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Posts Tagged ‘Le’Veon Bell’

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Running backs (part two)

Thursday, June 12th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-RB

This week, as part of our preview series, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking the Big Ten’s best running backs in 2014. Part One of the running back preview was posted yesterday; it ranked the running backs that I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their respective position in the conference. If you have not had a chance to read Part One yet, I encourage that you do so before reading Part Two herein. With that said, it is time to reveal who will be the five best running backs in the Big Ten this upcoming season.

Previously: Quarterbacks part one, part two.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State | Sophomore – 6’0”, 225 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 262 8.7 2 37.4 23 1
Career Totals 262 8.7 2 37.4 23 1
(Jay LaPrete, AP)

(Jay LaPrete, AP)

To the displeasure of Michigan fans, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott cracks the top five. Many will be annoyed because Elliott is only a true sophomore and spent most of his freshmen season competing only on special teams. In their eyes, he should be much lower because other Big Ten running backs have already proven they are capable of 1,000-yard seasons. This is all true, but the purpose of this exercise is to rank the best Big Ten running backs in 2014, not those from previous seasons. Michigan fans may not want to admit it, but Elliott is a prime candidate to be one of the Big Ten’s breakout players this fall.

A breakout sophomore season for Elliott should surprise no one. In his first season in Columbus, he provided glimpses of the talent that made him a U.S. Army All-American in high school. He did not see many snaps at running back, earning only 30 carries, but he showcased his potential despite the small sample size. Elliott demonstrated the acceleration, top-end speed, and vision scouts raved about while he was in high school. His 8.73 yards per carry were the highest of any Big Ten player with more than 200 rushing yards last season. This may have been inflated by a 57-yard dash he had, but nine of his 30 attempts still were 10 yards or longer. It is proof that Elliott is more than just a running back that can move the chains. He also is a home-run threat.

It just remains to be seen if Elliott can remain a big-play threat against first-string Big Ten defenses. Similar to Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, 29 of Elliott’s 30 rushes last year were in the second half and when the Buckeyes led by more than 14 points. Further, nearly half of his carries were against Florida A&M, an FCS school, when he gained 162 yards and scored both of his rushing touchdowns. Although it is promising for Ohio State that Elliott prospered in garbage time and against inferior competition, he has not yet been truly tested.

In all likelihood, though, Elliott is too talented to fail in his current situation. Head coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense relies on a two-prong rushing attack with Heisman contender Braxton Miller as the focal point. Defenses know they must contain Miller first. Otherwise, they will spend their entire afternoon staring at the back of his uniform as he races away. This opens running lanes for the tailback. Just look at Carlos Hyde the past two seasons, during which he totaled 393 carries for 2,491 yards, 6.34 yards per carry, and 31 rushing scores. Guess who is the favorite to succeed Hyde as the starter? Elliott. He will have running room for days. Elliott may not bruise his way to first downs like Hyde did, but he will be a threat to score on every play. Expect Elliott to become a household name in 2014 as a 1,200-yard, 14-touchdown year is not out of the question.

4. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 205 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,422 4.9 18 101.6 157 1
2012 23 2.6 0 2.6 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 1,445 4.8 18 39.1 157 1
(Al Goldis, AP)

(Al Goldis, AP)

Head coach Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing prior to the 2007 season. He established quickly that he likes to execute a power-running offense that predominantly features one back. Accordingly, Michigan State has had a recent run of 1,000-yard rushers since Dantonio took the job. In 2007 and 2008, there was Javon Ringer with 1,447 and 1,637 rushing yards, respectively. In 2010, Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards. In 2012, it was Le’Veon Bell with 1,793 rushing yards after falling just 52 yards shy of 1,000 the previous season. And, in 2013, Jeremy Langford upheld the new tradition with 1,422 rushing yards.

Initially, it was not clear if Langford would join the 1,000-yard club. He may have been the early front-runner to be the starter, but there were concerns. Langford was looked over by most major college football programs as a high-school recruit. Michigan State and Colorado were the only schools in Power 5 conferences to offer him a scholarship. Did he have the raw talent to be a starter? No one really knew because Langford had seen very little live action in his first two seasons, carrying the ball only nine times. To be safe, Dantonio moved Riley Bullough from linebacker to running back in the preseason. When the first depth chart was released during fall camp, Langford and Bullough were listed as co-starters. Ultimately, Dantonio decided to give the first crack in Week 1 to Langford. Smart move.

After a relatively quiet first five games, Langford found his groove and established himself as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. He broke a school record by gaining at least 100 rushing yards in eight straight games, including the Big Ten Championship Game. In these eight games, Langford ran the ball 197 times for 1,027 yards and 5.21 yards per carry. He also scored 13 rushing touchdowns during this stretch, finding the end zone in seven of those eight contests. What made Langford so effective was his patience. He will never be the fastest, most athletic, or strongest running back, but he found open space because he waited for his blocks to be set before selecting the correct hole. This propelled him to 1,422 rushing yards—third-best among Big Ten returners—and 18 rushing scores—by far the best in the Big Ten—last season. Despite the early doubts, Langford turned in one of the most productive seasons every by a Michigan State running back.

However, there is more to being a running back than picking up four to five yards every play. Because Langford does not have top-end speed or acceleration, he does not have the ability to make big plays. His 4.87 yards per carry were not even among the 20 best in the Big Ten. He also posted a 20-plus-yard run only 2.74 percent of time. For comparison, the next three players on this list had a 20-plus yard run 10.69, 7.28, and 6.05 percent of the time in 2013. The very best running backs have the capability to make big plays. So, while Langford likely will slowly pick his way through the trenches for another 1,350- to 1,500-yard season with the help of 300 carries, he could not be above the next three on this list.

3. Tevin Coleman, Indiana | Junior – 6’1”, 210 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 958 7.3 12 106.4 193 0
2012 225 4.4 1 18.8 49 0
Career Totals 1,183 6.5 13 56.3 242 0
(Doug McSchooler, AP)

(Doug McSchooler, AP)

It is no secret that Indiana is recognized for its spread offense and aerial attack. The Hoosiers have led the Big Ten in pass attempts three of the past four seasons and likely will do it for the fourth time in five seasons this fall. But this does not mean that they are without talent at running back. In fact, Indiana actually has one of the best tailbacks in the conference in Tevin Coleman.

As a sophomore in 2013, Coleman quietly pieced together a sensational season. He tallied 131 carries for 958 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. At first glance, this may not seem quite impressive given his failure to eclipse the 1,000-yard threshold when the Big Ten had seven 1,000-yard rushers. But Coleman fell short of 1,000 yards only because he had far fewer rushes than those that did gain 1,000 yards.  His lack of carries can be attributed to playing in an offense committed to the pass, splitting already limited carries with then-senior tailback Stephen Houston, and missing the final three games of the season with an ankle injury. There was little Coleman could do alter the first two sets of circumstances, but the injury robbed him of a quarter of his season and prevented him from being named to an All-Big Ten team.

A deeper dive into Coleman’s numbers reveals the significance of his impact as a playmaker in the Big Ten. First, Coleman averaged 7.31 yards per carry—the second-best among all returning Big Ten players that had no less than 100 rushes. Second, he rattled off 14 runs of at least 20 yards in only 131 attempts. This means he had a gain of 20 yards or more 10.69 percent of the time—the best among Big Ten players with a minimum of 100 carries. Third, Coleman notched 12 rushing touchdowns. While this would have been commendable if accomplished in a full season, he hit the mark in just nine games. His touchdown rate of 9.16 percent was the highest in the conference among those with at least 100 rushes. And, finally, seven of Coleman’s 12 rushing scores were longer than 20 yards, while six were longer than 40 yards. All of these statistics convey the same message: Coleman is one of the most electric ball carriers in the Big Ten.

But, whereas Jeremy Langford must be ranked no higher than No. 4 because he rarely breaks plays open, Coleman cannot crack the top two because he lacks the sufficient number of touches. Even if Coleman’s carries were extrapolated to a full 12-game season, he still would have had only about 175 attempts last year. If he wants to challenge the next two players on this list for the title as the conference’s best running back, he needs at least 200 carries. No less. While Coleman will benefit from Houston’s graduation, being the featured back will not cut it in Indiana’s passing attack. The Hoosiers set up the run with the pass rather than vice-versa like most teams. This will limit Coleman’s carries and place a ceiling on his potential. If Indiana wants to eradicate barriers placed on Coleman, it must make him a focal point of the offensive game plan in 2014.

2. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska | Senior – 5’9”, 195 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,690 6.0 9 130.0 232 2
2012 1,137 5.0 8 81.2 178 2
2011 150 3.6 3 11.5 11 0
Career Totals 2,977 5.4 20 74.4 421 4
(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

There are two players that clearly will be the best running backs in the Big Ten. Heck, they are two of the best in the nation. There is very difference between them regarding their innate ability and the statistical production. They both are incredible ball carriers that will put up huge numbers and entertain fans through the nation, let alone the Midwest. No one doubts it. Rather than consider these two backs as No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten, it is best they be referred to as No. 1a and No. 1b. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is No. 1b.

Abdullah has been one of the Big Ten’s best for two seasons now. He put himself on the map in 2012 with a 1,137-yard, eight-touchdown campaign. He then followed it up in 2013 with even better numbers. His 282 carries were the second-most in the Big Ten. His 1,690 rushing yards were the most in the conference, and his average of 130 rushing yards per game was the sixth-best in the nation. He also increased his efficiency, upping his yards per carry to just north of six, and his scoring, posting nine rushing touchdowns. And Abdullah achieved all of this while Nebraska cycled through three quarterbacks for a variety of reasons. Abdullah delivered week in and week out, rushing for a minimum of 100 yards in 11 of 13 contests and for no less than 85 yards in any of them. Accordingly, Abdullah was named to the All-Big Ten first team and a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award. He also had the opportunity to be selected in the NFL Draft this past spring, but chose to return to Nebraska for one final season.

Abdullah has a wonderful chance to be the nation’s top back in 2014, but there are a few red flags that may hinder those odds. One is Nebraska trying to paste together a brand-new offensive line. The Huskers do return one starter in guard Jake Cotton, but they lost five offensive linemen to graduation. This is a devastating hit. It may take time for the offensive line to build chemistry, giving Abdullah more trouble than he can handle in the backfield. Plus, even if the line becomes cohesive, Abdullah may still see his prime touchdown chances cannibalized by his teammate Imani Cross. Cross had about 200 carries less than Abdullah last year, but still scored more touchdowns on the ground with 10 to Abdullah’s nine. Eight of Cross’ 10 touchdowns were in the red zone. There is a question as to whether Cross will continue to be rewarded for Abdullah’s work between the 20-yard lines.

While these concerns are relatively minor and likely will not affect Abdullah’s performance next season significantly, there is one that is too big to ignore. Abdullah has a fumbling problem. A bad one. In his first three seasons, Abdullah has fumbled the football 20 times, losing 15 of them. He was a bit better with his ball security last year, but still coughed it up five times. This is way too many. Abdullah has all of the tools to be the nation’s best running back: the speed, agility, footwork, strength, vision, instincts, etc. But, because he cannot maintain his grip on the football, he will not even be the best running back in his own conference.

1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin | RS Junior – 6’1”, 207 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,609 7.8 12 123.8 10 0
2012 621 10.0 3 44.4 65 1
2011 98 4.9 1 32.7 0 0
Career Totals 2,328 8.1 16 77.6 75 1
(Morry Gash, AP)

(Morry Gash, AP)

Melvin Gordon will be the best running back in the Big Ten next season. Not only will he be the best ball carrier in the conference, Gordon may be on the verge of a really, really special season. Whereas Ameer Abdullah is considered No. 1b in the Big Ten because he has a few red flags, Gordon is No. 1a because he has no red flags. Everything appears to have fallen into place for Gordon to have the best season of his career. And, when one considers what Gordon has accomplished the past two years, something special is on the horizon.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Gordon was Wisconsin’s third-string running back behind future NFL draft picks Montee Ball and James White. Despite this, Gordon still earned 62 carries for 621 yards and three touchdowns. In case you did not pick on the math immediately, he averaged an unheard of 10.02 yards per carry. Yes, he averaged a first down every single time he rushed the football. And, unlike teammate Corey Clement or Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott last season, Gordon did not pad his stats by playing snaps exclusively in garbage time or against the dregs of college football. He did some of his damage against ranked opponents, including a nine-carry, 216-yard breakout performance against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game. It was only a sign of things to come.

Last season, Gordon was promoted to the second spot on the depth chart and split most of the carries with White. The result? Gordon recorded the second-most rushing yards in the Big Ten with 1,609 on just 206 carries. He averaged 7.81 yards per carry. Yes, this may have been a dip from his 10.02 yards per carry in 2012, but this average was the best in the nation among all running backs with at least 200 carries and third among all rushers with a minimum of 100 carries. His yards per carry were so high because he led the Big Ten with 50 runs that were 10 yards or longer, which accounted for just shy of a quarter of all of his carries. Gordon also had no trouble using his combination of speed, size, and agility to reach the end zone. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns. Six of those were longer than 20 yards, and an astonishing three of them were longer than 60 yards. It was such a successful season for Gordon that some NFL executives claimed that he would have been a first-round pick in the most recent NFL Draft. And Gordon was not even the starter.

This is why 2014 can be so special for Gordon. He already has proven that he is one of the most explosive running backs in the country. His yards per carry speak for themselves. And Gordon has done all of this while splitting carries as the No. 2 or No. 3 running back on Wisconsin’s depth chart. Not anymore. White graduated after last season. Thus, for the first time in his career, Gordon will be the feature back. Although new backup Clement likely will see over 100 snaps in the backfield, Wisconsin may feed the ball to Gordon about 300 times this season. If one applies Gordon’s yards per carry to a potential 300-carry season, Gordon may be well on his way to a 2,000-yard, 18-touchdown season in Madison. Plus, he will have the luxury of running behind an offensive line that returns four starters from the line sprung him for over 1,600 rushing yards last year. With all of the pieces fitting together perfectly for Gordon, not only will he likely be a candidate to be the best running back in the nation, let alone the Big Ten, he will be a serious contender to win the most prestigious award given to the nation’s best college football player, the Heisman Trophy.

Do you agree with our list of the best Big Ten running backs in 2014? Where did we mess up? Who are your top five Big Ten running backs for this fall? Please let us know in the comments below. Next week, I will rank and preview the conference’s best wide receivers. Keep checking in to Maize and Go Blue as we continue to preview the 2014 football season daily.

2013 opponent preview: Michigan State

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


Our opponent preview series has boiled down to the final three, and not so coincidentally they are the three rivals. Today, we take a look at who we feel will be the third-toughest opponent on the schedule, the Michigan State Spartans. Previously, we previewed AkronCentral MichiganUConnMinnesotaIowaIndianaPenn State, Northwestern, and Nebraska.

Overview

After back-to-back 11-win seasons and the league’s top defense intact, Michigan State entered 2012 with expectations of winning the Big Ten. Instead, the Spartans struggled to find an offensive identity and win close games. A 7-6 finish was embarrassing, but a closer look reveals just how close Mark Dantonio’s squad was to a better record. Five of the six losses were by a combined 13 points – one of them in overtime – and none by more than four points.

Dantonio shook up the coaching staff, hiring former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman to guide the offense along with Dave Warner, who spent the past six seasons coaching the quarterbacks.

Offense

Andrew Maxwell won't have the luxury of handing off to Le'Veon Bell 30 times a game this season (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

Bollman and Warner hope quarterback Andrew Maxwell can take a step forward in his senior season after a rocky 2012 in which he completed just 52.5 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. But Maxwell will be pushed by sophomore Connor Cook, who led the Spartans down the field for the game-winning score in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor, and incoming freshman Damion Terry.

The Big Ten’s leading rusher last season, Le’Veon Bell, is gone, and his replacement will likely be a committee. No back on the roster gained more than 50 yards a year ago. Nick Hill is the only back who found the end zone and will be the leading candidate for playing time, but the 5’8”, 190-pound junior carried the ball only 21 times for 48 yards. The most intriguing option is Riley Bullough, who converted from linebacker to running back to fill the need. The big redshirt freshman led all backs with 46 yards in the spring game.

The one area the Spartans have the most experience offensively is receiver. Bennie Fowler, Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett combined to catch 119 passes for 1,431 yards and seven touchdowns. Aaron Burbridge and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett are promising youngsters that will find their way into the mix. Tight end Dion Sims is gone, so Dantonio will have to find a replacement for him among the group of Paul Lang, Andrew Gleichert, Evan Jones, and Josiah Price.

The offensive line is also extremely experienced, returning three starters and getting two back from injury. Senior Fou Fonoti had started 13 straight games at right tackle before a foot injury ended his season after week two. He was slated to move over to left tackle so Skyler Burkland, who filled in for him, could retain his spot on the right, but Burkland left the team in late May. The offensive line shuffle may send Fonoti back to right tackle and keep Dan France, who was going to move inside, at left tackle. Either way, that leaves an opening. Blake Treadwell has started 10 career games at left guard and center.

Defense

Only six starters return on defense, but it should remain a strong squad. Pat Narduzzi is considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the conference and still has some stars to build around.

Senior middle linebacker Max Bullough – Riley’s brother – recorded 111 tackles and 12.5 for loss last season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, and will likely be one of the leading Butkus Award candidates heading into 2013. Senior Denicos Allen has started 26 straight games and has 14 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss. The newcomer to the starting lineup is junior Taiwan Jones who played in all 13 games last season, starting four, and recorded 38 tackles. Pat Rhomberg and Darien Harris will also be in the rotation.

The line has the most to replace, returning only defensive end Marcus Rush, but there is a lot of talent waiting in the wings. Sohpomore Shilique Calhoun figures to fill the vacancy left behind by William Gholston’s early departure for the NFL. Calhoun played in all 13 games last season and recorded a sack in the bowl game, but his spring performance has Michigan State coaches expecting big things from him this fall. With a superior pass rush ability, he may be able to live up to the hype Gholston was supposed to.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 7 South Florida
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 @ Notre Dame
Oct. 5 @ Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 @ Illinois
Nov. 2 Michigan
Nov. 16 @ Nebraska
Nov. 23 @ Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

The middle of the line will feature Tyler Hoover and Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge, but rising sophomore Lawrence Thomas will make a strong push for the starting job. The former five-star recruit started at fullback last season, but is moving back to the defensive line. Senior Micajah Reynolds will provide depth at the position with six career starts to his name.

The secondary is led by All-Big Ten cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who may be a first round draft pick next April. On the other side, Trae Waynes will replace All-Big Ten cornerback Johnny Adams, who is now in the NFL. Waynes performed well in place of Adams in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Narduzzi hopes he will continue to get better. Senior Isaiah Lewis and junior Kurtis Drummond are both back at strong and free safety, respectively. Lewis is a third-year starter and was All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. Former four-star recruit Demetrious Cox will push Drummond for his spot, while R.J. Williamson will provide depth.

Special Teams

Kicker Dan Conroy is gone, leaving a three-way battle for the job between senior Kevin Muma, redshirt freshman Kevin Cronin, and incoming freshman Michael Geiger. The latter was the top kicking prospect in the country. Punter Mike Sadler is back from an impressive season that saw him lead the Big Ten with an average of 43.3 yards per punt.

Outlook

In order to improve on last season’s record, the offense will have to be better, which could be hard without Bell in the backfield. The defense will be strong, but may not be able to carry the Spartans again. The good news is Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are all off the schedule, and the Spartans get Michigan at home, so the schedule sets up nicely. They do have to travel to South Bend, however.

What it means for Michigan

The main reason I have this game ranked “easier” than Notre Dame is because Michigan gets the advantage of a bye week before heading to East Lansing. That means Hoke and Co. have two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. But as long as Dantonio is in East Lansing, beating State will never be easy. Dantonio prepares for Michigan with a manic obsession and will be looking for revenge after last season’s last-second Michigan win.

The good news is now that Michigan got that monkey off its back, the Wolverines will be much more confident for this year’s matchup. In addition, Jake Ryan should be back from injury by then. This is the start of a brutal five-game November, and there’s a decent chance both teams could be unbeaten coming in. The winner could be in the driver’s seat for the Legends division.

Rival Rewind is glad Braxton is ok, Paul is home, and ND will lose

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012


Michigan has the unique position of having three big rivals. Most teams only have one rival to get up for, but year-in and year-out, Michigan has three. While we, as fans, hate each of these teams, we carry some respect for them. Michigan State and Ohio State carry conference affiliation ties while Notre Dame, well, we all just put up with them. All season long, it’s fun to keep track of how each of them is doing, but there’s only so much time on Saturday to watch games. More often than not, they play at the same time Michigan does so you don’t get a chance to do your “advanced scouting.” Well, don’t fret because we’ve got you covered. This weekly feature will give you an overview of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State’s games the previous weekend and a look ahead to the upcoming one.

#7 Ohio State 29 – Purdue 22 OT
Record: 8-0 (4-0)
This Week: at Penn State (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) – 5:30pm – ESPN

They say a win is a win, but if I were an Ohio State fan (though I’d rather not consider what that is like) I wouldn’t be so cocky these days. Consider their games against Cal, UAB and Indiana; they almost lost all three, and a loss to Indiana is almost as bad as a loss to an FCS school. They have “resolve,” some Buckeye fans will say, “they never quit and always pull it out.” A close call is to be expected as the season wears on, but four close calls against four subpar teams is not resolve, it’s just plain awful.

That’s what happened again to THE luckiest team in college football this season. After almost losing to bottom feeder Indiana, OSU looked to right the ship and send Purdue back to West Lafayette with yet another conference loss. Record aside, Purdue is a good team and OSU made them look even better. After giving up a rushing touchdown to Braxton Miller to go down 7-6, Purdue took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown. It went back and forth in the third and Purdue answered back every time OSU scored.

Despite our hatred, we're glad it wasn't as bad as it looked (photo by Jay LaPrete, AP)

Braxton Miller suffered a scary moment for Buckeye fans near the end of the third quarter as he was dragged down hard by Josh Johnson. Miller was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and has since been cleared to go home and practice in preparation for this week’s game. The tackle was as about as close to a horse collar as you can get without being flagged. Head injuries are no joke and all hatred to our rivals to the south aside, I’m glad the kid is apparently okay.

With no Braxton Miller to work his magic it looked to be over with 10:11 in the fourth when OSU was flagged for an illegal block in the end zone, giving Purdue a 22-14 lead. After a Purdue punt, OSU converted a 4th-and-short and looked to be on the move until back up quarterback Kenny Guiton threw a pick and Purdue took over on its own 18 with 2:40 left in the game. All the Boilers had to do was run the clock out and victory was all but assured.

Sadly for Boilermaker fans, a false start dug them in a hole they could not get out of, and they punted the ball back to the Buckeyes with 47 seconds remaining. If Miller was in the game their improbable march down the field wouldn’t have been so surprising, but the fact that it was Guiton who led them down the field for six is quite impressive. Of course, if you take into account this should never have come down to the wire it is not impressive at all.

Oh, I forgot to mention that OSU was “aided” by a pass interference call on 3rd-and-10, giving them 1st-and-goal at the two instead of 4th-and-10 at the 11-yard line. For a game’s outcome to essentially hinge on an iffy call late in the game is nuts – pun intended, as this has benefitted OSU before. Remember the 2002 BCS title game? Regardless, OSU earned the right to force overtime and set the tone with a touchdown on its first possession. Purdue proceeded to throw four straight incomplete passes and once again OSU walked away with another close win.

This Week:

It has yet to be determined if Braxton Miller will be available for next week’s game against Penn State in State College, but as long as he’s cleared I’m sure Urban Meyer will roll with Miller. Speaking of next week, it should be a great game as these two teams mired in seasons of meaninglessness. Penn State’s punishment had nothing to do with its players while OSU’s, well, we all know about that already.

After dropping their first two games, the Nittany Lions have rattled off five straight and look to be a pretty good team. These aren’t JoePa’s Lions but they’re a tough team that has come together both on and off the field. I think this will be the week the Buckeyes’ luck finally runs out. Just look at their defense, depleted or not, it’s just not very good. OSU is giving up an astounding 396 yards per game, with most of those (272) given up in the passing game.

Contrast that to the Michigan defense: No. 10 overall giving up just 286 total yards per game and No. 4 against the pass giving up 143 yards per game. And the media wants to give love to OSU and hate on Michigan, go figure.

Penn State is a fairly balanced team, putting up 257 yards per game in the air and 149 per game on the ground, while hanging 28 points on the board and giving up just 15.7. If OSU allows the Nittany Lions those types of numbers it’s going to be tough for them to head back to Columbus sitting at 9-0. Happy Valley is a tough place to play and for two teams with nothing to play for this one should be a battle.

I expect Penn St. to pull off the upset in the “Ineligi-Bowl” and give Nittany Lion fans some hope for next season.

Prediction: Penn State 31 – Ohio State 24

___________________________________________________________________________________

# 5 Notre Dame 17 – BYU 14
Record: 7-0
This Week: at #8 Oklahoma (5-1, 3-1 Big 12) – 8pm – ABC

Notre Dame faced a classic letdown/look-ahead game against a tough defensive BYU team in South Bend on Saturday. Justin was there in body if not in spirit to witness the Irish improve to 7-0, setting up a monumental showdown at Oklahoma this weekend.

Coming off an overtime win over Stanford that featured a goal line stand on fourth down – which Stanford actually scored – Notre Dame had to keep itself from looking ahead to the Sooners. The Irish got off to a good start, scoring first with a minute and a half left in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead. But BYU answered with two straight touchdowns, a six-yard pass from Reilly Nelson to Cody Hoffman and a two-yard pass from Nelson to Kaneakua Friel. ND hadn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in 17 quarters before surrendering the two in the span of less than three minutes.

Trailing 14-7 to begin the second half, Notre Dame continued to run the football and inch closer. With 2:25 remaining in the third, Kyle Brindza hit a 24-yard field goal to bring the Irish within four. It didn’t take long for ND to score again as George Atkinson III ran it in from two yards out just two minutes into the fourth quarter to put the Irish ahead 17-14.

BYU couldn't stop Theo Riddick (photo by Robin Alam, IconSMI)

BYU wasn’t done, however. The Cougars put together a 13-play drive to the Irish 31, but a nine-yard sack took them out of field goal position. The sack wouldn’t have happened had Nelson been able to connect with a wide open Hoffman for a sure touchdown just three plays earlier. It was a moment that nearly gave ND fans a heart attack, but Nelson’s pass was nowhere close. BYU had to punt on 4th-and-13 from the Irish 34 and never got the ball back.

Notre Dame rushed for 270 yards, led by Theo Riddick’s 143 on just 15 carries and Cierre Wood’s 114. Tommy Rees, starting in favor of an injured Everett Golson, completed 7-of-16 passes for 117 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.

It was by no means a dominant performance, but once again, the Irish found a way to get it done.

This Week:

Notre Dame travels to Norman, Oklahoma for a primetime face-off with the eighth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. College GameDay will be there and the Sooners will be eager to improve their 1-8 all-time record against the Irish. Oklahoma would be ranked among the top five if not for a 24-19 loss to current No. 3 Kansas State. In the five victories, the Sooners have outscored their opponents 249 to 68. They have the nation’s fifth best scoring offense and ND has the second best scoring defense. What sets the two apart, however, is Oklahoma’s defense isn’t too shabby either, ranking 12th nationally, while ND’s offense is just 77th.

It will surely be a defensive battle, but Oklahoma’s offensive firepower is better than anything the Irish have faced to date and they have a defense to back it up. Sorry Irish fans, but this is finally the week your luck falls short.

Prediction: Oklahoma 23 – Notre Dame 13

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Michigan State 10 – #23 Michigan 12
Record: 4-4 (1-3 Big Ten)
This Week: at #25 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) – 3:30pm – ABC

We all know what happened in the Big House on Saturday as Michigan ended its four year futility at the hands of the Spartans and brought home Paul Bunyan. While it wasn’t pretty and Michigan was held without a touchdown for the second time this year, the Wolverines defense shut down Le’Veon Bell and limited big plays, holding the Spartans to just 10 points – their second lowest total of the season. Bell gained just 68 yards on 26 carries (an average of just 2.6 yards per carry) and Andrew Maxwell completed 21-of-34 passes for 192 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Most importantly, Michigan won.

Welcome home

This Week:

Michigan State now has to travel to Madison to face an improving Wisconsin squad that has been perhaps the Spartans’ toughest rival the past couple of years. To make matters worse, a loss would drop Michigan State below .500 overall and put Mark Dantonio’s squad in danger of missing a bowl game. State would have to win two of its final three against Nebraska, Northwestern, and Minnesota to even get to six wins. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

MSU and Wisconsin are pretty evenly matched. Despite four losses, Spartans’ defense is still one of the best in the country and Wisconsin’s offense hasn’t exactly been lights out. Both teams feature solid running games with top-flight running backs in Le’Veon Bell and Montee Ball. Ohio State and Michigan both showed the blueprint for stopping Bell and Wisconsin will do the same.

Prediction: Wisconsin 20 – Michigan State 16

MMQ: win over Spartans shows Denard’s maturity

Monday, October 22nd, 2012


Well, it wasn’t pretty, but Michigan got the victory against its in-state rival in what can best be summed up as a defensive battle. The stat lines were essentially the same for each team. Michigan was extremely balanced offensively, rushing and passing for 163 yards apiece (326 total), but probably not because it wanted to be. If you asked the coaches, they would likely tell you that if they could have more yards on the ground, they would have been ecstatic. MSU totaled 304 yards behind a good performance from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who was 21-of-34 for 192 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The similarity in statistics goes even further: each team had the same number of first downs (16), same number of turnovers (one), same number of punts (seven), and almost the same number of penalties (six versus seven) and time of possession (28 minutes to 31).

Credit Denard for making the plays to win (AP photo)

So what we saw on Saturday were two pretty evenly matched teams. Michigan came out looking to contain MSU running back Le’Veon Bell, which it did to the tune of only 2.6 yards per carry, matching his lowest of the season. The plan was to force Maxwell to throw the ball to a group of young receivers and pressure Maxwell into making mistakes.

The MSU defensive game plan was similar – contain quarterback Denard Robinson and keep him from making big plays with his feet, and put pressure on Denard while keeping him in the pocket, hoping that he would throw some bad passes which the MSU defense could capitalize on. If you remember, this is what MSU head coach Mark Dantonio did last year. And the year before that. It’s also what he tried to do this season against Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, except Miller threw the ball well that day. In fact, if you look at Miller’s passing stats from that game (16-of-23 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception), they almost mirror Denard’s on Saturday (14-of-29 for 163 yards and an interception).

So what is the point? While it didn’t appear to the average fan as if Denard played that well yesterday (because he wasn’t running all over the field at will like he did in every game besides the Alabama game against below average defenses), he did what he needed to do to direct the offense down the field against the second best defense Michigan has seen this season. Denard’s only turnover was a meaningless interception on the last play of the first half. He did a nice job of not getting frustrated when the read-option didn’t open up for most of the game. A younger, less mature Denard would have tried to make a play himself by keeping it even when the read said that he shouldn’t. The less-polished passer in the Denard of even a year ago would have rushed his throws or not carried out a quality fake on the play-action passes which Michigan had success with. MSU wanted Denard to lose the game for his team, but that is not the type of guy who is behind center for this Michigan team. Give credit to offensive coordinator Al Borges for not giving up on the game plan and staying with the offense that he has had success with all season. Unlike last year, Borges stayed with Denard and his abilities and called the plays that complimented Denard’s skills.

Mark Dantonio is happy he doesn't have to face Denard again (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

Earlier in the year, I talked about Denard’s improvements as a quarterback and how hard he worked to become the player that he is today. Games like the one against MSU are why we can be thankful that Denard is the way he is: a leader, a worker, and a quarterback.  Over the last four years since Denard’s arrival, in a time when Michigan football experienced one of its worst periods in history, Denard provided a reason for Michigan fans to be excited about Saturdays. He’s not ever going to be compared to the great Michigan quarterbacks of old for the number of touchdowns he threw or the number of yards he passed for. What he should be remembered for is how he led this team threw the adversity. Adversity like the Wolverines faced this weekend. Denard didn’t do anything real flashy, but he made plays when he needed to and kept his team in the game the entire time. One guy who is happy that he won’t have to face Denard again is Dantonio, who said after the game, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Denard and the Wolverines will face more adversity next weekend in a night game in Lincoln, Neb. The infamous ‘Blackshirt’ defense is no longer what it was in the 1980s and 90s, as the Cornhuskers are giving up almost 28 points per game and have been hurt by athletic quarterbacks this season (see OSU and Northwestern). Denard’s leadership this week will be important as the team gets ready. Not because Nebraska presents an impossible challenge, but because they have to go on the road into a hostile environment after winning an emotional game against their second biggest rival. It’s a classic ‘let-down game’ scenario and one in which Denard and the team will need to avoid falling prey to if they want to keep their hopes alive for a Big Ten championship.

Michigan 12 – Michigan State 10: Order restored as Bunyan returns

Sunday, October 21st, 2012


For the past four years the Paul Bunyan trophy has resided in East Lansing. Tonight the rightful owners of this storied trophy have brought him back to Ann Arbor, where he belongs. Michigan State has recently enjoyed the upper hand in the rivalry, though wins against Rich Rod’s inept ‘defenses’ don’t really count in my book, but Michigan has regained some of its swagger and put Little Brother back in its place.

#23 Michigan 12 – Michigan State 10
Final Stats
12 Final Score 10
5-2, 3-0 Record 4-4, 1-3
326 Total Yards 304
163 Net Rushing Yards 112
163 Net Passing Yards 192
16 First Downs 16
1 Turnovers 1
6-55 Penalties – Yards 7-50
7-295 Punts – Yards 7-290
28:34 Time of Possession 31:26
5-of-15 Third Down Conversions 6-of-17
0-of-0 Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1
1-10 Sacks By – Yards 0-0
4-for-4 Field Goals 1-for-2
0-for-0 PATs 1-for-1
2-for-2 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-for-2

If you had told me last week that Michigan would not put the ball in the end zone, I would have told you there is no way they win. Yet, that is exactly what happened. A classic Big Ten defensive battle that ended with a Brendan Gibbons game winning field goal with only seconds remaining. Drew Dileo was the unlikely hero, having his hands on all 12 Wolverines points, as he is the holder for field goals. He finished with four catches for 92 yards, the final yards coming on a 20-yard reception to set up the game winning field goal on a second and long attempt as time was ticking away.

Michigan State played better than expected on offense and kept the Wolverines on their heels, mostly with the passing game. Andrew Maxwell played well, hitting 21-of-34 passes for 192 yards, adding a pick and a touchdown. Le’Veon Bell toted the rock 26 times for 68 yards, a lowly 2.6 yards per carry average. Freshman Aaron Burbridge has stepped up recently and continued to be the de facto number one receiver for Maxwell. He led the Spartans with six catches for 51 yards.

Denard Robinson looked bad on the ground for most of the game, but came up with plays when he needed to. He was just shy of 100 yards rushing and added 163 in the air. He did throw a pick, but it was meaningless as it was the final play of the first half. Fitz Toussaint was bottled up most of the day and finished with 52 yards on 10 carries. However, 38 of those came on one big run early in the second quarter which set up their first score. Surprisingly, Thomas Rawls did not see any action.

Sparty’s plan all game was to focus on shutting down Denard – shocking, I know. But the way they did it makes me concerned for the rest of the season. They simply forced Denard into keeping the ball on the zone read but spying him all along and leaving him no room. Aside from a 44-yard burst, he was kept in check.

The two teams battled back and forth, and with Michigan up 9-7 early in the fourth quarter, MSU fumbled the ball on a Le’Veon Bell carry. The Spartans recovered but it seemed as though they were all but dead as they were forced to punt. Mark Dantonio, however, had different plans as he faked the punt and MSU continued to march down the field. Eighteen plays, 90 yards and almost eight minutes later, the Spartans added a field goal to go up 10-9.

Brendan Gibbons nailed the game-winner with five seconds left (photo by the Detroit News)

Michigan got the ball back and looked to be in business as Denard busted off his 44-yard run on second down, but then things went downhill. Toussaint lost a few on a run play, then two consecutive penalties put the Wolverines in a 3rd-and-22. Michigan punted the ball away with just over three minutes to go. If the Spartans added even just a field goal, it would force Michigan into needing a touchdown to win.

Thankfully, Sparty threw two incomplete passes then Jake Ryan forced a fumble on third down. MSU did recover but was forced to punt. Michigan got the ball on its own 38 with two minutes to play – plenty of time for Denard to work some late game magic, and he did just that. After moving the ball to the State 41, Michigan was facing a 2nd-and-11. Denard found an open Dileo for a 20-yard strike to set up the game winning field goal, a 38-yarder from Gibbons. Sparty attempted a Stanford-Cal moment in the final seconds but they were not so lucky.

Michigan ended its losing streak to Little Brother and added win number 900 in the process. Not a bad way to reach that milestone. Michigan stands atop the Legends division and controls its own fate going forward. Every other team has one loss, and unless something crazy happens, Michigan should be looking at a match up with Wisconsin in Indianapolis come December.

That said, Michigan does have to travel to Nebraska next week and ends the season in that city in Ohio which is a tough place to play. Regardless, this team takes it one week at a time and they know Nebraska will be looking to avenge the blowout loss to Michigan in 2011.

Nebraska is an interesting team, having lost to UCLA, beaten Wisconsin and got throttled by Ohio State. This weekend, the Cornhuskers rallied to beat Northwestern 29-28 behind Taylor Martinez’s 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. They are, however, a run heavy team, averaging a monstrous 292 yards rushing per game and putting up almost 44 points per game. Martinez has been known to be either hot or cold so who knows what we’ll see next week in Lincoln. But rest assured, Michigan had better bring its A-game to stop this rushing attack.

Michigan is a talented team but they haven’t shown particularly well against tough, physical teams lately. It wouldn’t surprise me if they ran away with the Big Ten title or if they suffered a couple more losses going forward. Al Borges’ play calling hasn’t instilled enough confidence in me to choose one way or the other. But what I do know is that this team has a lot of heart and they are not going to quit when things get tough, and I guess that’s all you can ask of any team, to give it their all every game.

The last time Michigan played an away night game it was an epic game. This may not be as down to the wire, but it should be a good one nonetheless. Michigan should win, and I’ll give a score during our weekly staff predictions next Friday.

M&GB Pick’em: Michigan State staff predictions

Friday, October 19th, 2012


Last week, we were all pretty close to Michigan’s score, but none of us thought Michigan would pitch a shutout. But that’s precisely what it did. Josh was the only one to get Michigan’s point total of 45 exactly right and he was also the closest to zero for Illinois’ score, so he took home his second win of the season. Now, Michigan faces its second rivalry game of the season against a Michigan State squad that has a good scoring defense but a bad scoring offense. Michigan’s defense has improved all season and the offense is finding its stride. So what will give?

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY
____________________________

Justin: Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13
Chris: Michigan 30 – Michigan State 13
Josh: Michigan 28 – Michigan State 17
Sam: Michigan 36 – Michigan State 10
Katie: Michigan 28 – Michigan State 21
Matt: Michigan 41 – Michigan State 27

___________________________

Average: Michigan 31 – Michigan State 17

Justin: While Michigan State isn’t as good as most expected before the season started, I don’t think this will be an easy win by any means. With three losses – two in the Big Ten – Michigan State is essentially playing to save face tomorrow. The Big Ten title is likely out the window, so similar to what Michigan will see at season’s end against Ohio State, the Spartans would love nothing more than to spoil Michigan’s chances.

The Spartan defense is formidable, but the guys in the interior are nowhere near as talented as Jerel Worthy was, which is a big reason the ends, Will Gholston and Marcus Rush, haven’t produced as well as they did last season. Gholston is fast and can chase down the ball carrier, but is not good when teams run straight at him, which is precisely what Michigan should do. The linebackers, led by Max Bullough, are some of the best in the conference, so Al Borges will need to keep them off balance with play action and well-timed screens.

On the other side of the ball, State’s offense has been anemic for most of the season and Michigan’s defense has been steadily improving. The past two weeks, Michigan didn’t exactly face a downfield passing game, so it will be interesting to see how the Michigan secondary holds up against a passing offense that has six guys with 15 or more catches and five with 200 or more receiving yards. But the bread and butter of the Spartan offense is running back Le’Veon Bell who already has 200 rushes and is about to eclipse 1,000 yards. Ohio State held him to just 2.6 yards per carry, and while Michigan likely won’t limit him to those numbers, the defense certainly can slow him down.

Expect Greg Mattison to dial up some blitzes to confuse and put pressure on Maxwell while stuffing the run on obvious run downs. With a similar offense as we saw the past couple weeks, Denard should be able to get his yards while the combo of Fitz and Thomas Rawls will pound away. As long as Denard doesn’t make the passing mistakes he made against Notre Dame, which I don’t think he will because the passing game will be much more controlled, Michigan will win.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13

Chris (1): Here we go folks! Time for the Wolverines to make up for four years of frustration against their in-state rival. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Andrew Maxwell has thrown twice as many passes as Denard this season (photo by Darron Cummings, AP)

MSU enters the contest at 4-3 overall, 1-2 Big Ten. The season so far can best be summed up for the Spartans as a disappointment. A lot of people in the media and across the country had the Spartans pegged win the Legends division and go on to become Big Ten champs. Things changed early in the season, however.  In the first game against Boise State, many witnessed a serious flaw in the MSU offense. That was the lack of a passing game, as MSU was breaking in a new quarterback in Andrew Maxwell and a group of inexperienced receivers.  Running back Le’Veon Bell has essentially been a one man show, however, one player can’t win football games on his own and defenses have attacked MSU by stopping the run and forcing Maxwell to win games. This has resulted in a lack of scoring to the tune of 21 points per game.

The MSU defense, which was came into the season as the strength of the team, has actually been alright. They are the 14th-ranked scoring defense at 15.7 points and feature eight returning starters, led by defensive end William Gholston and linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen.

On Saturday, I believe the key to a Michigan win will be the ability of the Wolverines offense to stay balanced and mix up the play calling to keep the MSU linebackers from flying all over the field and making plays. This means using play-action passes and running a variety of inside and outside running plays. Al Borges would be wise to keep Denard in the shotgun to give him so time to react to what will be a tough upfield rush to stop the run and put pressure on Denard when he passes. In last season’s game in East Lansing, I thought that Denard missed a lot of opportunities to scramble when the protection broke down, as the MSU defensive line rushed hard upfield and left running lanes open. At that time, Borges was still trying to make Denard into a pocket quarterback, so Denard hung in the pocket and either took sacks or forced bad passes.

With the struggles that the MSU offense has had this season, you have to think that the Michigan defense has a serious edge here. Especially with the way they have looked over the past two weeks, albeit against lesser competition. However, Greg Mattison has done an excellent job with the guys on his side of the ball and I expect this to continue on Saturday.

The one thing that MSU has in their favor here is that they will be coming into this game looking for a statement win to re-establish their season. I don’t think that will be enough. Certainly not in Ann Arbor after Michigan has lost four straight in the rivalry and is still very much in the hunt for a Big Ten title. I like Michigan to win.

Michigan 30 – Michigan State 13

Josh (2): Little Brother has won four games in a row against Michigan. Granted, three of those were against the Rich Rod regime and don’t really count in my opinion, but they are not the dominant program in the state of Michigan or in the Legends division, and it is time to put them back in their place.

Expect a good dose of Rawls tomorrow (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

MSU has struggled mightily thus far, losing to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Iowa, and almost lost to bottom feeder Indiana. Their defense is only allowing 16 points per game but the offense is only putting up 21. Andrew Maxwell has been improving as a passer but Sparty has yet to find a true number one receiver. Le’Veon Bell is a workhorse back and he is capable of gashing any defense. If Maxwell can take some pressure of Bell with the passing game this could be a long afternoon for the Wolverines.

Unfortunately for State fans, I just don’t see that happening. Despite what the media is saying about Team 133, the fact is that they’ve only lost two games. Alabama, the undisputed No. 1 and probable BCS Champion, and Notre Dame. They may be overrated but the truth of the matter is they’re No. 5 in the BCS poll and Michigan barely lost to them despite six turnovers. Those losses are about as respectable as you can get. Michigan has beaten the teams it should beat, and beat themselves against a good team in South Bend.

Al Borges has recently trimmed the playbook and opted for a more run-friendly approach, and it has paid off. Michigan is running the ball for 232 yards per game (16th in the nation) and has exploded for almost 330 yards per game over the last two. Fitz Toussaint is slowly getting back in a rhythm but Thomas Rawls has been nipping at his heels. According to Borges, Rawls has earned the right for more touches and when he gets them he makes the most of them. I expect to see Rawls with a much larger role moving forward and it starts Saturday in Ann Arbor against MSU. It’s no secret that I like Thomas Rawls, a lot. But even if Fitz still gets the lion’s share of the carries it just means we have three running threats, something no team wants to game plan against.

Much like Team 132’s seniors against OSU, these seniors will not leave Michigan having never beaten a hated rival. I expect Jake Ryan to continue to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield and Raymon Taylor will continue to play well in the secondary as they keep Andrew Maxwell in check.

Throw out what both teams have done up to this point, it doesn’t matter. Both teams will bring their A-game and it should be a great game. At the end of the day Michigan will have reclaimed Paul Bunyan and solidified themselves as not only the favorite in the Legends division but in the Big Ten conference.

Michigan 28 – Michigan State 17

Matt (2): This Saturday at 3:30, Michigan will host the Michigan State Spartans in the Battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy. This may be the most exciting week leading up to a game except for that one game on the last Saturday of November, but we’ll get to that.

The Wolverines have lost the last four they’ve played against Michigan State, including a heartbreaking loss in overtime. Just thinking about it hurts.

This Saturday, the Wolverines are a 9.5 point favorite – something that we wouldn’t have expected before the season started. Back then, it seemed everyone thought that Wisconsin and Michigan State were going to repeat, and go to the Big Ten Championship for the second straight year. Oh how things have changed.

Michigan State’s rushing game has been down this season, and so has their defense. Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense has took a huge jump since the beginning of the season, and has been making scoring points seem pretty easy.

Last week, Michigan gave Illinois quite the beating, winning 45-0. Michigan out-passed them 174 yards to 29, and out-rushed them 353 to 105. Now, do I think Michigan State is a better team than Illinois? Yes I do. Do I think Michigan State will be able to score some points on the Wolverines? Yes. But, the biggest question is, whether I think Michigan State can beat Michigan.

This is a rivalry game. In many rivalry games, you can throw all records and all stats out the window. It’s who wants it more. It’s hatred, it’s trick plays. It’s pulling out all the stops. We’ve seen Michigan State pull out some crazy plays. We’ve seen fake field goals for game winning passes, among other things. I’ll admit, I’ve seen the Spartans pull out some nailbiter games, with some awfully clever and risky plays.

However, Brady Hoke and his coaching staff have been incredible. We have seen this team get better and better. Hoke, Borges and Mattison obviously know what they are doing. They are great coaches. I doubt we will see a whole lot of trick plays this Saturday, but these coaches don’t seem to need trick plays. They seem to do just fine with what they have. With what they teach these players. I think this Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines are going to snap this losing streak to Sparty. We’re going to bring the Paul Bunyan trophy back home to the Big House, and we’re going to show the world that we belong at the top of the Legends division of the Big Ten!

Sorry, got ahead of myself a little.

Michigan wins, with a dominating performance against Little Brother.

Michigan 41 – Michigan State 27

Sam (1): With a 45-0 pounding of Illinois last weekend, Michigan is riding high and sitting at 2-0 (4-2 overall) in the Big Ten. The Spartans of East Lansing, on the other hand, couldn’t be lower, sitting at 1-2 (4-3 overall) in the conference after an ugly 19-16 double overtime loss at home to Iowa. This week, Michigan State takes a short trip east on 96 and a quick hop south on 23 to Ann Arbor to face their biggest rivals, poised to put forth their best effort. One thing is certain – they’re going to need it.

Braxton Miller found plenty of running room against the Spartan defense. Can Denard? (photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

The Wolverines come into this weekend blazing hot on both sides of the ball. They have scored 44 or more points in three of their past four games and have only given up a combined 19 points over their past three games. Denard Robinson (surprise!) has been the name of the game lately, rushing for 363 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions over the past two weeks.

Obviously Robinson is a special talent, often making plays out of nothing, but a lot of credit needs to go to the offensive line, which has paved the way for the running game and admirably protected their quarterback on passing plays.

If one thing is going wrong for Michigan offensively, it’s the play of their running backs. Fitzgerald Toussaint continues to struggle to make the right cuts and pick the right holes, and it appears that backups Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, and possibly Vincent Smith will see a number of carries from here on out as Al Borges likely deploys a platoon system.

For Michigan State, again, the opposite couldn’t be truer. First-year starter Andrew Maxwell’s play has steadily declined despite not turning the ball over too often, as he managed just 179 yards (with no touchdowns and one pick) on 12 of 31 passing last week. The banged-up offensive line seems to cave on every passing play and has struggled to create holes for the running game, in stark contrast to Taylor Lewan and the rest of Michigan’s front.

The lone bright spot? Junior running back Le’Veon Bell, who has carried the ball a whopping 200 times in seven games for 916 yards and eight touchdowns, good for averages of 28.5 carries per game and 4.6 yards per carry. To make these numbers even more impressive, consider the fact that he weighs nearly 250 pounds and defenses have keyed on him in just about every game.

If Michigan State is to have a chance this Saturday, Bell will have to have a tremendous game, yes, but Dan Roushar will also have to keep the Wolverines defense on its heels by mixing up the calls a little bit. No running back will be good enough against this Michigan defense to win the game by himself.

Speaking of Michigan’s defense, watch for redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan, who represents Bennie Oosterbaan with his number and legacy patch, to continue his destruction of quarterbacks and running backs at large. Ryan has been racking up sacks and tackles this season like he’s being paid to do it. To put it simply, he has been unstoppable. He registered some 11 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss to go along with a forced fumble on a play in which he fell down and later ran down the quarterback last week alone. Kenny Demens has been great as well, partially due to strong fundamental tackling and partially due to a stout defensive line that has really seemed to hold its own lately.

Aaron Burbridge has stepped up for the MSU receiving corps the past two weeks (photo by Darron Cummings, AP)

Maxwell is going to have to throw the ball well this Saturday and hope that reliable tight end Dion Sims will be back from his ankle injury to give coach Mark Dantonio hope. True freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged as a go-to target two games ago against Indiana, and he will be an X-factor in this game as well, as he figures to match up with the still relatively-untested Raymon Taylor. The other Spartan receivers have really struggled to catch the ball; if Michigan State continues to shoot themselves in the foot, they might as well save their gas and ship Paul Bunyan via FedEx to Ann Arbor.

Michigan State will certainly want to keep this game low-scoring, as their defense is certainly the strength of the team. The Spartans have yielded 20 points only twice this season – 20 to Notre Dame in a game in which the offense was anemic and 27 to Indiana, all in the first half. If they hold Michigan under 20 by containing Robinson with their strong front seven, this will be a one-possession game.

There is absolutely no denying that Michigan State has owned this rivalry over the past four seasons; sure, the games have been pretty close, but four wins in a row is four wins in a row. The last time that happened, my parents had lived less than a year combined (not to make anyone feel old here though). A win for the Spartans would give them their longest-ever winning streak over Michigan, and something tells me that this game will be closer than what most expect. Michigan State has been Michigan’s first loss the past three seasons, and while neither of these teams comes into this weekend undefeated for the first time since 2008, the stakes certainly remain high.

Something else tells me, however, that Brady Hoke is going to want to send a message to his in-state brethren that the tides are turning in the state of Michigan. Both teams are going to give it their all, but one team’s all has proven to be much better than the other’s this season. Denard Robinson will shake the cobwebs off from last season’s 28-14 loss with a monster four touchdown game, and though Michigan State will put the first points on the board (with a field goal), Michigan will score the next 20 on its way to a blowout.

Michigan 36 – Michigan State 10

Katie: I think it’s safe to say that the Spartans have not gotten off to the start they had wished for in the preseason. Being 1-2 in Big Ten play also doesn’t help matters. With a loss to Michigan the Spartans will lose all hope of playing in the conference championship, but even now with a couple of losses to Ohio State and Iowa, their chances aren’t looking favorable.

As for the Wolverines, after the two losses to non-conference teams they have beaten both Purdue and Illinois, though it must be said that those teams combined Big Ten records make them 0-5. Michigan State will be Michigan’s first Legends division opponent, and as an instate rival the Spartans pose a distinct threat. Rivalry games have been known to throw rankings, and well thought out predictions out the window. So while it would seem that Michigan should be able to end their four game losing streak, it’s also possible that State will take last week’s loss to Iowa to heart and fight to remain afloat in the division standings. Now for the analysis.

We've missed you, Paul

Michigan’s starters include six seniors and five juniors, while the Spartans have five upperclassman to their six with less than two seasons under their belts. Offensively, it seems that the matchup will be between Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell and Michigan’s Denard Robinson. Whoever can get their offense up to speed and gain enough pace to prevent idling should be able to eat the clock and take home the win. Considering the Spartans have had to punt twice as many times as the Wolverines I’m giving the advantage to the home team here.

As for the run game, Le’Veon Bell is a force and is easily within range of a 1,000-yard season. Of course, Michigan’s Robinson is known for his scrambling abilities and fleet footedness. Who has the better game? It’s a tossup. As for the pitch and catch side of things, the edge goes to the Spartans whose receiving core of Mumphrey and Sims both have over 300 yards, and that’s not including the three other players over 200 yards on the season. Michigan has just two receivers over 200 yards. And while Maxwell and Denard have roughly the same passing percentage, Robinson has two times the amount of interceptions, and is the senior and captain of the team. Maxwell came into the season having only 50 passing attempts in his career.

If the Wolverines want this game to go as smoothly as possible they need their quarterback to play smarter football, and receivers Roundtree, Gardner, and Funchess to step up and make big time catches. If it hits you in the hands you have got to come down with it. But as much as the offense needs to do for both teams the defense needs to slow their resolve.

The starters on defense for both teams are pretty evenly matched. The Spartans have two tremendous linebackers in Allen and Bullough, and a playmaker at safety in Isaiah Lewis. They have five picks on the year, the same as Michigan. But Michigan State also has a formidable defensive end in William Gholston, whose specialty is pass defense. So while the Wolverines have 400 total tackles on the season, 20 less than the Spartans, they lack the defensive standout. However, since the total points allowed category is slightly in Michigan’s favor at 105 vs State’s 110 if Michigan stays balanced they could very well hold the Spartans to under 21 points, which would mean that the offense would have to score one touchdown per quarter, a manageable feat for Michigan.

I think this will be a hard fought game, but one which will end the Wolverines disappointing streak against the Spartans.

Michigan 28 – Michigan State 21

Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 19th, 2012


We all know the well-worn refrain about little brothers by now. Whether the statement made by Mike Hart following Michigan’s win in 2007 had anything to do with the following four years or not, the simple fact of the matter is that Michigan State has controlled the rivalry since then. It has certainly been quite a ride for our brethren to the northwest to the point that our green friends starting to forget that the first 100 years of the rivalry even occurred. But they did and Michigan hopes this is the year things get back on track.

Michigan State comes limping into Ann Arbor following a 19-16 double-overtime loss to Iowa, the Spartans third loss of the season so far. Their Big Ten title hopes are slim to none at this point and a loss to Michigan would essentially eliminate them from contention.

Michigan Stadium  –  Ann Arbor, Mich.
3:30pm EST  –  Big Ten Network
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Michigan State Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (6th season)
Coaching Record: 48-25 (at MSU), 66-42 (Overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dan Roushar
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi
Returning Starters: 13 (5 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 11-3 (7-1)
Last Meeting: Michigan State 28 – Michigan 14 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 67-32-5
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 48-20-3
In Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 33-18-3
Current Streak: Michigan State 4

On the other hand, Michigan won its first two conference games in convincing fashion, outscoring Purdue and Illinois 89-13 and outgaining them 936-347. That Michigan’s defense has stepped up since the first two weeks of the season (it gave up 66 points to Alabama and Air Force but just 32 in the four games since) doesn’t bode well for Michigan State’s offense which ranks 104th nationally, and second to last in the Big Ten, in scoring.

So will Michigan end State’s four year run or will it continue? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Michigan State has the ball

The Spartans average just 21 points per game despite playing three teams (Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Indiana) that rank 92nd or worse in scoring defense. The 23 points State scored on Eastern Michigan are fewer than Ball State, Illinois State, Purdue, Kent State, and Toledo each scored on the Eagles.

Despite the offensive ineptitude, quarterback Andrew Maxwell has shown flashes of promise. Against Indiana, he completed 24-of-40 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. But he’s also been inconsistent. Last week, he completed just 12-of-31 passes for 179 yards and an interception. On the season, he’s completing 54.3 percent of his passes (half a percentage point worse than Denard Robinson) for 1,607 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. He has thrown the ball an average of 37 times a game, compared to Denard’s 21.

One of his main problems has been inconsistency from his receiving targets. The leading receiver is Keith Mumphrey who has 25 receptions for 330 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Dion Sims is close behind with 24 for 313 and two touchdowns. Sims is listed as questionable with a left ankle injury, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say he’ll play. Bennie Fowler (20, 257, 2), Aaron Burbridge (15, 237), and Tony Lippett (19, 205) all have over 200 yards as well. Burbridge has been a pleasant surprise for Maxwell the past two weeks, catching 13 passes for 223 yards against Indiana and Iowa.

LeVeon Bell is the Spartans' workhorse that Michigan will need to stop

Of course, the running game is where the Spartans want to do the most damage and they have one of the best backs in the conference in LeVeon Bell. He’s been a workhorse so far this season, carrying the ball 200 times for 916 yards and eight touchdowns, an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He was a one-man show against Boise State and Eastern Michigan, toting the ball 80 times for 463 yards and three touchdowns in those two games alone. Michigan held him to his lowest total of the season (seven carries for 20 yards) last year, though his then-backfield mate Edwin Baker did the damage.

The offensive line has been a MASH unit for most of the season. Center Travis Jackson broke his leg and right tackle Fou Fonoti has a stress fracture. Guard Blake Treadwell is also recovering from an injury. It’s a unit that’s starting five won’t be solidified until gametime and will have the task of dealing with Michigan’s emerging defensive line.

When Michigan has the ball

Michigan State’s defense was expected to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten this season, and possibly one of the best in the country. Through the first seven games, it has been very good, but not nearly what everybody expected. The loss of tackle Jerel Worthy leaves the defensive line without a proven anchor. James Kittredge and Anthony Rashad White have been okay at the position, but haven’t had near the impact Worthy did. The pair has combined for 22 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Even so, the Spartans rush defense ranks eighth nationally, allowing just 91.3 yards per game.

The defensive ends and linebackers are the team’s strengths. Every Michigan fan is well aware of end William Gholston, but more for his hype and dirty antics in last year’s game than for his actual performance. So far this season, the junior has just five tackles for loss and one sack. His counterpart, Marcus Rush, has similar production with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack. That’s not great production for a front four that was dominant last season.

I mentioned a minute ago that the Spartans rush defense has been stout this season, but against Ohio State, a similar offense to Michigan’s, State gave up 204 yards on the ground. Braxton Miller accounted for 136 of those on 5.9 yards per carry. The main reason State was so successful defensively last season is Worthy’s presence in the middle, allowing the rest of the front seven to get into the backfield, harass the quarterbacks, and make plays resulting in negative yardage. In last year’s matchup, MSU recorded seven sacks for 62 yards, keeping Michigan on its heels. So far this season, State has recorded just six sacks through seven games.

The linebacking corps is a good one though, led by junior middle linebacker Max Bullough who leads the team with 58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and Denicos Allen who ranks second in tackles with 42 and also has a sack. Chris Norman, who started last year and began this season as a starter, was benched in favor of Taiwan Jones.

The secondary has three returning starters from last season, most notably corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. Neither has an interception yet, but both are solid corners. Safety Isaiah Lewis also returns,while Kurtis Drummond will get the start this week at the other safety spot. While State’s rush defense is stout, its pass defense is pretty good too, ranking 17th nationally.

The other third

Rushing Yards: 146 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 80, he could pass Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (2007-10) for 3rd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Passing Attempts: 6 – Denard will pass Tom Brady and Todd Collins for 4th in career passing attempts.
Pass Completions: 37 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Total Yards: 190 – Denard will pass Iowa’s Chuck Long (1981-85) for 7th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Mike Lantry and K.C. Lopata for 8th in career field goals made. With 5 he will tie Hayden Epstein for 7th.

Kicker Dan Conroy is as experienced as there is in the Big Ten. The third-year starter is 14-for-19 so far this season with a long of 50. He has made 79 percent of his field goals throughout his career. Punter Mike Sadler averages 43.9 yards per punt, which is second only to Will Hagerup. In the return game, MSU ranks around the middle of the pack nationally in both areas. Sophomore running back Nick Hill handles both duties, averaging 22.3 yards per kick return and 8.9 yards per punt return.

By comparison, Dennis Norfleet is averaging 23.6 per kick return, and that’s an area to watch on Saturday. Michigan State’s kick coverage unit ranks 111th nationally, giving up 26.23 yards per kick return.

Prediction

I actually have a good feeling about this one. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched most of every Michigan State game this season and haven’t been overly impressed. Maybe it’s because I watched Braxton Miller and Ohio State run all over them. Maybe I’m just overly optimistic this week. Regardless, this is going to be the year Denard finally breaks out and has a big game against the team that has bottled him up for the past two years. Look for a diversive offense aimed at taking advantage of MSU’s defensive aggressiveness. Screens like what we saw against Illinois last week can and will result in big gains.

Michigan’s pass defense will be tested by a downfield passing game for the first time since Alabama. We’ll get a chance to see how well the front seven has really improved at getting pressure on the quarterback, as well as whether the secondary that ranks in the top ten nationally is as good as its stats. But that’s not how State will try to beat Michigan. It will be with the run game and it will run Bell until he stops ringing. If Michigan can’t stop the run game, it will be a long day, but if the Wolverines are stopping Bell at the point of attack and forcing MSU to throw, it will be successful.

Michigan should be able to win the battle against State’s banged up offensive line, so I’m hopeful that Bell can be neutralized. So it will come down to whether Michigan can move the ball against State’s stout defense, and the success of OSU/Miller, as well as Iowa’s Weisman last week, gives me hope. If the weather forecast holds up without rain or wind, Michigan’s offense should be able to move the ball as it has all season. Hello 900 club, party of one.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13

5-Spot Challenge: Week 7

Monday, October 15th, 2012



For the sixth time in six weeks we had a new winner. JustJeepGear.com edged out kfarmer16 by 14 points. JustJeepGear.com was just three off of Michigan’s rushing total (and so was previous winner bluwolf77) and four away from the longest touchdown. Maizenblu62 hit Michigan’s leading receiving total right on the nose, while last week’s winner, tooty_pops, was just one away from correctly predicting Denard’s rushing total. Nobody was very close to Illinois’ total yards. Kfarmer16 was the closest at 53 away.

Once again, nobody correctly predicted the final score, although both tooty_pops and kashkaav had Michigan scoring 45 points. However, kashkaav had Illinois scoring 36. Nobody picked Illinois to score fewer than 10.

Last week’s standings and the overall standings are updated on the right sidebar. We have a tie at the top. This week’s questions are below. Good luck and Go Blue!

Michigan State: first look

Sunday, October 14th, 2012


Read our preseason preview here.

There’s no denying the fact that Michigan State has had Michigan’s number the past few years. The Spartans were expected to be the class of the Big Ten once again this season with a dominant defense, but they enter this weekend’s matchup with three losses, two of them in conference. Those three losses were to Notre Dame (20-3), Ohio State (17-16), and Iowa (19-16 in double overtime). With the conference title likely out of reach, Michigan State will come to Ann Arbor looking to spoil Michigan’s chances. Can they? Let’s take a look.

Michigan State 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Michigan State Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 21.0 | 33.8 102 | 37 15.7 | 17.5 14 | 23
Rushing Yards 1,008 | 1,395 639 | 889
Rush Avg. Per Game 144.0 | 232.5 84 | 17 91.3 | 148.2 8 | 55
Avg. Per Rush 3.8 | 5.6 3.1 | 3.7
Passing Yards 1,654 | 1,116 1,252 | 804
Pass Avg. Per Game 236.3 | 186.0 59 | 104 178.9 | 134.0 17 | 3
Total Offense 2,662 | 1,575 1,891 | 1,693
Total Off Avg. Per Game 380.3 | 418.5 80 | 55 270.1 | 282.2 7 | 10
Kick Return Average 22.3 | 22.5 52 | 48 26.2 | 22.3 111 | 79
Punt Return Average 7.2 | 11.6 76 | 30 7.4 | 5.4 62 | 44
Avg. Time of Possession 33:41 | 30:59 6 | 46 26:19 | 29:01
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37% | 52% 89 | 9 28% | 35% 8 | 46
Sacks By-Yards 6-43 | 8-75 111 | 95 10-58 | 5-38 40 | 13
Touchdowns Scored 15 | 26 11 | 11
Field Goals-Attempts 14-19 | 7-9 11-11 | 9-13
Red Zone Scores (21-24) 88% | (21-24) 88% 26 | 27 (15-17) 88% | (14-17) 82% 92 | 64
Red Zone Touchdowns (13-24) 54% | (14-24) 58% (6-17) 35% | (8-14) 47%

Entering the season, Michigan State’s defense was expected to be the best in the Big Ten and one of the top nationally. Everybody knew the Spartans offense would regress a little bit with the loss of quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. Well, the offense has trouble scoring and the defense has been good, but not great.

Led by quarterback Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State ranks 102nd nationally in points per game with just 21. The Spartans have scored more than 23 just twice – 41 against Central Michigan and 31 against Indiana – and have been held to 20 or fewer points four times.

No words necessary

Maxwell has thrown the ball a lot in the first half of the season. His fewest number of passes in a game were 29 against Eastern Michigan and he has chucked up 40 or more passes three times. Despite ranking second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, Maxwell doesn’t make the top ten in pass efficiency. His completion percentage is a half percentage point worse than Denard’s (54.3) and he has just six touchdowns and four interceptions.

The running game is a one-man show with LeVeon Bell, who has rushed for 916 yards on 200 carries (4.6 yards per carry). In the season opener, he carried the ball 44 times for 210 yards, and in Week 4 against Eastern Michigan, he toted it 36 times for 253. Aside from those two games, whose rush defenses rank 66th and 120th, respectively, Bell has averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. He ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing average behind Denard, but has carried the ball 99 more times and accumulated just 112 more yards.

Defensively, Michigan State has been solid, but not nearly the level it was expected to be. The loss of defensive tackle Jerel Worthy has been felt more than anticipated as the Spartans have just six sacks, which is last in the Big Ten. But they’re still giving up just 15.7 points per game and have the conference’s top rush defense. State has held four of its opponents to 72 or fewer total rushing yards, but two of the last three (Ohio State and Iowa) have averaged 163.5 yards per game and featured 100-yard rushers in Braxton Miller and Iowa’s Mark Weisman – the most relevant being Miller who is similar to Denard. He carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards (an average of 5.9 yards per carry) and also completed 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. That along should give Michigan confidence heading into Saturday’s battle.

The defensive leader when it comes to hype is William Gholston. You will remember him for his dirty antics depicted above in last season’s matchup. However, he has just 28 tackles, five for loss, and one sack this season.

Last season, Michigan got the Ohio State monkey off its back, and this weekend, the Wolverines have a chance to end Michigan State’s four-game streak. It won’t be easy, but Michigan State has already lost three times this season and is more beatable than any of us thought they would be before the season started. Stay tuned for much more coverage the rest of the week.

Rival Rewind hates all the rivals

Thursday, September 27th, 2012


Michigan has the unique position of having three big rivals. Most teams only have one rival to get up for, but year-in and year-out, Michigan has three. While we, as fans, hate each of these teams, we carry some respect for them. Michigan State and Ohio State carry conference affiliation ties while Notre Dame, well, we all just put up with them. All season long, it’s fun to keep track of how each of them doing, but there’s only so much time on Saturday to watch games. More often than not, they play at the same time Michigan does so you don’t get a chance to do your “advanced scouting.” Well, don’t fret because we’ve got you covered. This weekly feature will give you an overview of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State’s games the previous weekend and a look ahead to the upcoming one.

#21 Michigan State 23 – Eastern Michigan 7
Record: 3-1
This Week: Home vs. #14 Ohio State (4-0) – 3:30pm – ABC

The Spartans faced a trap game, sandwiched in between a tough loss to Notre Dame and the impending matchup with Ohio State. But a winless Eastern Michigan squad shouldn’t have put up much of a fight, right? Wrong. It was the Spartans that didn’t put up much of a fight – at least for three quarters of the game.

Mark Dantonio can't be happy about the way the Spartans are playing, but is he ever happy? (photo by Al Goldis, AP)

Eastern held a 7-3 halftime lead before MSU kicked a pair of field goals to take a 9-7 lead with 1:11 remaining in the third. The fourth quarter was all Spartans as Dion Sims caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell and Le’Veon Bell ran in a 1-yarder with two minutes left to seal the deal.

Bell continued the season-long trend as being the Spartans’ only offense. This time he carried the ball 36 times for a career high 253 yards and a touchdown. The fact that it took that kind of performance to beat Eastern Michigan is the main takeaway. Michigan State’s defense was stout as usual, holding EMU to just 183 total yards – the fourth straight opponent the Spartans have held under 300 – but that should be expected against a team that ranks near the very bottom nationally in every offensive category.

Maxwell completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards, the majority of the yardage coming in the fourth quarter. The touchdown pass to Sims with 7:19 remaining in the game ended a seven quarter streak without a touchdown dating back to the previous week’s 20-3 loss to Notre Dame. It was the closest loss the Eagles have had against a ranked team since losing to Ball State by 16 points in 2008.

This Week:

Michigan State hosts Ohio State in a cross-division battle of traditional heavyweights. ESPN’s College Game Day will be live from East Lansing in what is sure to be a raucous atmosphere. Last season was a defensive struggle as Michigan State pulled it out 10-7 in Columbus. Ohio State’s lone score of the game was a 33-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining. This year, Ohio State is virtually a one-man show with Braxton Miller and he will have to face MSU’s stingy defense.

Prediction: Ohio State 17 –  Michigan State 13

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#16 Ohio State 29 – UAB 15
Record: 4-0
This Week: at #20 Michigan State (3-1) – 3:30pm – ABC

For the second straight week, Ohio State struggled against an inferior opponent. Perhaps the Buckeyes were looking ahead to the trip to East Lansing, but the winless Blazers shouldn’t have been anywhere close to the Bucks.

UAB got on the board first, returning a blocked punt for a touchdown, but missed the subsequent extra point. A 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter put the Blazers ahead 9-0, but Ohio State answered with an eight-play, 75-yards scoring drive to pull within two. UAB responded with another field goal to take a 12-7 lead, but once again Ohio State came right back, this time with a four-play, 63-yard touchdown drive. On the drive, Miller connected on passes of six, 20, and 25 yards before rushing it in from 12 yards out to put the Buckeyes ahead for good. After a UAB fumble, Ohio State scored in three plays to put the game away just before the half.

UAB's blocked punt resulted in their lone touchdown (photo by Kirk Irwin, Getty Images)

UAB opened the second half by recovering an onside kick, but failed to do anything with it and neither team did anything the rest of the third quarter. On UAB’s first possession of the fourth, the Blazers kicked another field goal to pull within 21-15 and forced an Ohio State punt to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. But a 47-yard field goal was missed and OSU marched down the field for the game-clinching touchdown.

UAB outgained the Buckeyes 403 to 347 and held the ball for over 33 minutes, but just like last week against Cal, Ohio State found a way to win. Miller went 12-for-20 for 143 yards and carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly for the Buckeyes, running back Jordan Hall, who returned from injury, rushed for 105 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. If he can do so against Michigan State’s defense this week, folks should take notice.

This Week:

Ohio State travels to Michigan State in the battle of underperforming rivals. Both feature one-man-show offenses, but Ohio State’s is arguably better because it’s less one-dimensional. Michigan State has the better defense and it will be interesting to see if the Spartans are able to bottle up Miller like they did to Denard Robinson last season. Regardless, a low scoring game should be expected and an Ohio State win would help Michigan in the conference.

Prediction: Ohio State 17 – Michigan State 13

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#11 Notre Dame 13 – #18 Michigan 6
Record: 4-0
This Week: Bye

We don’t need to relive what happened last Saturday, but we can talk about what happened right before the game and was revealed earlier this week. Dave Brandon revealed that Notre Dame has opted to discontinue the series effective following the 2014 game. I, for one, love the yearly battle with the Irish and wish it would continue every year. Regardless of how good each team is, it serves an early season measuring stick before conference play begins and it gives us fans a game to get excited about early on. But now it appears it will be put on hold for at least six seasons. The contract was set to take a three-year break after 2017, but ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick served Brandon the divorce papers three years early.

It leaves Michigan scrambling for an opponent for 2015, 16, and 17 at a time when most schools have at least the 2015 schedules in place. MGoBlog put together a nice breakdown of potential opponents to fill those slots. Oregon is intriguing, although Michigan just played, and got beat by, the Ducks a few years ago. Auburn or Georgia would be fun since they’re SEC schools, and a Oklahoma State home and home would be fun to watch as well. None of the other possibilites do much for me. I would love to see matchups with Florida State, Clemson, LSU, or Tennessee, but as Brian points out, they’re pretty much full at this point.

To hell with Notre Dame.