Historically, Michigan dominates the in-state rivalry with Michigan State as they hold an overall record of 69-35-5. Ever since the famous statement from former 2007 Michigan running back, Mike Hart, where he declared that MSU was Michigan’s “little brother,” Mark Dantonio and Michigan State responded strongly and have closed that chapter of Michigan being the best team in the state with a record of 8-2 heading into this weekend’s battle in East Lansing over the past 10 years.
The offensive philosophies of Harbaugh and Dantonio are very similar as they both want to wear their opponents down for four quarters with a physical ground attack. Both teams also have strong defenses that keep their teams in games. No matter what the records are of each team, it’s always a tough, hard-hitting, full of passion game.
Michigan on offense is ranked 28th in total rushing yards averaging 217 yards per game, ranked 93rd in passing yards averaging 207 yards a game and are 51st in total offense heading into this weekend. For Michigan State, they are 114th in rushing yards, averaging 123 yards per game, ranked 33rd in yards through the air with 271.5 a game and overall sitting at 79th in the country offensively.
Michigan, statistically, should be able to execute better than MSU on Saturday. But with rivalry games, anything can happen.
Quarterback position for UM and MSU
Shea Patterson and Brian Lewerke have similar traits at quarterback. They both are able to extend plays with their legs when the pocket breaks down, athletic enough to carry the football off of any run plays that have a read in them to keep defenses honest and can make any throw on a route tree.
As the season has unfolded, though, one quarterback has played more consistent than the other statistically, and that’s Shea Patterson. One of the primary jobs of a quarterback is to take care of the football, and Patterson has done just that for the Wolverines so far.
Heading into week 8, Patterson has completed 109 throws on 159 attempts, for 1,311 yards, and a 10 touchdown to three interception ratio. Those numbers come out to be a passing efficiency of 154.8. He is also showcasing more of his athletic ability by scrambling when the pocket breaks down as well as in the run game. If Patterson gets 10 to 15 attempts in the run game, Michigan’s offense gets a lot tougher to stop.
Lewerke has struggled to take care of the football this year as he has thrown eight touchdowns to seven interceptions on 225 attempts, completing 135 of those throws for 1,587 yards. Though he has more yards than Patterson, he still is completing only 60 percent of throws with a 124.8 passing efficiency. Part of his struggles have come from a lack of successful run game like he has had in years past. Last week’s game against Penn State is a prime example of that where he threw the ball 52 times. He did enough to win the game against PSU, but for a majority of the game, he did not play well. Lewerke is a good quarterback, but not good enough to throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game and lead his offense to a victory every week.
Michigan struggled early on this year to establish a strong presence running the football. As the season has unfolded, it seems they have caught their stride up front. That could not have happened at a better time because this week against the Spartans will be their biggest test as MSU has the number one ranked defense in rushing yards in the country only giving up 62.3 yards per game. If Michigan can get between 125 to 150 yards on the ground, Michigan will come out with a win on Saturday. If they can’t, Michigan fans will find out if Patterson is good enough to will his team to victory with his arm.
MSU’s offensive line has been a cause of concern in the run game all season. When Michigan State has competed for conference championships in the past, they have been led by a strong run game. If they want to stand a chance against Michigan, that has to be a part of their arsenal. Michigan will load the box to stop the run and dare Lewerke to beat them, especially with all the injuries to their skilled positions at MSU.
Michigan has a slight edge in the backfield. Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Tru Wilson are arguably the best trio of backs in the Big Ten conference. MSU does have talent with young freshmen, La’Darius Jefferson, and sophomore Connor Heyward, too, but they are not as dynamic and explosive as Hidgon and Evans are for Michigan. If Hidgon gets over 100 yards against the Spartans, Michigan will take home the Paul Bunyan trophy back to Ann Arbor.
Michigan has the edge at receiver solely due to the injuries of MSU’s skilled positions on offense. If MSU was completely healthy, they have the most complete receiving core in the Big Ten. If Michigan can contain Felton Davis III, there is not another receiver that can take control of the game for the Spartans.
Defense front seven
On the defensive side of the football, the front seven for both Michigan State and Michigan are the strengths of their football team. They both cause turnovers, control the line of scrimmage in the run game and swarm to the football better than a lot of teams in the country. No defense is perfect, but both teams give their offenses a chance to win football games each week. Expect to see a low-scoring, physical game for four quarters.
As part of the front seven, the best two inside linebackers in the Big Ten will be going head to head on Saturday: Devin Bush Jr. of Michigan and Joe Bachie of Michigan State that will try to put their defenses in the right spots to be successful all game. How they play will greatly determine the success on their respective defensive units.
The secondary for the Spartans and the Wolverines are their Achille’s heel on defense. Statistically Michigan is number one in the country in yards allowed in passing defense heading into East Lansing, but that does not tell an accurate story of their secondary. Michigan’s safety play, besides, their performance against Wisconsin, has been suspect all year. MSU will try to exploit them as much as they can in their tight, man-to-man scheme.
MSU’s secondary played their best game last week against Penn State. The combined pressure of their front seven and strong coverage, gave PSU’s quarterback, Trace McSorley, fits in the passing game. For both secondaries to have success on Saturday, that will rely on their front seven to contain the opposing quarterbacks. If Patterson or Lewerke is able to extend plays, it could be a rough afternoon for either side defensively.
As Michigan fans know, special teams is crucial to execute in big games like this. Kickers Quinn Nordin of Michigan and Matt Coughlin of Michigan State could be the x-factors on Saturday. In games like this, every point matters.