The Michigan Wolverines versus the Michigan State Spartans — what is there to say about this game that hasn’t already been said? Two undefeated top-10 teams battling for Paul Bunyan’s trophy in front of every pregame show in the country on Big Noon Saturday. This is what college football is all about. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the team from down the road.
School: University of Michigan
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (seventh season)
All Time Series: Michigan leads 71-37-5 (MSU leads 3-1 when both teams are ranked in the top-10)
The teams have split the six previous games since the savior Jim Harbaugh took over in Ann Arbor. Interestingly, the Spartans are looking for their first win in East Lansing against Harbaugh, having lost the previous two meetings.
Michigan comes in with the 15th-ranked scoring offense in the country, averaging 37.7 points per game, and the Wolverines are averaging 30.75 points per game in Big Ten play.
The rushing attack has been the key to Michigan’s success, and ranks fifth in the country at 253.29 yards per game. The Wolverines are 14th in yards per attempt at 5.46, 11th in attempts per game, and third in rushing touchdowns. In short, they like to run the ball and they do it pretty damn well.
Through the air it is a much different story. The Wolverines’ passing attack ranks 104th in the country, behind Northwestern, averaging just 189.6 yards per game. The yards per attempt are much better, though, where they rank 48th at an even eight yards per pass. Michigan has just seven passing touchdowns, but only two interceptions on the season. Really, the Wolverines would prefer never to throw the ball, which is why the team ranks 117th in the country in pass attempts per game.
This makes it a very strength on strength matchup as the Michigan State defense is 28th in rushing yards (22nd in yards per carry), but 121st in total passing defense (but 12th in yards per attempt).
Michigan is second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 14.3 points per game. It should be noted, however, that the best Power Five scoring offense the Wolverines have faced is Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers rank just 50th, and Michigan allowed a season high 29 points in that game. UM has faced four offenses ranked 97th or worse in scoring this year. MSU ranks 29th in scoring if you were wondering.
The UM rushing defense is ranked No. 25, a few spots higher than Michigan State. The Wolverines allow an average of 116.57 yards per game. The average carry against Michigan goes for 3.56 yards, which ranks 35th in the country. Michigan has allowed only three rushing touchdowns, which is the fifth fewest in the country.
Against the pass Michigan checks in at No. 20 overall, allowing 182.4 yards per game. The Wolverines are 13th in average pass attempt at 6.2 yards per pass. UM has allowed nine passing touchdowns and has four interceptions, which all works out to the 22nd lowest opponent passer rating.
Players to Watch
Cade McNamara is probably going to be the main quarterback for Michigan this weekend. I think. Maybe? The junior has thrown for 1,115 yards on 7.6 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and one interception. He has been good enough but not great, and has relied heavily on the run game to put him in good spots. He does not run often, so when he is out there, that is something you don’t really have to worry about.
Even if McNamara is the primary guy, expect to see at least some of J.J. McCarthy. He has appeared in five games and has thrown for 212 yards on 11.2 yards per pass with a couple of touchdowns. He has also run the ball 10 times for 53 yards and a touchdown, so he has a little more of that dual-threat ability to worry about.
When either quarterback hands the ball off, and they will quite often, the two-headed monster of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins has been about as good as it gets. Corum has 729 yards on 6.28 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns. Haskins has 602 yards averaging 4.85 yards per carry, and has also found the end zone 10 times. Corum also has 18 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield, so you need to account for him in the passing game as well.
Michigan spreads the ball out to the receivers, with six different receivers coming in double-digit receptions, but none with more than Corum’s 18.
Cornelius Johnson leads the team with 312 yards and three touchdowns, and is second on the team with 17 catches. Senior Daylen Baldwin has 12 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Erick All has 16 catches for 157 yards.
On defense, the Wolverines have some guys that can get after the quarterback. Aidan Hutchinson leads the team with six sacks and six-and-a-half tackles for loss. He also has an additional five hurries and has forced a fumble.
David Ojabo has five sacks of his own along with two hurries, three passes broken up and two forced fumbles.
Senior linebacker Josh Ross leads the team with 44 total tackles, and has four-and-half tackles for loss, two pass breakups and six quarterback hurries.
On special teams place kicker Jake Moody is 14-for-16 on field goals and a perfect 28-for-28 on extra points.
Punter Brad Robbins is averaging 45.45 yards per punt this season, right on par with his average last season.
So that’s what Michigan State faces this weekend from a numbers standpoint. While the numbers certainly matter and can give you an idea of what to expect, what they seem to point to for this one is a pretty evenly-matched game. That means it will come down to execution, minimizing mistakes, and taking advantage of opportunities.
One final stat to leave you with — both teams rank 18th in the country in defensive red zone touchdown percentage at 46.15 percent. Both defenses tighten up in the red zone, so it will be more important than ever to finish drives with touchdowns. Both teams are around 60 percent on their own red zone touchdown percentage. Once again, an even matchup, and one that the winner of the game will likely be the one that wins that red zone battle.
Unless Michigan State just scores on 60 yard plays every time, which I am also fine with.