No love lost when Spartans and Wolverines face off
Entering Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines are 7-2, winners of five of their last six games and playing some of their best football of the season. On the flip side, Michigan State is headed in the wrong direction at 4-5, having lost each of its last four contests.
So it should be quite simple to predict who will come out on top, right? Not if you’re Wolverines offensive lineman Ben Bredeson. "This game’s kind of an outlier. The record doesn’t really matter. In these big rivalry games, anything can happen."
That should hold true in this year’s matchup as well, if the Spartans can somehow rebound from the appalling collapse last week against Illinois, falling 37-34 after leading 31-10 entering the fourth quarter. Now with three games to play, and with two more victories needed to secure a bowl berth, time is running out for MSU to turn this season around.
The Spartans have had a great deal of success lately on the road against their in-state rival, winning all but one matchup in Ann Arbor since 2006, but they enter Saturday as a double-digit underdog with very little momentum against a team in the Wolverines that has a lot of it right now.
Michigan State at Michigan
Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Michigan -12
When Michigan State Has the Ball
For the Spartans to pull the upset on Saturday, they have to establish the run; it’s difficult to envision a victory if they have to lean on the arm of struggling QB Brian Lewerke right now. The senior quarterback had a career-worst three interceptions and a lost fumble in the loss last weekend to Illinois, giving him at least one turnover in each of the last four games. Adding to that, Lewerke has thrown just two TD passes during that four-game stretch, and he is completing just 49 percent of his throws. Not having two starters at wide receiver doesn’t help matters either, with Jalen Nailor and Darrell Stewart currently out due to injury.
On the plus side, Michigan State ran for a season-high 275 yards against Illinois thanks to freshman Elijah Collins, who racked up 170 yards and two TDs. Getting Collins and fellow freshman Anthony Williams up and running will be a must on Saturday against a Michigan run defense that has allowed only three rushing scores since the start of October.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Strength on strength here, with the Michigan ground attack vs. the dominant Michigan State rush defense. The Spartans don’t have the No. 1-ranked run defense in the country as they did a season ago, but MSU is still stout in that category in 2019, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in allowing just 3.15 yards per carry. The Wolverines, meanwhile, are really starting to punish opponents up front with an improved offensive line and two underclassmen at running back in true freshman Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. In the first month of the season, the Wolverines averaged under 3.5 yards per carry but have since bumped that average up to just under five yards per attempt while averaging well over 200 yards per game on the ground in the last five games.
Senior quarterback Shea Patterson has also been playing proficient and complementary football for the Wolverines, completing 57 percent of his passes with 12 TDs and just four interceptions. Michigan has an array of weapons to throw to on the outside as well, with eight different players having recorded a TD reception this season and five different receivers posting 19 or more catches on the year. Not a lot of weaknesses right now on this Michigan offense from a personnel standpoint.
One team is clearly playing better football at the moment, but when Michigan and Michigan State face one another, you typically can throw out the records. ClichÃ© yes, but three out of the last four meetings have been decided by single digits, and last year’s contest was a one-score affair heading into the fourth quarter. Can the Spartans pull things together after last weekend’s collapse, or will the Wolverines continue their upward trend and dominate an opponent whose season is currently on life support? Almost every statistical advantage favors Michigan here, and the Wolverines will make it two straight against their in-state rival on Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Michigan State 16
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.