Rivalry games are always a treat to watch, but this year’s version of Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan (4-0, 1-0) is of particular interest to fans of defense. Both the Spartans and Wolverines rank in the top five in all of college football in total defense after putting on defensive clinics in their most recent showings.
MSU limited star running back Akrum Wadley to just 30 rushing yards this past Saturday in a 17-10 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes, while Michigan put the clamps down on Purdue two weeks ago, beating the Boilermakers 28-10 on the road. If you like defense, this is sure to be the game for you.
Michigan State at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. O’Korn on the Cob
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed Monday that Wilton Speight was likely to miss at least a couple weeks due to an unspecified injury suffered two weeks ago against Purdue. That means it will be senior John O’Korn stepping in under center for the Wolverines on Saturday in his first start since last season, when he stepped in for Speight against Indiana. O’Korn provided a much-needed spark for the maligned Michigan offense against the Boilermakers, finishing the game with 270 passing yards and a touchdown in the 28-10 win. The offense still ranks in the bottom half of the country in total yards per game and passing yards through five weeks, so it will be fascinating to see if this change at quarterback provides a spark this weekend and moving forward.
2. Emerging target in passing game
Through the first three games, Michigan State wideout Felton Davis III had 12 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. The junior nearly matched those numbers against Iowa alone, catching nine passes for 114 yards and two scores in the 17-10 victory. The Co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week was an afterthought in the passing game a year ago with just 14 receptions all year but now ranks fifth among receivers in the conference through five weeks, averaging 64.0 yards per game. Davis against the young Michigan cornerbacks will be a key battle to watch on Saturday.
3. No fly zone
Coming into Saturday, both the Spartans and Wolverines rank in the top 10 in terms of passing defense in the country. Michigan, despite having to replace all four starters in the secondary, is allowing just 134 yards per game through the air, including a total of three touchdowns through four games. Not to be outdone, the Spartans rank ninth in yards allowed per game through the air and have given up just one touchdown pass thus far. Neither secondary has forced many turnovers, combining for just five interceptions, but these are two ball-hawking groups that will pose quite the challenge for a pair of relatively inexperienced quarterbacks.
Don’t expect many points in what should be a defensive struggle for most of the night. Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke is showing improvement with every start, but good luck going on the road, in prime time, against the No. 1 defense in the country. You never know what can happen in a rivalry game, as proven by what happened two years ago in this very matchup, but this will be an uphill climb for Sparty to pull off the upset in Ann Arbor.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Michigan State 13
— 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.