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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Lewerke’

Michigan State 14 – #7 Michigan 10: Turnovers, sloppy offense doom Michigan versus rival

Monday, October 9th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

With a storm promising 60 miles per hour wind gusts and torrential rain bearing down on Ann Arbor’s primetime matchup between the state’s two premier schools, getting out to a fast start was imperative to winning the game. While neither team featured much offense on Saturday night, it was Michigan State who beat Michigan to the storm and ultimately secured the 14-10 victory.

Michigan appeared to be getting out to a fast start, methodically moving down the field on the game’s opening possession mostly by running right at the Spartan defense. But as it has for much of the season, a promising drive stalled in the red zone and Michigan settled for a field goal to cap its 16-play, seven-minute drive.

Final Stats
Michigan  Michigan State
Score 10 14
Record 4-1 (1-1) 4-1 (2-0)
Total Yards 300 252
Net Rushing Yards 102 158
Net Passing Yards 198 94
First Downs 17 13
Turnovers 5 0
Penalties-Yards 7-53 11-81
Punts-Yards 7-298 11-430
Time of Possession 30:52 29:08
Third Down Conversions 5-of-17 2-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 4-33
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines went right back to the ground game, picking up gains of six and five, but Ty Isaac fumbled at the end of an 8-yard run and Michigan State recovered at the Michigan 38. Six plays later, the Spartans took a 7-3 lead on a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

After back-to-back Michigan punts, the Spartans got on the board once again, this time driving 83 yards in nine plays for a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Madre London.

The Michigan defense made its typical halftime adjustments, gaining a big edge in field position, and it paid off on Michigan’s second possession of the half. A Michigan State punt from the back of their own end zone gave the Wolverines possession at the MSU-33, and four plays later Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard Khalid Hill run to pull within 14-10.

But the storm hit a short time later and neither offense was able to move the ball the remainder of the game. John O’Korn threw interceptions on three straight possessions, but Michigan’s defense held Michigan State to seven straight three-and-outs, keeping the game within reach.

Michigan got one last chance on the game’s final possession, starting on their own 20 with 34 seconds remaining. O’Korn found Karan Higdon for a 15-yard gain and another 15 yards were tacked on for a late hit. On the next play, O’Korn found Eddie McDoom for what would have been a big play, but McDoom dropped the open pass. O’Korn connected with Higdon again for 18 yards, stopping the clock with five seconds remaining at the MSU-37. O’Korn heaved a prayer into the end zone as time expired, but the ball was batted down and Michigan State earned its eighth win in 10 tried against the Wolverines.

Michigan out-gained Michigan State 300 to 252, but that’s no consolation in defeat. The Wolverines managed 102 rushing yards, but only 2.6 yards per carry — the first time in 24 tries under Jim Harbaugh that they lost despite rushing for 100 yards or more. The Isaac fumble was a major turning point early in the game as Michigan was averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on 13 carries prior to that. But Michigan averaged just 1.7 yards per carry the rest of the game.

Higdon led the way with 65 yards on 5.4 yards per carry, but Michigan inexplicably only gave him 12 carries. Instead, in blustery and rainy conditions, the playcalling put the ball in O’Korns arm 35 times, something Wilton Speight has done just three times in 16 games and Jake Rudock did just three times in 13. That may be the most damning statistic for an offense that has regressed in each game this season.

It’s clear that there’s a reason that, until his injury, Speight was the starter despite his early-season struggles, and that with Tarik Black out for the season with injury the offense is full of young talent, but lacking in established playmakers. It’s also clear that for those reasons and more, the offensive coaching staff is lacking in confidence in its offense’s ability to move the ball and find the end zone. Something has to give as the schedule only gets tougher from here on, or Michigan could be looking at four or five losses.

It’s gut-check time and everyone from walk-ons to Harbaugh has to take a long look in the mirror and decide what kind of season they’re going to have. Speight is reportedly done for the season with three cracked vertebrae. Is O’Korn the best option to keep Michigan in contention for the Big Ten title? Or is it time to give Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey a chance to build on the future?

Personally, I ride with O’Korn as long as the title is within reach. But he’s going to need upperclassmen like Isaac to take care of the ball and experienced receivers like McDoom, Grant Perry, and Kekoa Crawford to catch open passes. Offensive line issues that have plagued Michigan for years won’t get fixed this year, but Harbaugh and staff need to devise a way to overcome that. With the nation’s best defense, the offense doesn’t have to be great. It may not even have to be good. Slightly above average would probably do the trick. But can Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton attain that? The next two weeks will be telling.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
In a game in which Michigan showed little ability to move the ball consistently — save for the first possession of the game — Higdon was the one offensive standout, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He had rushes of six and three yards on that opening possession, but Chris Evans was the more featured back on that drive with five carries for 20 yards. Midway through the third quarter, Higdon had four straight carries that went for five, six, six, and six yards before a holding penalty on Mason Cole set the offense back to 1st-and-20. Two plays later, O’Korn was picked off. Often the only back that could gain positive yards, that Higdon got just 12 carries while O’Korn threw the ball 35 times is a big miss by the coaching staff.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
The game followed a similar trend for Michigan’s defense this season. It’s susceptible to a few big plays early in the game, but Don Brown makes halftime adjustments and shuts down the opposing offense in the second half. Michigan State managed just two first downs the entire second half — both on their last possession — and 66 yards on 30 plays in the second half. Hurst was a big part of that, stuffing the Michigan State running game with 2.5 tackles for loss, and drawing high praise from MSU center Brian Allen after the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

#7 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 7th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Note: Work sent me to Atlanta and Charlotte for the week, so my writing time has been sparse. I had planned to write the game preview on my flight home, but Southwest’s in-flight wifi had other plans. So here I am at midnight on Friday night, fighting a cold and a lack of sleep, so this will just be a brief one this week.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (11th season)
Coaching Record: 110-60 (93-43 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (5th season)
Dave Warner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (2nd season)
Harlon Barnett (3rd season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 32 – MSU 23 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 69-35-5
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 34-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 1-1
Last Michigan win: 2016 (32-23)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Michigan State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 35-10
Western Michigan W 28-14
Notre Dame L 18-38
Iowa W 17-10

The tide has begun swinging back to Ann Arbor in the state’s biggest rivalry and Michigan State fans are struggling to come to grips with the loss of the bragging rights they have enjoyed for much of the past decade.

They were the biggest beneficiary of The Great Experiment that Michigan undertook when it hired Rich Rodriguez in 2008 to transform Michigan football and then swung the pendulum in the opposite direction with Brady Hoke after just three years.

When Rodriguez started deemphasizing recruiting the top players in the state of Michigan Mark Dantonio welcomed them with open arms and took the upper hand in the rivalry. Hoke came in and won his second attempt — 12-10 on a last-second field goal — but lost the other three.

Jim Harbaugh reestablished the Wolverines as the premier destination for the state’s top recruits, securing commitments from the top two in the 2016 class, then the top six and seven of the top eight in the 2017 class. In his first season, Harbaugh had a big win over the Spartans secured until a fluke botched punt in the closing seconds handed MSU their seventh win in the last eight seasons. In 2016, Michigan finished the job, topping Michigan State 32-23 in East Lansing, a game that was closer than it should have been, but given the recent history, it was a welcome win.

Now, after a loss that should have been a win, and then a narrow win, the pattern would say a resounding win is in the cards for Harbaugh. Michigan is, after all, coming off a bye week, which means they had an extra week to prepare.

But as we all know, nothing is guaranteed against Michigan State. Dantonio has mastered the art of playing with a chip on their shoulder, especially when it comes to playing Michigan. It simply means more, and Spartan players are constantly reminding us that they do a little extra every day to prepare for Michigan.

Prediction

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total and looks good on paper. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they’ve beaten a bad Bowling Green team, a Western Michigan squad that isn’t close to the darling it was a year ago, and a so-so Iowa. The one good team MSU has faced, Notre Dame, pounded the Spartans, 38-18.

Their leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewerke, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But their rushing offense is right about on par with Michigan’s, averaging about three yards more per game. It’s not going to scare a Michigan defense that leads the nation against the run — especially with a pair of running backs (L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes) who are averaging less than 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game isn’t much to be concerned about either, averaging just 208 yards per game in the three games that it wasn’t playing from behind all game. I’m not worried at all about Michigan’s defense stopping the MSU offense. They’ll have success for a couple of drives, like Purdue did, but when the scripted plays run out, the Don Brown defense will take over.

What I am worried about, however, is Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently. This certainly isn’t the Pat Narduzzi defense, but it is more solid that it was a year ago. Iowa managed just 19 rushing yards on 25 carries last week, and Michigan hasn’t shown that it can run the ball consistently yet this season. The Wolverines have done well at big plays via the run, but those are hard to rely on, especially when you’re getting stuffed at the line. But Michigan State’s defense is allowing more than four big runs (10 yards or more) per game, so there is hope.

Where I see Michigan having some success is in the air — that is, if the rain holds off. If it rains throughout the game, it’s anyone’s guess. But if not, it will all depend on whether the offensive line can keep John O’Korn clean, of course. I see a big game for tight ends Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. Michigan State’s defense will try to keep O’Korn out of rhythm, but he’ll find comfort with his tight ends and finish with a nice passing number.

The forecast currently calls for a 35-50 percent chance of showers throughout the game with thunderstorms starting later on. If they hold off, I think Michigan wins comfortably, but not in a blowout. If the heavens open up, we can pretty much just flip a coin. I’ll make my prediction based on a mostly dry ballgame. Michigan is the more talented team and will win a relatively low-scoring affair.

Score Prediction: Michigan 23 – Michigan State 9

#2 Michigan 32 – Michigan State 23: Redemption in East Lansing

Sunday, October 30th, 2016


peppers-vs-msu(mgoblue.com)

Michigan was favored by 24 points entering East Lansing on Saturday, but after suffering through a horrid eight year stretch in which it won just once against its bitter in-state rival, a win by any amount in Spartan Stadium was sure to feel good. The Wolverines spotted Michigan State seven points on Saturday, took a 20-point lead, and held on to win by nine, improving to 8-0 for the first time since 2006.

With Michigan State entering the game just 5-2 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten, many Michigan fans wanted Jim Harbaugh to keep his foot on the gas and not let up. And while a blowout would have been nice for the sake of bragging to family and coworkers, a win — any win — was just fine.

Any nervousness on Michigan’s part prior to the game was only exacerbated after Michigan State marched right down the field on its opening drive with a 12-play, seven-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive that saw 11 rushes and just one pass. Michigan’s defense, which ranked fourth nationally against the rush, got carved up by L.J. Scott.

um-msu_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan MSU
Score 32 23
Record 8-0, 5-0 2-6, 0-5
Total Yards 436 401
Net Rushing Yards 192 217
Net Passing Yards 244 184
First Downs 24 23
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 5-62 7-57
Punts-Yards 3-122 1-49
Time of Possession 30:16 29:44
Third Down Conversions 5-of-12 4-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-4
Sacks By-Yards 2-10 0-0
Field Goals 3-for-3 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 3-of-6
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-6 3-of-6
Full Box Score

But Michigan answered with five straight scoring drives. Jabrill Peppers got the scoring started with a 3-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven. After the defense stopped a MSU fourth down, Michigan went 62 yards in five plays, lead by a 33-yard Eddie McDoom run and capped off by a 1-yard De’Veon Smith touchdown run.

Michigan State got back on the board with a 52-yard field goal, but Michigan answered with a 23-yarder from Kenny Allen.

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense put together a 10-play, 48-yard touchdown drive that saw Michigan convert two third downs. Smith picked up his second touchdown of the day, this time from five yards out.

On the first play of Michigan State’s next possession, quarterback Tyler O’Connor tried to take a shot downfield, but Jourdan Lewis picked it off, giving Michigan a chance to widen the lead before halftime. With just 27 seconds remaining, Wilton Speight completed passes of 14 yards and 20 yards, both to Amara Darboh to reach the MSU 20. A pass interference penalty put the ball at the five, but with time for only one more play, Harbaugh settled for a 23-yard Allen field goal and Michigan took a 27-10 lead into the locker room.

The second half did not go as well as Michigan seemed to go into cruise control, scoring just three offensive points on five possessions. Neither team scored a point in the third quarter, but Michigan widened the lead to 30-10 with a 45-yard Allen field goal to start the fourth.

On the next possession, Michigan went three-and-out and had to punt for the first time in the game. Michigan State capitalized with a 59-yard drive that featured back to back explosive plays — a 34-yard pass from backup quarterback Brian Lewerke to R.J. Shelton and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Monty Madaris.

Michigan State took over again with just 37 seconds remaining and moved the ball right down the field with a 35-yard pass to Scott, a 15-yard personal foul on Chris Wormley, a 10-yard pass to Trishton Jackson, and a 10-yard pass interference on Jourdan Lewis. O’Connor capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Donnie Corley with one second remaining on the clock. At this point, a win was impossible for the Spartans, but Mark Dantonio elected to go for a two-point conversion to make the loss look a little better. The decision backfired as O’Connor’s option pitch was fumbled and Peppers scooped it up and raced 87 yards for a Michigan two-point conversion.

Michigan’s offense gained 436 yards, 192 on the ground and 244 through the air. Speight completed 16-of-25 passes for 244 yards and an interception. All three of Michigan’s touchdowns came on the ground. McDoom lead the team in rushing with 53 yards on two carries, while Karan Higdon had 44 on 10 carries, Smith had 38 on 11, and Peppers had 24 on five. Darboh had a career-high 165 yards on eight receptions.

Defensively, Michigan allowed 401 yards including 217 rushing yards and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Scott became the first back to rush for 100 yards on Michigan’s defense this season, finishing with 139 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. MSU’s three quarterbacks combined to complete just 13-of-28 passes for 184 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

At 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan remains in the driver’s seat in the conference. The Wolverines host Maryland (5-3, 2-3) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)
Darboh had the best game of his career on Saturday, channeling his inner Braylon Edwards with catch after catch against the Spartans’ secondary. Although he didn’t find the end zone, seven of his eight receptions resulted in first downs and two of them were third down conversions. Like Jehu Chesson did with Jake Rudock last season, Darboh seems to be hitting stride with Speight in the second half of the season, giving Michigan both a deep threat and a reliable pass catcher to move the chains.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Game Ball – Defense

Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery for touchdown)
Michigan’s Heisman trophy candidate didn’t have the most tackles — Delano Hill lead the team with 11 — or the most tackles for loss – Mike McCray lead with 2.5 — but made the big plays that counted. When Michigan State still had a shot to pull within one score late in the game, Peppers sacked Lewerke for a loss of eight on 4th-and-5. Although the Spartans scored on their next possession, it was too little too late by that time, and Peppers made the final statement of the game by returning their fumbled two-point conversion to add two points to Michigan’s winning margin. Ultimately, it didn’t change the outcome of the game — aside from covering the over on the betting line — but it gave him a highlight for his Heisman campaign.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)

#2 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 28th, 2016


um-msu-game-preview-header(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Nine years ago Michigan traveled to East Lansing ranked 15th nationally to take on a 5-4 Michigan State squad. Little did anyone know at the time that Michigan was about to take a severe downturn while the Spartans were about to see their fortune change for the better.

Michigan State hadn’t won the Big Ten since 1990 and had finished third or better only three times during that span, averaging just 5.6 wins per season. They had beaten Michigan just five times and just nine times in the previous 39 seasons.

um-msu_small
Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ESPN
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (10th season)
Coaching Record: 107-55 (89-38 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (4th season)
Dave Warner (4th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (1st season)
Harlon Barnett (1st season)
Last Season: 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: MSU 27-UM 23 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 68-35-5
Record in East Lansing: Michigan 19-14-2
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2012 (12-10)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan State 3
Michigan State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Furman W 28-13
at #18 Notre Dame W 36-28
#11 Wisconsin L 6-30
at Indiana L 21-24
BYU L 14-31
Northwestern L 40-54
at Maryland L 17-28

On that early November Saturday in East Lansing, the Spartans held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before Michigan rallied back for a 28-24 win behind backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and senior running back Mike Hart.

Every fan on both sides of the rivalry knows what happened next when Hart, in a post-game interview, likened Michigan State to a little brother that the older brother — Michigan — picks on. Nearly everyone on both sides are sick of hearing about it, but it coincided with a major shift in the rivalry.

Lloyd Carr retired after the season and Michigan struggled through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, dropping six of those contests to their in-state rival by an average of 16.3 points. Michigan went 46-42 during that span, finishing no better than second in their division. Michigan State, meanwhile, went 75-31, winning the Big Ten three times, winning two BCS bowls, and appearing in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The contrast could hardly be more distinct.

But Jim Harbaugh stepped into the fray and proceeded to win 17 of his first 20 games and Michigan catapulted up the rankings. Although the Wolverines lost Harbaugh’s first meeting with the Spartans a year ago, it’s eerily reminiscent of the coach’s mentor’s beginning. After all, Bo Schembechler took over a Michigan squad that had gone 2-9-1 against Michigan State in the previous 12 seasons. He won 17 of his first 20 games — one of those losses being his first matchup with MSU — but beat the Spartans the second time around. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. And so on. He won eight straight and Michigan won 30 of the next 38 until 2008.

If Michigan beats Michigan State tomorrow, Harbaugh will surpass Schembechler’s win pace through his first 21 games. Bo lost game 21 — the 1970 Ohio State game.

Michigan enters East Lansing the heavy favorite, ranked No. 2 nationally with a 7-0 record and only five games standing between them and the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State, meanwhile, needs four wins in its final five games to reach .500 and earn bowl eligibility. In many ways the circle is nearly closed, but given the last nine years, it’s easy to understand why Michigan fans are in a ‘wait and see’ approach to Saturday.

Can Michigan stay in the championship hunt? Or will Michigan State continue their recent dominance with an all-time upset? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Michigan State has the ball

Michigan State’s offense has plummeted into the bottom half of the Big Ten this season. It ranks 12th in the conference and 106th nationally in scoring (23.1 points per game), 10th and 86th in rushing (155.3 yards per game), fifth and 61st in passing (235 yards per game), and eighth and 84th in total offense (390.3 yards per game).

The loss of quarterback Connor Cook to the NFL following last season has been one of the major reasons for the offensive decline as Mark Dantonio has been unable to find a quality replacement. Senior Tyler O’Connor started the season and completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,257 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions. But he has seen his playing time diminish the past three weeks in favor of redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke, who has started the last two. Lewerke hasn’t fared any better, completing just 53.2 percent of his passes for 281 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Dantonio hasn’t named a starter for tomorrow, saying it will be a game-time decision. Junior Damion Terry is also in the mix. He went 6-of-10 for 63 yards and a pick against BYU and is the Spartans’ best dual-threat option.

The running game is lead by sophomore L.J. Scott, who averages 66.3 yards per game. He rushed for 128 yards including a 48-yard score against Maryland last weekend and will be key to Michigan State’s chances of winning tomorrow. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry against Wisconsin’s stout rush defense and if he can give MSU yards on first and second down, it will make things much easier for whichever quarterback starts. Junior Gerald Holmes is the second leading rusher with 272 yards and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. He rushed 13 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame in Week 2, but they have the nation’s 81st-ranked rush defense. Unlike Michigan’s deep backfield, MSU’s basically just Scott and Holmes.

The best player on the Spartan offense is senior R.J. Shelton, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 77.3 receiving yards per game and fourth with five receptions per game. He has caught at least seven passes in four of the six games in which he recorded a stat, with two 100-yard games. He caught seven passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern two weeks ago. He’s also dangerous on jet sweeps, where he has averaged over 10 yards per carry on six carries. Freshman Donnie Corley and senior Monty Maderis have combined for 38 receptions for 534 yards, but have found the end zone just twice (both Corley). Tight end Josiah Price is a reliable pass catcher with 18 receptions for 202 yards and three scores.

Aside from not having a consistent quarterback, the offensive line is a major source of the problems in East Lansing. They allow 2.3 sacks per game and can’t consistently open holes for Scott and Holmes. Michigan’s defensive line, which has fueled the defense that leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with 25 sacks, is poised for a big game.

When Michigan has the ball

During Michigan State’s surge over the past several seasons the defense has been the catalyst. Not so this season. The Spartans rank 12th in the Big Ten and 80th nationally in scoring defense (29.7 points allowed per game), ninth and 66th against the run (162.2 yards per game), 13th and 64th against the pass (225.4 yards per game), and 10th in total defense (388 yards per game).

The defense is lead by junior tackle/strong side end Malik McDowell, who has five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. After him, however, the defensive line is much less fearsome. Fifth-year senior tackle Kevin Williams has 20 tackles but none for loss. Senior nose tackle Brandon Clemons has started all seven games and has held up well. Junior Demetrius Cooper is the end opposite McDowell and has three tackles for loss and a half a sack.

The linebackers are the strength of the MSU defense, most notably junior SAM Chris Frey, who is tied for the team lead with 57 tackles and leads the team with six quarterback hurries. Senior MIKE Riley Bullough is third on the team with four tackles for loss, but is also prone to personal fouls, which got him ejected from last week’s game. Sophomore STAR linebacker Andrew Dowell has a nice stat line with 45 tackles, two for loss, one sack, an interception, two passes defended, and a pair of quarterback hurries.

The secondary is decent but gave up over 200 yards to Maryland’s 112th-ranked passing offense last week. Junior safety Montae Nicholson is tied with Frey for the team lead with 57 tackles. The other safety is senior Demetrius Cox, who is prone to giving up big plays. The corners, sophomore Vayante Copeland and senior Darian Hicks, are passable. They both have an interception and Hicks leads the team with six pass breakups and seven passes defended. Freshman nickel corner Justin Layne also has a pick.

The other third

Senior kicker Michael Geiger has made 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) field goal attempts this season with a long of 48. His misses have come from 40, 43, and 49 yards, one of them being blocked. He’s a fourth-year starter who went 15-of-16 (93.8 percent) his freshman year but then just 26-of-41 (63.4 percent) the next two seasons combined. Sophomore punter Jake Hartbarger ranks seventh in the Big Ten with an average of 40.7 yards per punt. He has downed 14 of 32 inside the 20 with just one touchback.

Shelton is the main kick returner averaging 22.4 yards per return, while sophomore receiver Brandon Sowards averages 4.8 yards per punt return.

Prediction

While Michigan is favored by more than three touchdowns I fully expect Michigan State to give Michigan a game early on. The Spartans may be just 2-5, but they’ll step on the field winners of seven of the last eight over Michigan. But this game is almost always won on the ground and Michigan’s defense is just too good for the Spartans to run on. Dantonio will try to get Scott going and will take some shots deep trying to catch the secondary by surprise. It may work once, but not with enough consistency to outscore Michigan.

Offensively, Michigan will pound the run and pick on the Spartan safeties through the air. I expect that we’ll see a little more utilization of Jabrill Peppers and that we’ll see the evolution of some of the plays that have been set up over the past couple weeks. Will he pass for a touchdown this week?

Michigan State keeps it close for much of the first half before Michigan’s talent, experience, and depth allows them to pull away in the second. It ends up a solid win, but doesn’t cover the spread. And we’ll be just fine with that.

Michigan 33 – Michigan State 13