Seven turnovers did the Spartans (0-1) in against Rutgers in the debut under new head coach Mel Tucker as they fell to the Scarlet Knights 38-27. It wasn't all doom and gloom for Michigan State, though, since the defense allowed just 276 yards on the day, and the Spartans got a big-time performance out of receiver Jayden Reed, who posted 11 receptions and two touchdowns. But the turnovers, penalties, and missed assignments were far too frequent to mount any sort of comeback against the Scarlet Knights.
The Wolverines (1-0), meanwhile, are one of the bright spots in the Big Ten, for at least one Saturday, after their thorough dismantling of Minnesota on the road, 49-24. With new starting quarterback Joe Milton at the helm, Michigan racked up 481 yards of total offense despite having the ball for just 24 of the 60 minutes. Defensively, there were some issues in defending the run, but the Wolverines held All-Big Ten performers Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman in check for much of the night.
Saturday marks the first 107th meeting in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy — a matchup in which the Wolverines have won three of the last four.
Michigan State at No. 13 Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Michigan -25
When Michigan State Has the Ball
***Insert Oprah GIF – "You get a turnover, and you get a turnover."
The seven turnovers committed by the Spartans were the most in a game since 1981, six of which came on the offensive side of the ball, with two interceptions and four fumbles from three different players. While the turnovers garnered the headlines and will certainly be the focus during team meetings this week, there were some positives to come out of the game against Rutgers. Starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi set career highs with 31 completions for 319 passing yards and three touchdowns in his first start in nearly two seasons, though he did contribute to the turnover party with a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble.
Where the Spartans will have to improve drastically to pull the upset this Saturday is on the ground, where they rushed for just 50 total yards on 39 carries. Sophomore Elijah Collins barely saw the field with just three carries despite rushing for 988 yards and five touchdowns in 12 starts last season. Tucker cited "competition at that position" as a possible reason for the decrease in usage, but one has to wonder if there is more to that. Freshman Jordon Simmons led the team with 43 yards on 14 carries.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Michigan defense against Minnesota, though, as the Wolverines allowed running back Mohamed Ibrahim to rush for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but the group really tightened up in the second half, giving up just seven points in the final 30 minutes. We knew what to expect from star defensive ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson, who combined for 10 tackles and two sacks, but it was the play of the secondary that really stood out. Viper Michael Barrett and cornerback Vincent Gray were instrumental in the group's success, holding Morgan to just 197 passing yards and a 41.8 QBR.
When Michigan Has the Ball
The numbers weren't eye-popping — 225 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, two touchdowns — but Joe Milton was everything Michigan fans hoped to see in his debut start against the Gophers last weekend. Cool, calm and collected, Milton completed 68.2 percent of his passes and did not turn the ball over once in a near-flawless performance that drew praise from head coach Jim Harbaugh after the game. "Joe was great. First time starting, on the road against a really good team, big Saturday night stage, the whole shebang. He was as cool as a cucumber. He handled everything with aplomb."
The Wolverines got contributions elsewhere against Minnesota, with nine different receivers catching at least one pass. In what was supposed to be a transition year along the offensive line with four starters gone from last year's squad, the running game racked up an impressive 256 rushing yards (8.3 ypc) in the blowout win, including 60+ yard runs from both Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet. Michigan also allowed just one sack on the night.
To the naked eye, 38 points allowed to Rutgers looks downright awful, but the Michigan State defense had a good day despite breaking in Tucker's new defensive system. Following the 75-yard scoring drive from the Scarlet Knights to open the game, the Spartans allowed just 201 yards the remainder of the game and got strong play out of linebackers Antjuan Simmons and Noah Harvey.
The Wolverines have won three of the last four meetings in this in-state rivalry, with the previous two not being particularly close. Where the Wolverines have a significant advantage is in the trenches. Their offensive line that returned just one starter exceeded expectations, and the defensive front wreaked havoc in the Gophers backfield all night long. If Michigan State's offensive line struggled against Rutgers, things could get ugly against Kwity Paye and Co. this weekend. In this rivalry, the team with the most rushing yards has won 45 times in the last 50 meetings. That stat bodes well for the Maize and Blue on Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Michigan State 17
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— 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.