play action will continue to be Speight’s friend and as long as he can make the reads and deliver the ball on time, he will be the most popular man within Wolverine nation. Michigan State will likely get their hands on Speight a time or two, but he will stand tall because he’s coached by the best.
Rushing Defense against Michigan State
Sophomore running back LJ Scott was held to 16 yards on eight carries last year in the big house but scored two crucial touchdowns to lead the Spartans to victory. This year he’s back, and is once again leading Michigan State in rushing yards. Although he’s averaging 66 yards per game, his 230-pound frame is a load to tackle. Coupled with Gerald Holmes, the duo forms a very steady and dependable backfield.
Michigan State has been breaking in some new faces along the offensive line in freshman left tackle Tyler Higby and right tackle Thiyo Lukusa. Both saw extensive playing time last game while helping the team run for 270 yards. These guys are seeing time because the Spartan run game had been downright putrid up until last week.
Michigan is allowing 96 yards per game rushing. Ninety-six! The #1 defense in the country prides themselves in limiting opponents rushing yards, and the stats don’t lie. They have also allowed only two rushing touchdowns.
- Advantage: Michigan
Peppers and the boys will do their best to make the Spartans a passing team.
Passing Defense against Michigan State
Cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are making headlines as well while they shut down opposing receivers week after week. MSU has plenty of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball but nobody to distribute. The quarterback position has been a real struggle from the start for the Spartans.
Michigan State has started two different quarterbacks and played three total. Tyler O’Connor was thought to be the heir apparent, but when that didn’t work, they turned to redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. Last week against Maryland, he looked below average completing only 11 passes on 24 attempts with an interception.
- Advantage: Michigan
Michigan State has yet to settle on a quarterback of their liking. This defense is only going to make their decision harder as whichever quarterback they choose will face constant pressure all afternoon. Expect interceptions and a below average completion percentage for the Spartans.
Prediction: Michigan 52 – Michigan State 17
It looks like a blowout on paper, but Michigan State won’t show up to the party empty handed, especially when hosting. After losing five straight games and being in danger of missing a bowl invitation, this has become their Super Bowl. MSU will put up a fight early, but the Wolverines will wear down the Spartans, and don’t expect Harbaugh to let off the gas.
I’m thinking this will be similar to when Harbaugh, then at Stanford, ran Pete Carroll out of USC.
What’s your prediction for the Battle for the Bunyan? Let us know in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: MGoBlue.com
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