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First Look: Michigan State

October 24th, 2016 by Justin Potts


mark-dantonio(AP photo)

Michigan picked up right where it left off before its bye week, storming out of the gates with touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game on Saturday and cruising to a 41-8 win over Illinois. Now comes in-state rival Michigan State, which has held the upper hand over the past eight years. While most Michigan players are avoiding posting any bulletin board material, at least one is terming this week Redemption Week.

Can Michigan win in East Lansing for the first time since 2007? Or will Michigan State stun the 2nd-ranked Wolverines Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Michigan State & Michigan statistical comparison
MSU | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 23.1 | 48.7 106 3
29.7 10.0 80 1
Rushing Yards 1,087 1,800 1,138 672
Rush Avg. Per Game 155.3 257.1 86 11
162.6 96.0 66 4
Avg. Per Rush 4.2 | 5.5
4.1 2.9
Passing Yards 1,645 1581 1,578 777
Pass Avg. Per Game 235.0 225.9 61 76 225.4 111.0 64 1
Total Offense 2,732 3,381 2,716 1,449
Total Off Avg. Per Game 390.3 483.0 84 28 388.0 207.0 54 1
Kick Return Average 20.8 17.8 69 116 25.6 20.6 117 | 62
Punt Return Average 7.6 18.6 67 3 5.8 10.0 50 100
Avg. Time of Possession 29:59 34:18 59 11 30:01 | 25:42
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37% | 48% 88 | 17
46% | 13.0% 109 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 16-86 | 11-83
78 30
7-44 | 25-174 119 4
Touchdowns Scored 21 46
27 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 5-8 | 6-11
6-9 | 2-5
Red Zone Scores (15-18) 83%|(36-40) 90% 65 | 28
(24-26) 92%|(4-6) 67% 112 3
Red Zone Touchdowns (13-18) 72%|(30-40) 75% (19-26) 73%|(3-6) 50%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 27.4 37.1 83 19 29.7 0.8 74 1

Whether by coincidence or cause, Michigan’s ascension to the No. 2 ranking nationally has coincided with Michigan State’s rapid fall from grace. The Spartans rose to prominence the past eight years largely due to the void Michigan left when it stumbled through the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras. But while Jim Harbaugh has his Wolverines cruising like a well oiled machine through the first eight weeks of the 2016 season, Mark Dantonio’s squad is fighting for bowl eligibility.

Michigan State won its first two games of the season over Furman (28-13) and then-No. 18 Notre Dame (36-28), but both MSU and Notre Dame have plummeted since then. As the Irish have lost three of their next four to make that MSU win look far less impressive, the Spartans have done them one better by losing five straight.

During that five-game losing streak, Michigan State has averaged just 19.6 points per game and allowed 33.4. With the exception of a 31-14 loss to BYU three weeks ago, the offense hasn’t been terribly bad. They’ve piled up more than 400 total yards in three of the last four, but that just hasn’t translated to enough points.

The running game ranks 86th nationally, averaging just 155.3 yards per game, or 102 yards fewer than Michigan. They managed 260 yards on Notre Dame, but the Irish rank 79th in run defense. They also put up 270 rushing yards on Maryland this past Saturday, but the Terps’ rush defense ranks 84th. The two teams they’ve played that feature solid rush defenses — Wisconsin and Northwestern — held MSU to a combined 126 rushing yards on 2.5 yards per carry.

The passing game is a little better, ranking 61st nationally with an average of 235 yards per game, about nine yards more than Michigan. That average is a little inflated by a 424-yard performance against Northwestern’s 110th-ranked pass defense. They managed just 156 yards on Maryland’s 13th-ranked pass defense last week, completing just 11-of-24 passes. They’ve also thrown eight interceptions.

When one thinks of Michigan State over the past few years, a vicious defense is what comes to mind. Not so much this year, however. The Spartans rank 54th nationally in total defense and 80th in scoring defense. Four of seven opponents have topped 400 total yards and BYU was just two yards away from doing so.

MSU’s rush defense and pass defense are roughly equal, ranking 66th and 64th nationally, respectively. They held Furman to 87 rushing yards and Notre Dame to 57, but during the five-game losing streak, the Spartans have allowed 198.8 rushing yards per game. BYU (260), Northwestern (209), and Maryland (247) have eclipsed 200 yards on the ground in each of the last three weeks, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Three of seven opponents have passed for at least 281 yards against the Spartan defense led by Notre Dame’s 344. Even Maryland, which ranks 112th nationally in passing offense, threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-28 passing.

The Michigan State defense also struggles with getting to the quarterback, which they have done just seven times this season. That’s worst in the Big Ten by a whopping five sacks. They also have trouble stopping opponents on third down, allowing 46 percent conversions, which is the same as Illinois entering last week’s game. Michigan converted 7-of-14.

Michigan is favored to win by about three touchdowns, but Michigan State will be playing for nothing more than pride and a chance to inch closer to bowl eligibility. If there’s one thing Michigan fans have learned the past few years it’s not to take MSU lightly, and you can bet Harbaugh will be preaching the same thing inside Schembechler Hall. You can also bet he’ll have some fresh plays reserved for this occasion. Michigan hasn’t played down to its competition yet this season and — barring torrential weather — don’t expect that to happen this Saturday.