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Rivalry Week: A statistical comparison of Michigan and Michigan State in 2017

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be the last week of the college football season, but this is a rivalry week for the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines, who are gearing up for one of the fiercest games in the country this weekend.

The two foes will square off under the lights of the Big House at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night. This will be the first time in series history the rivalry game will be played at night.

The Wolverines are currently double-digit favorite against the Spartans, but both the Spartan and Wolverine faithful know to expect a close and hard-fought game. In fact, in the last nine games between the two schools, the Spartans are 9-0 against the spread versus Michigan.

So, being a 10.5-point underdog shouldn’t faze the boys in green and white. In fact, let’s take a look at the high-level statistics and compare the two squads to give us a better glimpse into the matchup.


Scoring Offense:

Michigan-31.5 PPG, 13 TDs, 11 field goals, 5th in Big Ten
Michigan State-24.5 PPG, 13 TDs, 2 field goals, 12th in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. The Wolverines outscore the Spartans by a touchdown per game, but both teams have scored the same about of touchdowns. Michigan has a significant amount of field goals, and MSU ranks toward the bottom of the conference in points per game.

Total Offense:

Michigan-1,629 total yards, 407.3 YPG, tied 5th in Big Ten
Michigan State-1,718 total yards, 429.5 YPG, 4th in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan State. The Spartans have out-gained the Wolverines by more than 22 yards per contest, and by 89 total yards. Both defenses are likely to be the best units either opposing offense has faced thus far.

Passing Offense:

Michigan-892 passing yards, 223 YPG, 4 TDs, 3 INTs, 9th in Big Ten
Michigan State-968 passing yards, 242 YPG, 8 TDs, 2 INTs, 6th in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan State. The Spartans are averaging 20 more passing yards per game than the Wolverines and have a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio at 4:1 versus 4:3. John O’Korn gets the start this week with Wilton Speight injured, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Passing Efficiency:

Michigan-58.7 percent completion rate, 134.1 efficiency rating, 10th in Big Ten
Michigan State-61.6 percent completion rate, 136.7 efficiency rating, 9th in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan State. Neither team fares well here, with both programs in the bottom half of the Big Ten, but MSU has a higher completion percentage, better efficiency rating and (once again) a better TD:INT ratio.

Rushing Offense:

Michigan-737 rushing yards, 184.3 YPG, 5 TDs, 4.3 YPC, 5th in Big Ten
Michigan State-750 rushing yards, 187.5 YPG, 4.5 YPC, 4 TDs, 4th in Big Ten

Advantage: Even. This is so close, with MSU averaging slightly more per carry and per game. Michigan State’s rushing stats are misleading, however, with Brian Lewerke’s stats added in. No MSU running back averages four yards or more per carry and the team’s success rate of 40 percent on rushing plays ranks just 93rd in the country.

Offensive Advantage: Michigan State is rated higher in the Big Ten in total offense, passing offense, passing efficiency and though close, rushing offense.


Scoring Defense:

Michigan-13.5 PPG, 6 TDs, 4 field goals, 3rd in Big Ten
Michigan State-18 PPG, 9 TDs, 3 field goals, 6th in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. I’ll say this right away, the defense they have over there in Ann Arbor is elite, only giving up 13.5 points per game. But Michigan State’s is also damn good. Saturday is going to be a defensive slugfest.

Total Defense:

Michigan-813 total yards, 203.3 YPG, 1st in Big Ten
Michigan State-998 total yards, 248.3 YPG, 3rd in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. Not only are the Wolverines sitting atop of the conference in this category, they’re also the No. 1 defense in the entire country. Don’t sleep on the Spartans, though — Michigan State in fifth in the nation in total defense. Add in Wisconsin at No. 4 in the NCAA (No. 2 in the conference) and that’s three top-five teams from the B1G.

Passing Defense:

Michigan-536 passing yards, 134 YPG, 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 1st in Big Ten
Michigan State-609 passing yards, 152.3 YPG, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 2nd in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. These are the top two units against the pass in the Big Ten and both teams are in the top-10 of the country here as well. Michigan is letting up about 18 yards less per game than Sparty, but MSU has allowed less touchdown passes.

Passing Defense Efficiency:

Michigan-41 percent completion rate, 87.5 efficiency rating, 1st in Big Ten
Michigan State-48 percent completion rate, 94.1 efficiency rating, 2nd in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. Once again, the units rank in the top-two in the conference and top-five of the nation in these categories. But Michigan is just on another level, only behind the University of Texas at San Antonio (of all places) in pass defense efficiency.

Rushing Defense:

Michigan-277 rushing yards, 69.3 YPG, 1 TD, 2.2 YPC, first in Big Ten
Michigan State-384 rushing yards yards, 96 YPG, 3.1 YPC, 4 TDs, 3rd in Big Ten

Advantage: Michigan. The Wolverines give up just 2.2. yards per carry and 69.3 yards per game, which (you guessed it) leads the nation. The Spartans do very well in this category as well, but don’t even touch Michigan here.

Defensive Advantage: Michigan likely has the best defense in the nation with players like Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Maurice Hurst Jr. The Spartans may be a top-10 unit in the NCAA themselves, with young guys like Joe Bachie and Josiah Scott really stepping up, but Michigan has the easy advantage here.

Opponents’ Cumulative Totals

U of M opponents' per game averages (national rank):
Florida: 27.25 PPG (80), 212.8 passing yards (79), 145.8 rushing yards (80), 26 PPG allowed (69), 240.25 passing yards allowed (80), 141 rushing yards allowed (60)
Cincinnati: 22.8 PPG (105), 219.4 passing yards (75), 100 rushing yards (119), 29.4 PPG allowed (89), 161.8 passing yards allowed (20), 237.8 rushing yards allowed (120),
Air force: 34.3 PPG (48), 111.3 passing yards (123), 274.8 rushing yards (10), 28.3 PPG allowed (83), 133.8 passing yards allowed (3), 198.8 rushing yards allowed (104)
Purdue: 29.3 PPG (71), 254.8 passing yards (51), 137.3 rushing yards (88), 21.8 PPG allowed (36), 254.5 passing yards allowed (98), 132 rushing yards allowed (49)

Michigan State opponents' per game averages (national rank):
Bowling Green: 16 PPG (120), 238 passing yards (61), 101.2 rushing yards (116), 35.4 PPG allowed (110), 280.8 passing yards allowed (114), 230.6 rushing yards allowed (117)
Western Michigan: 37.2 PPG (31), 159 passing yards (115), 209 rushing yards (35), 24.4 PPG allowed (54), 182.2 passing yards allowed (28), 163.4 rushing yards allowed (79)
Notre Dame: 41.4 PPG (14), 166.6 passing yards (108), 301.4 rushing yards (7), 18.2 PPG allowed (22), 241.6 passing yards allowed (83), 144.2 rushing yards allowed (64)
Iowa: 25.6 PPG (86), 211.6 passing yards (80), 128.2 rushing yards (94), 19.2 PPG allowed (30), 242 passing yards allowed (85), 134.8 rushing yards allowed (57)

Quick summary: Michigan State’s offense tops Michigan’s offense in almost every listed category, while Michigan leads in every defensive statistic mentioned. What we should remember is that Michigan wasn’t far off in a lot of the offensive categories, but also that Michigan State ranks quite highly in all defensive categories as well.

What all of this tells me is that the double-digit point spread is a joke, and we’re in for another classic battle between the Spartans and that team in maize and blue. Michigan State will have to find a way to move the ball against the top unit in the nation, while also not turning it over. Michigan will have to find its footing on offense with a new quarterback.

Let the games begin.