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Posts Tagged ‘L.J. Scott’

#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

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 2nd, 2017


Michigan opened Big Ten play with a 28-10 win over Purdue, dominating the Boilermakers in the second half after trailing 10-7 at the break. Sitting at 4-0, the Wolverines got a bye week this past Saturday to get healthy and work out any issues that plagued them over the first four weeks.

This week, Michigan returns to action against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines finally got the best of their rival last season and will look to make it a streak on Saturday. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare through the first third of the season.

Michigan State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
24.5 95th 31.5 58th PPG 18.0 21st 13.5 8th
750 737 Rush Yds 384 277
187.5 48th 184.3 50th Rush/Gm 96.0 16th 69.3 1st
4.5 4.3 Rush Avg 3.1 2.2
968 892 Pass Yds 609 536
242.0 60th 223.0 72nd Pass/Gm 152.2 9th 134.0 4th
1,718 1,629 Total Off. 993 813
429.5 52nd 407.3 73rd Total Off./Gm 248.2 5th 203.3 1st
24.0 31st 17.6 104th KR Avg 27.2 116th 15.9 14th
5.7 75th 13.5 20th PR Avg 5.0 48th 2.8 25th
34:37 6th 33:18 18th Avg TOP 25:23 26:42
49% 12th 35% 94th 3rd Down% 27% 12th 19% 3rd
6-26 39th 12-69 109th Sacks-Yds 9-58 52nd 18-125 1st
13 13 TDs 9 6
2-3 (67%) 11-13 (85%) FG-ATT 3-3 (100%) 4-7 (57%)
11-16 (69%) 119th 12-13 (92%) 28th Red Zone 6-8 (75%) 29th 5-6 (83%) 63rd
9-16 (56%) 4-13 (31%)  RZ TD 5-8 (63%) 3-6 (50%)
OFEI/DFEI
28.0 66 32.5 39 S&P+ 20.1 16 12.6 2

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total just four games into the season. The Spartans opened with a pair of cupcake wins over Bowling Green (35-10) and Western Michigan (28-14) before laying an egg at home against Notre Dame, falling 38-18 in a game that wasn’t really that close. They returned to the win column with a 17-10 victory over Iowa last Saturday.

This Saturday will be Michigan State’s first trip away from East Lansing this season, and although it’s only about 70 miles, the Big House presents different beast than the friendly trash tornado confines of Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State’s offense has been middle-of-the road nationally in terms of moving the ball — though better than Michigan’s — but has had trouble scoring, averaging a full touchdown per game less than Michigan does. Granted, Michigan has scored three defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. The Spartan offense has scored 12 touchdowns and its defense has one. Comparatively, Michigan has just nine offensive touchdowns, so MSU’s offense has found the end zone more often. But even when you throw out defensive and special teams touchdowns, Michigan’s offense has still outscored MSU’s 87-78 thanks to 11 made field goals by Quinn Nordin.

MSU is averaging 187.5 rushing yards per game, which is essentially the same as what Michigan is averaging (184.3). Two Spartans have more than 200 rushing yards, but the leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewertke, who is averaging 62 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. L.J. Scott, who nearly reached 1,000 yards on 5.4 yards per carry in 2016, is managing a meager 3.7 yards per carry so far this season. While the 48th-ranked rushing offense is above average, it did most of its work against Bowling Green and Western Michigan, rush defenses that 117th and 79th nationally. Notre Dame’s 64th-ranked rush defense held the Spartans to 151 yards and Iowa’s 57th-ranked rush defense held them to just 88 yards on 40 carries. Michigan has the nation’s best rush defense, allowing just 69.3 rushing yards per game.

Lewertke is leading a passing game that ranks 60th nationally, averaging 242.0 yards per game. It did most of its work while playing from behind against Notre Dame. In the other three games, Lewertke averaged just 27 pass attempts, but against Notre Dame he threw the ball 51 times, gaining 35 percent of his 963 passing yards on the season. Michigan State trailed 28-10 early in the third quarter and 35-10 midway through and ran just 12 rushes compared to 28 called passes in the second half. In the other three games, State averaged just 208 passing yards, which would rank 82nd nationally.

Defensively, Michigan State has been much closer to the defense that carried the Spartans through the early part of this decade than it was last season. They currently rank 21st nationally in scoring defense (18.0 points per game), 16th in rush defense (96.0 yards per game), 9th in passing (152.2 yards per game), and 5th in total defense (248.2 yards per game).

But the Spartans haven’t exactly faced good offenses yet this season. Only Notre Dame (30th nationally) ranks among the top 90 in total offense. Bowling Green ranks 103rd, Western Michigan 91st, and Iowa 102nd. And we know how that Notre Dame game turned out.

Still, Michigan State’s defense held Bowling Green to just 67 rushing yards and Iowa to just 19(!) rushing yards on 25 carries. Now, 19 yards is a remarkable statistic (Michigan held Florida to just 11 in the season opener) but Iowa’s offense has only eclipsed 164 yards once all season and it was against North Texas, so the Hawkeyes don’t exactly boast a potent rushing attack. Iowa did, however, top 200 yards passing — the only team to do so against Michigan State so far this season.

Overall, Michigan State is a solid team this season. They’re not as good as they were when they were taking advantage of the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke years, but they’re much better than they were a year ago. They’ll be a tough test for a young Michigan team that features many players playing in the first big rivalry game of their career. Both teams feature very good defenses and so-so offenses, so expect a defensive battle on Saturday night.

The Numbers Game: MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


peppers-vs-msu(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays

First, the good news. Michigan won and was in control of this game from just about the beginning, with a three-possession lead at halftime and at least a two-possession game throughout (save for with one-second left on the clock when Michigan State cut it to seven only to have Jabrill Peppers subsequently return it back to nine).

Now, the bad. Michigan allowed double digit explosive plays for the first time all season and lost the total explosive play battle, also for the first time. Rivalry games are a strange thing indeed.

Coming into this match-up Michigan had yet to surrender more than seven explosive plays to an opponent (Colorado and UCF each had seven). Michigan State proceeded to almost double that number with 12. The silver lining is that three of those came on two drives in the fourth quarter during the brief amount of garbage time in this game. Regardless, Michigan State found a way to run the ball effectively against the vaunted Wolverine defense. Michigan got the win though, so we can look at the numbers without crying, right?

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first eight weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 64 34 98 16.39% 6.50% 52
2015 31 19 50 10.00% 0.07% 2

Michigan did manage 11 explosive plays of their own — six run and five pass — which is slightly below their season average of 12.43. On defense, the 12 they surrendered eight were runs and four passes. L.J. Scott was the main culprit, accounting for five of the eight runs and six of the 12 total plays, with an average explosive run of 21.4 yards and an explosive play on 25 percent of his touches. Please keep in mind L.J. Scott is an excellent running back who will be playing on Sundays and — like it or not — Mark Dantonio is a great coach who came up with a great game plan for Michigan. All great seasons usually have a game or two like this, a wake-up call if you will, and Michigan will be better for the adversity going forward.

Adding Michigan’s 11 explosive plays from this game into their season total, we arrive at an average of eight explosive runs per game (12th nationally) and 4.25 explosive passes (24th) for a total of 12.25 explosive plays per game (3rd) with a big play percentage of 16.39 percent (7th). Roughly one out of every six plays is an explosive one. Their big play differential is 6.5 percent (7th) and their total toxic differential is 52, good for second on a per game basis.

Michigan is one of only two teams to average eight or more explosive runs per game AND four or more explosive passes per game. Louisville is the other. I wonder if we can send these stats to ESPN to distribute to Joey Galloway and Kirk Herbstreit so they stop with all the old-fashioned, non-explosive offense talk.

Through eight games last season, Michigan was averaging just 3.88 explosive runs per game and 2.38 big passes per game for a total of just 6.25 explosive plays per game — almost half of their 2016 average. Their big play percentage was 9.14 percent and their big play differential was just 0.07 percent. Their total toxic differential was just two. Here’s how those explosive play numbers would rank nationally this year: 3.88 runs (110th), 2.38 pass (109th), 6.25 total (123rd). To say there’s been a massive improvement on offense would be an understatement.

Garbage time

None of Michigan’s explosive plays versus Michigan State came during garbage time. This was the third game in which Michigan did not record an explosive play during garbage time. Not because they were ineffective but because there was no, or little, garbage time during the game. There was only about seven minutes of garbage time versus Michigan State. On the season, 41.84 percent of Michigan’s explosive plays come during garbage time.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through eight weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.00 1.75 5.75 9.89% 6.50% 52
2015 3.38 2.13 5.51 9.07% 0.07% 2

On defense, Michigan did surrender those 12 explosive plays, most of which were runs (eight). L.J. Scott was responsible for 62.5 percent of the explosive runs and half of the total explosive plays given up. While he did average over 21 yards per explosive run this was only about half a yard more than Michigan’s season average given up on said runs, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Not a single one of Michigan State’s 12 explosive plays came on third down. One did come on fourth, but who’s counting?

Overall, Michigan is surrendering four explosive runs per game (31st) and 1.75 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 5.75 (5th). The total is a big fall from last week’s 4.86 and number one overall but still well under the six per game threshold of an elite defense in this metric. Their big play against percentage is 9.89 percent (27th). Their big play rankings took a tumble, but overall these are very excellent numbers given the level of competition they have faced.

Michigan is the only team in the country to allow four or fewer explosive run plays and less than two explosive pass plays per game. And they are one of only four teams to allow less than two explosive pass plays per game.

This point last year is where the wheels started to fall off for the defense in the explosive play department. They went into Minnesota and gave up 10 explosive plays and that trend would continue as the season progressed. After eight games the 2015 team was averaging 3.38 explosive runs allowed and 2.13 explosive passes allowed for a total of 5.5 per game with a big play against percentage of 9.07 percent. Better than this year’s numbers through eight games, but remember, those trends did not continue as they ended the season with over seven explosive plays surrendered per game.

Garbage time

As mentioned, three of the 12 explosive plays surrendered did come in garbage time. For the season, Michigan is giving up 50 percent of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

The Wolverines defense bounced back after a one sack, four tackles for loss performance against Illinois to record two sacks and seven TFLs. Despite a couple ‘down’ weeks their sack and TFL numbers are still fairly high in the national rankings. Michigan has 32 total sacks (if you recall this was their 13-game season total a year ago) and they are averaging 3.38 sacks per game good for 11th and 9th, respectively. They have 70 total tackles for loss (5th) and average 8.75 per game (4th). They should pass the 2015 season total for tackles for loss (88) in the next two or three weeks.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-9Michigan has registered 98 total explosive plays on offense — 64 run and 34 pass. An explosive play is slightly more likely on second down (43) than it is on first down (41). An explosive run is slightly more likely on second (31) than first down (28) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (13) than second down (12). Third down is still highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 7.81 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.47 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-9

On defense Michigan is almost equally likely to give up an explosive play on first (18) or second down (19) with third down a good deal behind (eight). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (17), followed by first (10) and then third (five). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (eight) than second (two), third (three) and fourth (one) downs combined.

Big play percentage of total yards

The Michigan defense has given up 889 total rushing yards and 669 of them (75.25 percent) have come via explosive plays. They give up just under 21 yards per explosive run carry. On carries that do not yield an explosive run Michigan gives up just 0.91 yards per carry. Of the 273 rushing attempts Michigan has seen they have given up an explosive run on just 32 of them (11.72 percent) or roughly one out of every eight opponent carries.

In the pass game, just over 50 percent of the yardage Michigan surrenders comes via explosive pass (484 of 961 total). They yield 34.57 yards per explosive pass completion but just 7.23 yards per non-explosive pass completion. Overall, 62.32 percent of the yards Michigan gives up come via explosive play, at 25 yards per play. The rest of the time Michigan has given up just 697 yards on 419 plays, 0.61 yards per play.

The only way you will get any yards on Michigan is to have an explosive play here or there, and Michigan doesn’t surrender many (5.75 per game). Nor do they allow you to score that often on drives with explosive plays. Speaking of which…

Big play scoring drives

Michigan State had seven drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on four of those, or 57.14 percent. Michigan also had seven drives with at least one explosive play but scored on six of them, 85.71 percent. For the year, Michigan has had 63 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play and they’ve scored on 45 of them — 71.43 percent of the time. On defense they’ve surrendered just 12 scores on 32 drives with an explosive play — just 36.36 percent of the time. Basically, two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still don’t score on Michigan’s defense. On average, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive. Michigan is holding teams to less than half of that.

UM’s big play leaders
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
De’Veon Smith 15 18.53 yards 16.67%
Chris Evans 12 22.64 yards 22.42%
Ty Isaac 11 16.67 yards 14.82%
Karan Higdon 10 18.87 yards 23.90%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 14 34.79 yards 36.84%
Jake Butt 7 20.00 yards 24.14%
Jehu Chesson 6 27.50 yards 30.00%

Our explosive play leaderboard stays about the same. De’Veon Smith leads the way with 15 total, averaging 18.53 yards per carry. Karan Higdon holds the largest yards per explosive run at 23.9 yards. Amara Darboh refuses to give up his stranglehold on the top explosive reception list with 14, double the next highest, Jake Butt, who has seven. Darboh averages a whopping 34.79 yards per explosive reception. Jehu Chesson is next at six for 27.5 yards and Jake Butt has seven for 20 yards a catch. No one else has more than two.

Michigan averages 19.52 yards per explosive run and 27.76 per explosive pass for a total average of 22.38 yards per explosive play. And they average over 12 of them per game, or about one out of every six plays. Knowing what we know about Michigan’s offense I can’t help but cackle when I hear comments about how they’re not explosive or high-powered enough.

Next opponent
Michigan & Maryland offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 64 34 98 16.39% 6.50% 52
MD Off. 73 18 91 16.37% 3.99% 17
Michigan & Maryland defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 32 14 46 9.89% 6.50% 52
MD Def. 56 18 74 12.37% 3.99% 17

And now we look ahead to a familiar face, D.J. Durkin and his Maryland Terrapins. I was going to make a veiled comment about just running Ohio State’s offense against them since Durkin clearly doesn’t know how to stop it, but let’s just look at how Maryland stacks up numbers-wise.

Maryland likes to run the ball, to the tune of 9.13 explosive runs per game (6th nationally), but they don’t seem to care for the pass much, 2.25 explosive passes per game (111th) but overall they’re a solidly explosive team, averaging 11.38 per game (17th). Their big play percentage for is 16.37 percent, just two-hundredths of a percent and one ranking spot below Michigan. Their total toxic differential is 17, good for 31st on a per game basis.

The Terrapins give up seven explosive runs per game (112th) and 2.25 explosive passes per game (15th) for a total of 9.25 explosive plays allowed per game (82nd). Their big play against percentage is 12.37 percent (80th) and their big play differential is 3.99 percent (24th). I’ll have more in my prediction tomorrow, but I’d fully expect Michigan to have great success running the ball this weekend.

#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

#7 Michigan State 27 – #12 Michigan 23: Last second score stuns Wolverines

Saturday, October 17th, 2015


MSU TD(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

With ESPN College GameDay on campus and a top-12 matchup between hated instate rivals Michigan and Michigan State, college football was fun again in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Until it wasn’t.

After not trailing for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Michigan needed only to execute a successful punt to take back the Paul Bunyan trophy and down the Spartans for just the second time in eight years. Instead, ecstasy turned to heartbreak when punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, tried to pick it up and kick it, and the ball bounced right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson who raced 38 yards to the end zone. Technically, Michigan State hadn’t held a lead for the entire 60 minutes as the game-winning score came after the clock hit zero, but the result was a stunning one indeed.

UM-MSU-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Michigan St.
Score 23 27
Record 5-2 (2-1) 7-0 (3-0)
Total Yards 230 386
Net Rushing Yards 62 58
Net Passing Yards 168 328
First Downs 10 20
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 8-70 5-44
Punts-Yards 7-312 5-186
Time of Possession 29:49 30:11
Third Down Conversions 4-of-15 3-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-29 3-10
Field Goals 3-for-3 0-for-0
PATs 2-for-2 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 2-of-2
Full Box Score

Michigan State’s bench raced to the North end zone to pile on Watts-Jackson in celebration, while the once festive Michigan Stadium crowd of 111,740 stood speechless. Jim Harbaugh described it as “very unfortunate circumstances.”

It took a while for either team to get going, and while Michigan State gained 92 yards on 22 plays in the first quarter, it was Michigan that struck first with a 2-yard Sione Houma touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter.

Michigan State got the break it needed two possessions later when quarterback Connor Cook was stopped three yards short of the first down line on 2nd-and-9. Senior Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden was thrown down on top of Cook and flagged for targeting, not only giving Michigan State 15 yards and a first down, but also kicking Bolden out of the game. Harbaugh referred to the penalty and ejection as “hard to fathom.”

Two plays later, Michigan State ended Michigan’s shutout streak with a 11-yard L.J. Scott touchdown run.

Michigan came right back with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jabrill Peppers to set up the offense with great field position. Jake Rudock connected with Jehu Chesson for 23 yards, but the offense stalled and Kenny Allen kicked a 38-yard field goal. Michigan took a 10-7 lead into the half.

Neither team managed anything on their first possessions of the second half, but Michigan again got great starting field position, this time because the Spartans failed to convert a fake punt. On Michigan’s ensuing drive, Jabrill Peppers took a pop-pass 28 yards to the Michigan State 3-yard line and Houma punched it in three plays later to give Michigan a 17-7 lead.

Michigan State answered right back with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that included a 13-yard completion to Aaron Burbridge, a 27 yards pass to R.J. Sheldon, and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings.

Back to back Kenny Allen field goals put Michigan ahead by nine, but once again Michigan State refused to go away. On the very first play of the ensuing possession, Cook found fullback Trevor Pendleton wide open for 74 yards to the Michigan one. Scott carried it in on the next play to bring Michigan State within two at 23-21.

Trying to hold on to its lead, Michigan’s offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions, but the defense came up big with a fourth down stop. Michigan took possession with 1:47 remaining, needing only one first down to seal the win. But three straight De’Veon Smith runs gained just eight yards and 10 seconds were all that separated Michigan from a win before the botched punt occurred.

Despite not leading until the very end, Michigan State outgained Michigan 386-230, and for just the fourth time in the last 46 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards didn’t win. Michigan finished with 62 rushing yards to Michigan State’s 58. Rudock completed 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards. Smith led the way on the ground with 46 yards on 19 carries, while Houma added 30 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Chesson caught four passes for 58 yards and Amara Darboh caught three for 52.

For Michigan State, Cook completed 18 of 39 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown. Gerald Holmes rushed eight times for 33 yards, while Burbridge led all receivers with 132 yards on nine receptions.

At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan gets a week off before traveling to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that has lost two of its last three and also has a Week 8 bye. Michigan State remains undefeated with Indiana coming to town next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
While no one on Michigan’s offense had a great game on Saturday, punter Kenny Allen was his usual consistent self, calmly nailing three field goals. The first came with 5:34 remaining in the first half, from 38 yards out, after Michigan State had tied the game. It gave Michigan a 10-7 halftime lead. The second came from 21 yards out with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and he followed it up with another 38-yarder on Michigan’s next possession to give Michigan a 23-14 lead with 9:25 left in the game. A position that has been a question mark the past few years has become consistent this season with Allen earning a scholarship and converting 10 of 12 attempts through seven games. He is perfect inside 40 yards.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson

Game Ball – Defense

Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Michigan didn’t get a lot of pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, but when it did it was usually Willie Henry providing it. The redshirt junior recorded two of Michigan’s three sacks, knocked down a pass, and stopped a running back in the backfield. He also provided pressure off the edge on 3rd-and-19 in the closing minutes, forcing Cook to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted. Henry now leads the team with nine tackles for loss and six sacks through seven games.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Connor Cook 18-39 328 8.4 1 0 74 3
Jake Rudock 15-25 168 6.7 0 0 32 3
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 19 46 2.4 0 8
Gerald Holmes 8 33 4.1 0 7
Sione Houma 3 30 10.0 2 27
L.J. Scott 8 16 2.0 2 11
Delton Williams 8 15 1.9 0 4
Aaron Burbridge (WR) 1 9 9.0 0 9
Tyler O’Conner 1 7 7.0 0 7
Ty Isaac 2 5 2.5 0 4
Karan Higdon 2 3 1.5 0 2
R.J. Shelton (WR) 1 3 3.0 0 3
Damion Terry 1 2 2.0 0 2
Joe Kerridge 2 2 1.0 0 1
Jehu Chesson (WR) 1 1 1.0 0 1
Jake Rudock (QB) 3 -10 -3.3 0 0
Blake O’Neill (P) 1 -15 -15 0 -15
Connor Cook (QB) 4 -23 -5.8 0 6
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
Aaron Burbridge 9 132 14.7 0 28
Trevon Pendleton (FB) 1 74
74.0 0 74
R.J. Shelton 4 58 14.5 0 27
Jehu Chesson 4 58 14.5 0 23
Macgarrett Kings Jr. 3 57 19.0 1 30
Amara Darboh 3 52 17.3 0 32
Jabrill Peppers 2 35 17.5 0 28
A.J. Williams 2 20 10.0 0 21
Josiah Price 1 7 7.0 0 7
Jake Butt 1 4 4.0 0 4
Karan Higdon (RB) 1 3 3.0 0 3
De’Veon Smith (RB) 1 -1 -1.0 0 -1
Jake Rudock (QB) 1 -3 -3.0 0 -3
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 3/3 100.0 38 2/2 11
Michael Geiger 0/0 N/A 0 3/3 3
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Blake O’Neill 7 312 44.6 0 3 80
Tyler O’Conner 4 153 38.2 1 0 36
Jake Hartbarger 1 33 33.0 0 0 33
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 81 27.0 49 0
R.J. Shelton 2 50 25.0 29 0
Jehu Chesson 1 25 25.0 25 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 48 16.0 34 0
R.J. Shleton 2 4 2.0 3 0

#12 Michigan vs #7 Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 16th, 2015


Game Preview_MSU_banner

The fact that Michigan State has won six of the last seven in the series means nothing when the two hated rivals set foot on the Big House turf tomorrow afternoon. Nor does Michigan’s 68-34-5 all-time series lead. What matters is how the two teams are playing right now. Despite Michigan State’s higher ranking (7th to Michigan’s 12th in the AP Poll) it is Michigan that is favored by at least a touchdown and receiving most picks to win by college football experts.

UM-MSU-small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ESPN
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (9th season)
Coaching Record: 99-48 overall (81-31 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Dave Warner (3rd season)
Jim Bollman (3rd season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (1st season)
Harlon Barnett (1st season)
Last Season: 11-2 (7-1)
Last Meeting: MSU 35 – UM11 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 68-34-5
For the Paul Bunyan Trophy: UM leads 35-25-2
Record in Michigan Stadium: 34-18-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (12-10)
Last MSU win: 2014 (35-11)
Current Streak: Michigan State 2

Michigan State’s record is unblemished but the way in which the Spartans arrived at 6-0 certainly isn’t. A 31-28 win over then-No. 7 Oregon in Week 2 looked great at the time. But Oregon’s meteoric fall from the rankings since then have cast doubt on just how good Mark Dantonio’s squad really is. Oregon is just 2-2 the last four weeks with wins over Georgia State and Colorado, a 62-20 throttling at the hands of Utah, and a 45-38 embarrassment on their home field by Washington State. Suddenly, Michigan State’s best win looks about as good as  spelling bee win over an illiterate person.

But it’s not so much what Michigan State’s opponents have done outside of their matchup, it’s what Michigan State hasn’t done to them: win convincingly. Of their six wins, only one — a 35-21 Week 3 win over Air Force can be considered convincing. In the season opener, Western Michigan pulled within 10 points early in the fourth quarter and racked up 383 total yard — 365 through the air — against MSU’s defense. That remains WMU quarterback Zach Terrell’s best game of the season. In Week 4, Central Michigan was within seven until the Spartans scored two touchdowns in the final 8:37 to pull away. The following week against Purdue, Michigan State jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead but then had to hold on as the Boilermakers — winless against FBS competition — nearly made it into position for a game tying field goal in the final minute. Last week, the Spartans needed a touchdown with 43 seconds left to stave off mighty Rutgers, which is just 1-3 against FBS competition.

So what does that mean? It means they are ripe for the picking; they just haven’t played anyone good enough to do it just yet. Their six opponents are a collective 13-20 (.394) and five of those 13 wins have come against FCS schools. Michigan, meanwhile, is playing as well as anyone in the country since a season opening loss to now-No. 4 Utah. Michigan’s six opponents are a combined 20-14 (.588) with four of those wins against FCS schools. And in the past five weeks Michigan has left no doubt about who the better team was on the field.

So what can we expect when Michigan and Michigan State meet tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the Spartans.

When Michigan State has the ball

In the third season with Jim Bollman and Dave Warner sharing offensive coordinator role, Michigan State ranks 72nd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten in total offense (397.3 yards per game), 67th and 9th in rushing offense (173.3 yards per game), 72nd and 6th in passing offense (224 yards per game), 24th and 2nd in passing efficiency (151.2), and 56th and 4th in scoring offense (31.3 points per game).

The past few years the Spartans have relied on their running game with Jeremy Langford rushing for about 1,500 yards in each of the past two seasons, Le’Veon Bell with 1,800 in 2012 and a hair under 1,000 in 2011, and Edwin Baker with 1,200 in 2010. But that’s not exactly the case this year as Michigan State brings the Big Ten’s ninth-best rushing offense into tomorrow’s matchup.

The load is shared between freshman L.J. Scott and redshirt freshman Madre London. Scott, who has drawn comparisons to Bell, leads the team with 418 yards and six touchdowns on 70 carries (6.0 yards per carry), while London leads with 95 carries for just 399 yards (4.2 ypc) and three touchdowns. But London suffered an injury against Rutgers last week and may not be available tomorrow. That takes away the one-two punch, leaving sophomore Gerald Holmes (21 carries for 120 yards and three touchdowns) and junior Delton Williams (two carries for six yards) to spell Scott.

While the running game hasn’t been its usual self this season, the passing game has been better. Still, it ranks just sixth in the Big Ten and 72nd nationally, but has an experienced senior quarterback in Connor Cook who doesn’t make mistakes and relies on the big play. Cook ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 1,334 passing yards (222.3 per game) and is tied with Nebraska’a Tommy Armstrong for the conference lead with 12 passing touchdowns against just two interceptions. He’s second behind Rutgers’ Chris Laviano in pass efficiency, though his 59.9 percent completion percentage ranks sixth, including behind Jake Rudock. He had a big night against Rutgers last Saturday, completing 23 of 38 for 357 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

Cook’s receivers are talented, but it’s clear that senior Aaron Burbridge is the top dog and the rest are the supporting cast. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Burbridge ranks second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (5.7) and yards per game (93.3). He has caught 35 passes for 570 yards (16.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. No other receiver on the team has half as many receptions or yards. Junior R.J. Shelton is second with 17 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown, while senior Macgarrett Kings has caught 14 passes for 179 yards and a score. Junior tight end Josiah Price is tied with Burbridge for the team lead with four touchdowns — one in each of the first four games — but missed the last two games with an ankle injury. He’s hopeful to return tomorrow and as the Spartans’ all-time leader in tight end touchdowns, he’ll pose a big threat to Michigan’s defense.

Three starters from 2014 returned along the MSU offensive line, but it has been banged up this season. Junior left tackle Jack Conklin, who entered the season with 26 career starts, missed the last two weeks with an injury, while fifth year senior center Jack Allen — a first team USA Today All-American in 2014 — injured his knee last week against Rutgers. The status of both is up in the air, but Michigan is preparing as if they will play. If not, that leaves numerous configurations the Spartans could use, as described by The Only Colors. Senior right tackle Donovan Clark and sophomore Brian Allen — Jack’s brother — are the two who have started every game this season. If Jack Allen can’t go, Brian will likely man the center spot. Junior Kodi Kieler is the other who will play at one of the tackle spots, depending on whether Conklin is healthy or not.

When Michigan has the ball

Michigan State’s calling card during the Dantonio era has been its defense, which has ranked among the nation’s best the past few seasons. But the architect of that defense, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi took the head coaching job at Pittsburgh in the offseason leaving Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett to step up and assume the job. While both had been on the staff, they haven’t managed to maintain the level that Narduzzi left.

Six games into the season the Spartans rank 56th nationally and 9th in the Big Ten in total defense (372.2 yards allowed per game), 34th and 7th in rush defense (130.2 rushing yards allowed per game), 88th and 10th in pass defense (242 passing yards allowed per game), 81st and 10th in pass efficiency defense (132.3), and 43rd and 9th in scoring defense (21.3 points allowed per game).

The problem is not the front four which are as good as any in the Big Ten. Senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun has been a first team All-Big Ten and second team All-American each of the past two seasons. He leads the team with six tackles for loss and five sacks so far this season and is a terror as a pass rusher. The other end is senior Lawrence Thomas, who has a lot of experience and has 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season. Sophomore tackle Malik McDowell is the disrupter in the middle with five tackles for loss and three sacks, while senior Joel Heath has three and one.

Junior Riley Bullough leads the team with 55 tackles as the middle linebacker. He’s effective as a blitzer with 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The outside linebackers are missing senior Ed Davis, who is out for the season, and was an All-Big Ten performer in 2014. Sophomore Jon Reschke took his place and ranks second with 38 tackles, while senior Darien Harris mans the other outside spot and ranks third with 37 tackles. Both Reschke and Harris have 2.5 tackles for loss.

Beyond the front seven is where things get dicey for Michigan State’s defense. A lockdown corner was a staple of Narduzzi’s defenses, but Trae Wayne’s departure to the NFL hasn’t been able to be replaced. Senior Arjen Colquhoun and Darian Hicks are the starting corners, but Hicks suffered a head injury last week and it is still unknown whether or not he will be able to suit up tomorrow. Colquhoun has 21 tackles, 1.5 for loss, one sack, and three pass breakups, while Hicks has 13 tackles, a half of a tackle for loss, and two pass breakups. If Hicks can’t go, junior Jermaine Edmonson will get the nod. He replaced Hicks against Rutgers, but was a liability on several plays.

The secondary is also missing safety R.J. Williamson and corner Vayante Copeland, both of which suffered season ending injuries. That led to junior Demetrious Cox moving from corner to safety this season, where he has 32 tackles and leads the team with five passes defended. Sophomore Montae Nicholson has struggled big time this season and has been benched twice.

The other third

Junior kicker Michael Geiger is in his third year on field goal duty. After setting an MSU single-season record by making 15 of 16 in 2013, he made just 14 of 20 last season and is 5 of 9 so far this year. His long this season is 47 and he has had two blocked. Redshirt freshman Jake Hartbarger is the punter, averaging 42.7 yards per punt with nine of his 22 punts traveling more than 50 yards and eight downed inside the 20. Shelton handles kick return duties were he is averaging 19.5 yards per return, while Kings is the punt returner, though he has only one return all season and it went for just a yard.

Prediction

If Michigan’s passing featured Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards, and Jason Avant going up against this Michigan State secondary it would be easy to pick Michigan to win big. But Jake Rudock has yet to show he can throw deep, and it won’t matter if Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh get behind the safeties if Rudock can’t hit them. Yet history tells us that this rivalry is won on the ground. In the last 45 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards has won 42 of them and that’s another advantage Michigan has in this game.

De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson can take advantage of Michigan State’s aggressive defensive line, allowing Michigan to sustain drives and keeping the Spartans from loading the box. That should give Rudock time to hit the short and intermediate routes that he has done a pretty good job of so far.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State is essentially a three-man team: Cook, Smith, and Burbridge. Fortunately, Michigan’s defense matches up really well. Jourdan Lewis has become one of the best corners in the nation and will lock down Burbridge. Michigan’s front seven hasn’t allowed anyone to run on it all season, ranking third nationally against the run. That means Shelton and Kings are going to have to come up big against Jabrill Peppers, Jeremy Clark, and Channing Stribling if he’s healthy enough to return from injury. That’s a big if to rely on.

Michigan’s defense will control the line of scrimmage against a banged up MSU offensive line, and although the shutout streak will end, Michigan State won’t be able to put up enough points to keep up. Michigan’s offense will be effective enough to grind out yards, move the chains, and test the shaky secondary. Michigan wins going away and puts Ohio State on notice.

Michigan 31 – Michigan State 13

Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

Thursday, October 8th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

A full week of Big Ten games is in the books as the conference season officially kicked off Saturday with six intra-league battles and one nonconference matchup.

In the only cross-divisional game of the week, Michigan State topped Purdue in a nail-biter at Spartan Stadium. The East also picked up a win from Penn State, which snuck by Army. Meanwhile, a major power shift rattled the West Division as two of the division’s best teams went down to the wire in Madison.

Here’s a look at where the teams stand after one Big Ten game.

East Division
1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 34-27 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-3, 0-1), 12pm, BTN

It wasn’t an impressive performance for the No. 1 team in the country, but Ohio State held off a pesky Indiana team Saturday to pick up a win in the conference opener. Cardale Jones completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 245 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. The defense surrendered over 400 yards, but was saved by Ezekiel Elliott’s 274 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott ripped off runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards in the game, keeping the Buckeyes afloat in the second half.

The Hoosiers came into the game undefeated, but OSU couldn’t pull away despite injuries to Indiana starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and star running back Jordan Howard. Much like in the opener against Virginia Tech, Ohio State needed an injury to Indiana’s best offensive player to swing the momentum and take the lead for good. Though they’re clearly one of the most talented teams in the country, the Buckeyes have underwhelmed in four of their five games and can’t find a consistent rhythm on offense. They shouldn’t have a problem getting to 6-0 this weekend as a lost Maryland offense comes to the Horseshoe.

2. Michigan State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-21 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), 8pm, BTN

If not for Michigan’s opening loss to Utah, the Wolverines would be well above the Spartans in the power rankings based on the past few weeks. Saturday was Michigan State’s worst performance yet as it nearly blew a 21-point halftime lead to a Purdue team with only one win. Michigan State led 21-0 at the break and needed a stop on the Boilermakers’ final drive to secure a 24-21 win.

MSU’s secondary was a great concern early in the season, but it was Markell Jones, Purdue’s starting running back, who smacked the Spartans on homecoming. Jones gained 157 yards on 22 carries and found the end zone twice. David Blough completed fewer than half his pass attempts and threw for just 136 yards, but Michigan State couldn’t pull away, despite forcing three turnovers. Michigan State did outgain Purdue by 105 yards, but the worst team in the league shouldn’t be within a field goal of the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Connor Cook needs to escape from his funk (just 139 yards passing Saturday) and lift the Spartans to where they were last year on offense.

3. Michigan (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 28-0 This Week: Sat vs #13 NU (5-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

In a Week 4 win over BYU, Michigan scored all 31 of its points in the first half before playing to a scoreless tie in the second half. In Maryland, the Wolverines mustered only a pair of field goals before the break and exploded for 22 points in the second half. The common denominator? Neither the Cougars nor the Terrapins could put up a single point against a stout Michigan defense.

For the second straight week, the Wolverines surrendered just 105 yards, this time holding Maryland to seven first downs and fewer than two yards per play. Quarterback Caleb Rowe has struggled all season, but Michigan forced him into his worst performance yet: eight completions in 27 attempts for 47 yards and three interceptions. One of the picks came from emerging star Jourdan Lewis, who’s been near impossible to beat downfield all season. Lewis burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top lockdown corner last year and he’s already made enormous strides under Jim Harbaugh.

But it wasn’t all good news for Michigan at Byrd Stadium. The offense struggled to run the ball with De’Veon Smith out due to injury. Derrick Green and Ty Isaac rushed 13 times for just 43 yards and a pair of fumbles. Drake Johnson struggled in the first half, but made an adjustment after the break and finished with 68 yards on 13 carries. He also took a screen pass 31 yards and dove to the pylon early in the 3rd quarter to break the seal for the Wolverine offense.

Even more serious for Michigan going forward is the loss of Mario Ojemudia for the rest of the season. Ojemudia had developed into Michigan’s top pass rusher out of the buck linebacker position, but now those duties will fall on the shoulders of Royce Jenkins-Stone, a talented but largely unproven senior who made eight tackles last season. Northwestern will visit Michigan in the Big House this weekend in what promises to be a defensive slugfest. The two teams enter Saturday’s matchup ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the country in terms of scoring defense.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Army 20-14 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-1, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Penn State was the only Big Ten team to play out of conference in Week 5, holding off a second-half charge from Army to improve to 4-1. The Nittany Lions were bailed out by three Army fumbles that wiped out a 293-yard effort. Army outgained Penn State 293-264, picked up more first downs, and averaged more yards per play. Christian Hackenberg threw only 19 times, picking up 156 yards and a touchdown — a disappointing sequel to his 296-yard, three-touchdown effort against San Diego State. James Franklin’s team just doesn’t have anything going on offense this season, so it’ll rely on a top-tier defense to carry it through conference play.

5. Indiana (4-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 27-34 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Injuries to Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld couldn’t have come at a worse time for Indiana, which had a legitimate chance to dethrone the top-ranked Buckeyes in Bloomington before their top offensive threats went down. Indiana played its best defensive game of the season, but still allowed over 500 yards to the offensively-challenged Buckeyes. Two recovered fumbles and an interception kept the Hoosiers in the game, but three huge runs from Ezekiel Elliott handed Indiana its first loss of the season. The Hoosiers won’t do much damage in the Big Ten behind their high-powered offense and risk-taking defense, but the road ahead won’t get any easier as they visit Penn State and Michigan State and host Iowa and Michigan in the next five games.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #4 MSU (5-0, 1-0), 8pm, BTN

Rutgers took an early week off after beating a winless Kansas team, 27-14, in Week 4. The extra preparation likely won’t do much good this weekend as the Scarlett Knights host an angry Michigan State team. They might not be competitive in another game until a Week 11 home date with Nebraska.

7. Maryland (2-3, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #22 Mich. 0-28 This Week: Sat at #1 OSU (5-0, 1-0), 12pm, BTN

Believe it or not, there’s a team in the Big Ten that would love to have Jake Rudock as its starting quarterback. Maryland’s situation under center is as grim as it gets, and those struggles were on full display against Michigan. Starter Caleb Rowe was pulled from the game after completing just eight of 27 passes for 47 yards and three interceptions. Rowe was replaced in the 3rd quarter by Daxx Garman, who went just 2 of 9 for 29 yards. Brandon Ross was smothered by the Michigan run defense, racking up just 44 yards in the team’s 105-yard effort. The defense was solid, allowing just 378 yards and 28 points despite spending over 34 minutes on the field, but with this offense, Maryland won’t be competitive for the rest of the season.

B1G East Week 5

West Division
1. Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Min. 27-0 This Week: Sat at #18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Wow. It looks like the Wildcats are even better than we thought they were, and we already thought they were pretty good. Northwestern steamrolled Minnesota on Saturday, holding the Gophers to 173 yards and scoring a season-high 27 points against Jerry Kill’s defense. Justin Jackson continues to quietly get the job done on the ground, picking up 120 yards on 20 carries to pace the offense. Clayton Thorson didn’t have a huge impact, but he completed 14 of 19 passes and didn’t turn it over. He also rushed for the team’s only two offensive touchdowns. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has climbed to No. 13 in the AP Poll with a chance to jump into the top 10 if it can knock off a streaking Michigan team in the Big House this weekend. Northwestern will need an outstanding effort from the defense allowing the fewest points per game in the country.

2. Iowa (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Wisconsin 10-6 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Northwestern might be the hottest team in the Big Ten, but Iowa picked up the biggest win in Week 5. The Hawkeyes knocked off perennial West Division champ Wisconsin in Madison by essentially out-Badgering the Badgers. Iowa scored just 10 points in the game, but controlled the clock with its own running game while holding Wisconsin to 2.5 yards per carry. C.J. Beathard was underwhelming, completing just nine of 21 passes for 77 yards as Iowa was outgained 320-221 overall. But the defense forced four turnovers and held Wisconsin to just 4 of 13 on 3rd down to sneak out of Madison with a power-shifting victory. Iowa is now in position to seize control of the West Division if it can win in Evanston on Oct. 17.

3. Illinois (4-1, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 14-13 This Week: Sat at #22 Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Don’t look now, but Illinois is 4-1! Despite a pair of shaky performances leading up to the Big Ten opener, Illinois shut down the Nebraska offense on Saturday and came away with a thrilling, shocking victory in Champaign. The Cornhuskers opened the door for the Illini by throwing twice on the final drive instead of running the clock down inside 20 seconds. When Illinois took over with 55 seconds left, Wes Lunt led a 72-yard drive that lasted just 41 seconds and ended with a one-yard, game-winning touchdown to Geronimo Allison. Illinois’ record is a bit deceiving, as it was blown out by its only solid non-conference opponent (a 48-14 loss at North Carolina). If the Fighting Illini somehow win one of their next two games – at Iowa or at home against Wisconsin – that’ll be reason to buy in.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 6-10 This Week: Sat at Nebraska (2-3, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

The Badgers are treading in unfamiliar territory midway through Paul Chryst’s first season as head coach. A rare home loss Saturday against Iowa landed Wisconsin behind the eight ball in the West Division and dropped the Badgers to 3-2 on the year. Joel Stave isn’t playing like a typical Wisconsin senior, turning the ball over twice on Saturday and failing to lead his team into the end zone in the 10-6 loss. Even stranger: Wisconsin’s running game has yet to awaken. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale took 26 of the team’s 34 carries against the Hawkeyes but gained just 87 combined yards and an average below 3.5 yards per carry. Wisconsin’s defense was excellent, holding the C.J. Beathard-led attack to just 221 total yards and one touchdown. But the offense is struggling on all cylinders right now and there’s no NFL-caliber running back to pull it out of the rut.

5. Minnesota (3-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #19 NU 0-27 This Week: Sat at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Since nearly upsetting No. 2 TCU to open the season in early September, Minnesota has performed steadily worse each week. A pair of three-point wins over MAC schools preceded a 27-0 beat down at the hands of a Northwestern team that was struggling to score points before rolling over the hapless Gophers. Minnesota rushed for just 2.2 yards per carry and Mitch Leidner was awful through the air, completing 10 of 21 passes for 72 yards and a pick. A defense that had been leading the charge through four weeks surrendered 20 points and 312 yards on the night, though it was put in bad position by two offensive turnovers. The style points Minnesota gained by sticking with TCU have expired, and now it’ll need a desperation win in Purdue to get the train back on the tracks.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #2 MSU 24-27 This Week: Sat vs Minn. (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

For the first time since a Week 2 thumping over Indiana State, Purdue showed a little fight in a 24-21 loss in East Lansing Saturday. The Spartans carried a commanding 21-0 lead into the half, but Purdue scored 14 unanswered points over the next 16 minutes to pull within a score. A 10-play, 28-yard drive stalled at their own 48-yard line as the Boilermakers’ comeback effort finally ran out of gas. Freshman quarterback David Blough was awful in the first half, but he finished the game with 136 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception after a solid 2nd half effort. If not for MSU running back L.J. Scott’s 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Purdue might have pulled the most shocking upset of this college football season.

7. Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 13-14 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

How could Nebraska possibly fall below a lousy, punchless Purdue team? It’s simple: Mike Riley’s team is playing a sloppy, ugly brand of football through five games and it starts with their junior quarterback. Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed less than one-third of his passes Saturday for 105 yards and an interception. He had zero passing yards in the team’s 76-yard touchdown drive in the 1st quarter and the offense mustered only 13 points against an Illinois team that allowed a combined 73 points to North Carolina and Middle Tennessee State the last two weeks. Nebraska could actually be undefeated at this point in the season – the three losses are by a combined nine points – but mammoth mistakes in the 4th quarter an overtime have dropped them to a disastrous start. If Nebraska can’t pull off a win over Wisconsin this weekend, it’ll have to knock off Northwestern, Michigan State or Iowa down the stretch to qualify for a bowl.

B1G West Week 5