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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Bunyan Trophy’

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.

M&GB staff predictions: Michigan State

Saturday, October 29th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan fans have been waiting for this game since last year’s game slipped through Michigan’s fingers in the cruelest of ways. The Wolverines look for redemption against their bitter in-state rival Michigan State this afternoon.

Joe won our weekly predictions fifth the fourth time in seven games last week with his prediction of Michigan 48 – Illinois 7. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan MSU
Justin 33 13
Derick 52 7
Sam 42 0
Josh 42 13
Joe 34 10
M&GB Average 41 9

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

Derick

If this isn’t the year, I don’t know when the year will come.

Michigan has a prime opportunity to crush Michigan State and end a losing streak in East Lansing that is nearing a decade since Mark Dantonio took over at MSU. The Wolverines are better at every single position except field goal kicker, and shouldn’t have any trouble rolling over their in-state rival.

The Spartan offense has a revolving door at quarterback, a terrible problem to have going into a game against the country’s best secondary. If any of the Michigan State quarterbacks is able to generate a passing game, I’ll be shocked.

On offense, Michigan State will probably force Wilton Speight to win the game. Luckily, he’s coming off his best performance at Michigan and should be able to do enough to lead Michigan to a win.

Jim Harbaugh would love to pile on in this game, and all signs point to him doing so. Yes, rivalry games can be strange, but I can’t come up with a legitimate football reason that MSU can keep this game close. I’ll go ahead and say it: I think this game will be hugely one-sided, with Michigan winning big.

Michigan 52 – Michigan State 7

Sam (1)

As each week comes and goes, I come to the same dilemma with every prediction: how in the world is Team X going to score against Michigan? Generic Team X this week just so happens to be Michigan State, a team that has dominated the Wolverines in recent years past but has fallen to unfathomable lows this season while Michigan continues to dominate competition of all types.

So again this week I must ask myself how I envision the opponent scoring. Certainly Mark Dantonio has been placing all his eggs in this week’s basket since the Spartans’ first loss many weeks ago and will have plenty of tricks to throw at the wall in the hopes that something sticks. But you’d have to have been in a coma the past two months to think that is going to make a difference this Saturday. Michigan’s defensive line should slaughter any combination of offensive linemen Michigan State can put together while the visiting offensive line should continue to pave new roadways and running lanes in East Lansing.

Four different Wolverines run for scores while Michigan records another defensive touchdown this weekend in a romp.

Michigan 42 – Illinois 0

Josh (1)

Rivalry games are always tricky things to predict, especially on the road. However, this Michigan State team isn’t exactly the team we’ve come to expect under Mark Dantonio. Rest assured the Spartans will bring their best game this weekend. Unfortunately for them so will Michigan.

Looking at the match-ups across the board it doesn’t look good for Sparty. Michigan holds the edge in every area, and by a large margin. Where that will hurt MSU the most is their offensive line versus the Michigan defensive line of destruction. Seriously, it’s not fair how good Michigan’s front is. The MSU offensive line has been pushed around and bullied by the likes of Maryland, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Michigan is better than all of those teams. Add in a (likely) freshman starting quarterback and we should expect to see the Mo Hurst belly rub — a lot.

Michigan didn’t register many tackles for loss last weekend, but I think that changes in a big way this Saturday. I tend to agree with MGoBlog’s assumption that the only way for Sparty to have any success is to just attempt deep bombs to Donnie Corley and R.J. Shelton. Unfortunately for them, Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are two of the best corners in the country and it’s highly unlikely they’ll get beat much, if at all. Remember, Michigan only surrenders 4.86 big plays per game and barely gives up more than one through the air.

When Michigan has the ball it could be a different story. Malik McDowell is still there and he’s still a monster. But injuries have taken their toll for MSU and they’re not playing with a full deck on defense. From what I’ve seen this has all the makings of a tight end coming out party for Michigan. As in multiple tight ends should have three-plus catches, and we might even see that awesome five tight end train set a few times, and not near the goal line.

Michigan is the far better team on paper but MSU will absolutely give everything they have. A win against Michigan and they’ll have essentially salvaged their season and probably get them bowl eligible down the road. A loss all but eliminates them from bowl contention. Luckily for Michigan, Jim Harbaugh prepares every game like it’s a championship game. If you think that Jim Harbaugh and his players have forgotten how that game ended last year, or how the Spartan players celebrated in The Big House you are sorely mistaken. They won’t talk about it, they will just show up and be about it, to paraphrase Tim Drevno. Michigan rolls over Sparty and brings Paul Bunyan home to his rightful place in Schembechler Hall.

Michigan 42 – Michigan State 13

Joe (5)

I’m torn on this one. I want to believe Michigan rolls over Sparty with relative ease but I know better. Dantonio will have his guys ready to go with the last chance to salvage their miserable season. Rivalry games a different animal and are always unpredictable. I still think Michigan wins this one but not as comfortably as most think.

Michigan 34 – Michigan State 10

#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

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 12th, 2015


Dantonio

The biggest week of the season to date is upon us with 7th-ranked Michigan State visiting 12th-ranked Michigan on Saturday. ESPN College GameDay will be on hand making the annual battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy and in-state bragging rights the game of the week. National pundits have begun jumping on the Michigan bandwagon after Saturday’s 38-0 pounding of Northwestern, and if the Wolverines can pull off a win over rival Michigan State they’ll certainly vault into the top 10 and be in contention for not only a Big Ten title but the College Football Playoff. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare.

Michigan State team stats & Michigan comparison
Michigan St. | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 31.3 | 29.5 55 | 67
21.3 6.3 43 | 1
Rushing Yards 1,050 1,208 781 395
Rush Avg. Per Game 175.0 | 201.3 66 | 33
130.2 | 65.8 34 | 3
Avg. Per Rush 4.4 | 4.8
3.8 | 2.2
Passing Yards 1,334 1,135 1,452 693
Pass Avg. Per Game 222.3 | 189.2 76 | 97 242.0 | 115.5 88 | 2
Total Offense 2,384 2,343 2,233 | 1,088
Total Off Avg. Per Game 397.3 | 390.5 72 | 78 372.2 | 181.3 56 | 2
Kick Return Average 20.0 | 39.0 86 1 21.5 | 18.1 71 | 24
Punt Return Average 1.0 | 8.7 124 | 60 16.1 | 7.5 119 | T58
Avg. Time of Possession 32:26 | 34:48 24 | 4
27:34 | 25:12
3rd Down Conversion Pct 50.0% | 43.0% T8 | 38
38.0% | 19.0% 68 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-26 | 8-47
T8 | T36
21-135 | 15-106
T7 | 38
Touchdowns Scored 25 22
17 | 5
Field Goals-Attempts 5-97-9
3-6 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (20-25) 80%|(19-20) 95% T89 | 12
(13-17) 76%|(5-6) 83% T29 | T67
Red Zone Touchdowns (16-25) 64%|(15-20) 75% (10-17) 59%|(4-6) 66.7%

On paper, Michigan State presents an easier matchup than Northwestern did last week, but history tells us that won’t be the case. While Michigan has owned the series rivalry, Michigan State has taken advantage of Michigan’s misfortunes the past seven years, winning six of the past seven. And until Michigan proves otherwise, the Spartans own the state on the football field.

When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh most expected him to right the ship, but figured it would take a couple of years. It was unfathomable that six weeks into the season Michigan would be the seven point favorite in a top-12 matchup with ESPN College GameDay on hand.

Michigan has looked like the best team in the Big Ten East while Michigan State has struggled with Purdue and Rutgers the past two weeks. And surprisingly, it’s the Spartan defense that has been the Achilles heel so far. Pat Narduzzi built Michigan State’s defense into one of the nation’s best the past few years, but his departure for Pittsburgh in the offseason is certainly being felt in East Lansing. Michigan State ranks just 56th nationally in total defense, 43rd in points allowed per game, 34th against the run, and 88th against the pass.

Much of Michigan’s futility against the Spartans during the past two coaching staffs has been offensively, as the Wolverines haven’t scored more than 21 points since 2007. This year, the tables have turned as Michigan has the nation’s best defense and Michigan State’s offense and defense are both average.

It’s no secret that the winner of this rivalry is the team that wins the running game nearly every time the past few decades. Michigan State’s running game averages 175 yards per game (66th nationally), while Michigan’s averages 201.3 (33rd), but the Wolverines boast the nation’s second best total defense and third best run defense.

When these two teams met last year, Michigan’s running game came in averaging 164.1 yards per game and the Spartans’ 4th-ranked run defense held it to just 61 rushing yards.

In 2013, Michigan’s running game came in averaging 183.9 yards per game and the Spartans’ top-ranked run defense held it to negative-48 rushing yards. In fact, in that 2013 matchup, Michigan State’s defense was very comparable to Michigan’s this year (top three nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense, and pass defense) and Michigan’s offense was far better than Michigan State’s this year (11 more points per game, 50 more total yards per game). And the Spartans’ defense completely shut them down, winning 29-6.

Can we expect a similar outcome — with the roles reversed — this Saturday? It’s hard to imagine, but Harbaugh has this team playing its best football in years, while Michigan State has mounting injuries, so they could be just ripe for the picking.

Overmatched: Michigan State 35 – Michigan 11

Monday, October 27th, 2014


Michigan-MSU(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan went to East Lansing as the heavy underdog Saturday afternoon hoping to pull off a big upset the way Michigan State did from time to time over the past few decades. But while the Wolverines remained close on the scoreboard into the second half, the game was far from being closely contested and Michigan fell 35-11.

Michigan won the coin toss, but that would prove to be the only thing it would win all day. Michigan State made an early statement, taking the opening possession right down the field for an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The drive was highlighted by a pair of long passes, a 24-harder from Connor Cook to Tony Lippett on the second play, and a 28-yarder to Keith Mumphery on 3rd-and-8. Two plays later, Cook scrambled for 13 yards, bowling through Michigan safety Delano Hill in the process. Hill was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Cook after the play. Jeremy Langford got the touchdown from two yards out. Message sent.

UM-MichiganState-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Michigan State
Score 11 35
Record 3-5, 1-3 7-1, 4-0
Total Yards 186 446
Net Rushing Yards 61 219
Net Passing Yards 125 227
First Downs 13 22
Turnovers 3 2
Penalties-Yards 4-27 8-88
Punts-Yards 6-254 4-150
Time of Possession 26:14 33:46
Third Down Conversions 5-of-14 6-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-8 2-13
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-1
PATs 0-for-0 5-for-5
Red Zone Scores-Chances 1-of-2 3-of-4
Full Box Score

The Michigan offense went three-and-out, but the defense held strong on State’s second possession. On the first play of Michigan’s second possession, Devin Gardner fumbled the exchange with De’Veon Smith and State recovered at the MSU 38. The Spartans strung together 12 plays, moving down to the Michigan 5-yard line before Cook was stopped in the backfield and then sacked on consecutive plays. Michael Geiger missed a 36-yard field goal.

Needing to find some offense, Doug Nussmeier dialed up an end-around to Dennis Norfleet on the first play, but he was tackled in the backfield for a four-yard loss. A false start backed Michigan up five more yards. On second down, Gardner threw a screen pass to Justice Hayes that had potential for a big gain, but MSU linebacker Ed Davis got by two Michigan linemen to stop Hayes for just a 4-yard gain. On 3rd-and-15, Gardner connected with Amara Darboh for 24 yards and a first down. But the Michigan drive stalled at the 45-yard line.

The two teams traded punts, neither offense able to get much going until Michigan got the break it needed. Jarrod Wilson forced tight end Josiah Price to fumble and Michigan recovered at Michigan State 31-yard line. But the Michigan offense was unable to gain a yard and Matt Wile booted a 48-yard field goal.

Michigan State took possession with 3:22 remaining in the first half and immediately got to midfield thanks to a 24-yard Langford run. The Spartans punched it in eight plays later to take a 14-3 lead into the locker room. It was the fifth time this season that Michigan’s defense has given up a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half and although it was only an 11-point deficit, it felt unreachable.

Michigan started the second half with possession and a chance to make a statement like State did to start the game, but after gaining one first down, Michigan was forced to punt. Michigan State punted it right back, but on 3rd-and-11, Gardner was intercepted by R.J. Williamson, who raced 29 yards for a touchdown. After another Michigan punt, Cook found Lippett along the sideline and he beat Hill for a 70-yard touchdown to break open the game at 28-3.

Michigan managed to avoid a third straight game against the Spartans without a touchdown after Frank Clark recovered a Langford fumble to give the Wolverines the ball at the MSU 33. On 3rd-and-10, Gardner connected with Funchess for 24 yards to the 9-yard line. Gardner then found Freddy Canteen for eight yards and Smith ran it in on the next play. Michigan completed the two-point on a pass from Gardner to Jake Butt.

A failed onside kick attempt gave MSU the ball at the Michigan 48. Needing only to run out the clock with a 17-point lead, Michigan State pounded the Michigan defense with Langford. In seven plays, he rushed for no gain, eight yards, three yards, 27 yards, two yards, three yards, and on 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, a five-yard touchdown.

Michigan State racked up 446 total yards compared to Michigan’s 186. The Spartans had a balanced attack with 227 yards passing and 219 rushing, while Michigan managed just 121 passing and 65 rushing. As it has done all season, Michigan State controlled time of possession, 33:46 to 26:14. Gardner completed 13-of-28 passes for 121 yards and two interceptions. Funchess had five catches for 64 yards while Darboh caught two for 41. Smith rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Langford rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries for the Spartans, while Cook went 12-of-22 for 227 yards and a touchdown.

At 3-5, Michigan returns home to face Indiana (3-4, 0-3) next Saturday. With Ohio State looming at season’s end, the Wolverines have to beat Indiana to have a chance to become bowl eligible and avoid a third losing season in seven years.

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 25th, 2014


Game Preview_Michigan State_banner

Ten years ago current Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a part of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, but wearing the other colors. He felt the sting of one of the best Michigan wins in the history of the rivalry, on the losing end of what Michigan fans affectionately refer to as ‘Braylonfest’. Now he hopes to help Michigan recapture that magic.

But Michigan will need to reverse a disturbing trend that started on the day of that epic comeback. In each of the past 10 years, Michigan has scored fewer points against Michigan State than the previous year. From 45 in 2004 to 34 to 31 to 28 to 21 to 20 to 17 to 14 to 12 to six. The first four of those resulted in wins, as did the 12 points scored two years ago. But if that trend continues Michigan will lose for the sixth time in the last seven years.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (8th season)
Coaching Record: 88-47 (70-30 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (2nd season)
Dave Warner (8th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (8th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: MSU 29 – UM 6 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 63-33-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-13-1
Current Streak: Michigan State 1
Last 10 Meetings:  Tied 5-5
Last Michigan Win: 2012 (12-10)
Last Michigan Road Win: 2007 (28-24)

Michigan State has taken advantage of the instability of Michigan’s program since Lloyd Carr retired following the 2007 season. Since then, the Spartans have been the Big Ten’s most stable program, winning two of their eight all-time conference titles and three straight bowl games, including last year’s Rose Bowl.

This season has been no different as Michigan State leads the Big Ten East division with a 6-1 record overall and 3-0 record in conference play. The only blemish was a 46-27 defeat at third-ranked Oregon in Week 2. But aside from the Ducks, Michigan State’s schedule has been pretty light thus far with non-conference wins over Jacksonville State (FCS), Eastern Michigan, and Wyoming, and conference wins over #19 Nebraska, Purdue, and Indiana.

The Nebraska win was certainly a quality one as it stands as the Cornhusker’s only defeat to date. In that game, Michigan State held a commanding 27-3 lead at the end of the third quarter before allowing Nebraska to pull within five points after three straight fourth quarter touchdowns. Nebraska actually had the ball at the Michigan State 37 in the final minute, but Tommy Armstrong Jr was picked off to end the game.

Since then, the Spartans have struggled against two of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders. Purdue scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull within seven points with six minutes remaining, and like Nebraska, had the ball in the closing minutes with a chance to tie it up. But Michigan State intercepted quarterback Austin Appleby and returned it for a touchdown to inflate the final score. Last week against an Indiana squad starting a true freshman quarterback in his very first collegiate action, Michigan State allowed the Hoosiers to hang around for the first half thanks to running back Tevin Coleman’s 132 yards on 15 carries. MSU pulled away in the second half for a comfortable win, but Indiana exposed some gaps in the Spartan defense.

So what does that all mean? For one, Michigan State isn’t as invincible as it seems. But can Michigan actually go into East Lansing and pull out a victory? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Michigan State offense: When Michigan State has the ball

The most surprising aspect of Michigan State this season has been its offense. Even MSU writers can’t believe how much progress has been made since the first half of last season when the Spartans offense looked much like Michigan’s has looked at times this season. Through the first seven games this season, Michigan State ranks third nationally in scoring (47 points per game), 12th in total offense (525.1 yards per game), 15th in rushing (260 yards per game), and 42nd in passing (265.1 yards per game). It also ranks first nationally in time of possession (36:22), first in sacks allowed (four), and 17th in third-down conversions (47 percent).

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

The main reason for the success of the MSU offense is the development of junior quarterback Connor Cook. While his completion percentage is down 2.7 percent from last season, Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency behind only Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and fourth in passing yards per game with 234.4.  He has thrown for at least 230 yards in five of seven games, and the only two he didn’t — against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming — he attempted fewer than 10 passes and backups Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry each saw extended action.

It certainly helps that Cook has a talented receiving corps to throw to, led by 6’3″, 185-pound senior Tony Lippett, who has caught 39 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s the only receiver in the Big Ten averaging over 100 yards per game (112.3) and he leads the conference in touchdown receptions and yards per catch (20.2). He has scored in every game except last week and he also had a 32-yard touchdown run against Nebraska. Sophomore tight end Josiah Price is the second-leading receiver with 15 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns, while five other receivers have over 100 yards and at least one touchdown: Junior Aaron Burbridge (158 yards and one touchdown), junior Macgarrett Kings Jr (142 and one), senior Keith Mumphery (123 and one), sophomore R.J. Shelton (102 and one), and junior A.J. Troup (100 and two).

The backfield is led by talented senior running back Jeremy Langford who ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 94.9 rushing yards per game, though he’s a far cry from the top four. But Langford has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last four games and scored three touchdowns last week. Unlike the four ahead of him, he shares the backfield, and while it’s not a complete share, his backfield mate, senior Nick Hill, has 76 carries for 465 yards and six touchdowns. Last week he recorded the first 100-yard performance of his career with 178 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Sophomore Delton Williams also plays a role as a home run threat, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and five touchdowns on just 33 carries.

The offensive line had to replace three starters from last season, but the unit has done a great job of protecting Cook. The Spartans lead the nation in sacks allowed with just four in seven games. The only lineman to start every game at the same position this season is sophomore left tackle Jack Conklin. Fifth-year senior Travis Jackson has started six games at left guard and one at center, while regular center Jack Allen has started five and should return from an ankle injury this week. Junior Donovan Clark has started every game, six at right guard and one at right tackle, and sophomore Kodi Kieler has started six at right tackle.

Michigan offense vs Michigan State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defense is how Mark Dantonio built Michigan State into a power over the past few years, and while this year’s version is good, it’s not quite at the elite level it has been recently. Pat Narduzzi’s defense ranks 34th nationally in scoring (21.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (292.7 yards per game), eighth in rush defense (100.3 yards per game), and 19th in pass defense (192.4 yards per game). Statistically, it’s very comparable to Michigan’s defense which most Michigan fans have been down on. The two areas that are considerably better than Michigan’s are third-down defense (25 percent compared to 36) and sacks (26 compared to 18).

Narduzzi had to replace seven full-time starters, but returned a solid core including junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, senior end Marcus Rush, and senior linebacker Taiwan Jones. Calhoun and Rush have combined for 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The interior of the line is new this season, but juniors Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas have held up well, but have given up some big runs up the middle the past few weeks.

Jones leads the linebacking corps with 30 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and three sacks, but junior SAM linebacker Ed Davis leads the team with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Junior Darrien Harris rounds out the group at the STAR spot with 25 tackles, 1.5 for loss, half a sack, and an interception.

The secondary is led by senior safety Kurtis Drummond, whose 33 tackles, six passes defended, and two interceptions lead the team. The strong safety, freshman Montae Nicholson, is young and prone to mistakes, while junior safety R.J. Williamson, ranks second with 30 tackles to go along with five passes defended and a pick. Junior cornerback Trae Waynes is a star and definitely one of the top corners in the Big Ten. He has 23 tackles, two for loss, one sack, six passes defended, and two interceptions. The field corner is sophomore Darian Hicks and he’s much more vulnerable than Waynes.

Special Teams: The other third

Sophomore kicker Michael Geiger is solid, having converted 7-of-11 this season with a long of 42, although he’s just 2-of-5 from 40-plus. Senior punter Mike Sadler has been around forever and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with an average of 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 31 inside the 20 while only two have gone into the end zone.

The return game is pretty lackluster, ranking 60th nationally on kicks and 89th on punts. Shelton ranks sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 22.2 yards per kick return, while Kings Jr ranks fifth with an average of 6.9 yards per punt return.

Prediction

Of course the most vulnerable Michigan State defense in several years gets to face the worse Michigan offense in several years. On Thursday, Spartan Tailgate writer Chris Vannini told us that he thinks Michigan will be able to make some big plays as teams have done on MSU this season. Apparently he hasn’t watched Michigan much as the Wolverines have struggled to make big plays against anyone other than Appalachian State.

Michigan’s defense will be one of the best Michigan State has faced this season, similar to Nebraska’s which held MSU to just 27 points, their fewest of the season. But unlike last week when Michigan was able to pressure Christian Hackenberg all day, the Spartan offensive line will protect Cook. That will allow him to pick apart the secondary just like Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Rutgers’ Gary Nova did.

Expect Michigan to hang around through the first half, but with the inability to make big plays Doug Nussmeier’s offense will have a hard time stringing together enough scoring drives. Michigan State will pull away in the second half with efficient, time consuming drives and keep the Paul Bunyan Trophy in East Lansing for the sixth time in seven years.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 13

M&GB staff predictions: Michigan State

Friday, October 24th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

Beating up on Michigan State used to be a yearly occurrence that we looked forward to, but over the past few years we have come to dread Michigan State week as Michigan’s offense continues to score fewer and fewer points against the Spartans than they did the previous year. Tomorrow, Michigan State is the heavy favorite and no one gives Michigan a chance, but there’s a reason they play the games. Can Michigan reverse the trend and roll into East Lansing with a big upset? Or will MSU win for the sixth time in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Michigan State
Justin 13 33
Sam 16 33
Derick 14 35
Josh 0 49
Joe 14 42
M&GB Average 11 38

Justin: Stay tuned for my full game preview later this afternoon, but essentially I think Michigan will stay within striking distance into the second half, but just won’t be able to make enough big plays to take advantage of a Michigan State defense that has been giving them up in droves this season.

Defensively, Michigan will stuff the run and force Connor Cook to beat them with his arm, which he will. Michigan State’s offensive line is great at protecting Cook, so his performance will be more like Gary Nova’s than Christian Hackenberg’s. Michigan State pulls away for a comfortable win.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 13

Sam: The Paul Bunyan trophy is one of the ugliest rivalry trophies out there, and came about in a very inorganic way – an attempt by Michigan’s governor at the time to try to make Michigan consider Michigan State as more of a rival than a, let’s face it, little brother – but it still belongs in Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately, the lumberjack has had to endure a longer-than-expected stay of late in the town just east of the state’s capital. And it appears that he will have to survive one more year with the younger sibling in this series.

Michigan comes into this weekend’s game with Michigan State off what I suppose you would call a win over Penn State and then a bye last Saturday, but things don’t look pretty. The majority of the fan base has been left to speculate over new head coaching candidates rather than enjoy this season and the team on the field just looks bad.

The Spartans, on the other hand, don’t appear quite as dominant defensively as last season, but still will be licking their chops at a matchup with a Wolverine offense that struggles immense to move the ball. Offensively they will look to assert their run game early and then take to the air against a shaky Michigan secondary.

I don’t anticipate the nightmare that was last year, but I still have no idea why I’m going to this game.

Michigan State 33- Michigan 16

Derick: This rivalry matchup has never looked more one-sided than it does in 2014. Michigan is coming off a tough win to break a losing streak, and the No. 8 Spartans have won five in a row.

Michigan’s trip to East Lansing didn’t go well last season as MSU waxed the Wolverines 29-6. This year Michigan has played much worse, and the Spartan offense is the third best in the country in terms of points per game.

Anything can happen in rivalry games, but Michigan is simply outmatched this weekend. Michigan State will pull away early and cruise to a 35-14 win.

Michigan State 35 – Michigan 14

Josh: Coming into the season I didn’t think Michigan had a chance to beat Sparty. After the first seven games I am convinced that this might be one of the worst beat downs in Michigan’s long history. Considering Sparty took it to Michigan 29-6 and held us to -48 rushing yards last year, and Notre Dame and Utah (of all teams) both kept Michigan out of the red zone earlier this year and I have come up with a predicted score of 732-0. Just kidding, but only slightly.

Sparty’s defense, while still impressive, isn’t quite what they’ve been the past few years. Sadly, as we all know, Michigan’s offense is beyond horrendous and now without its starting running back, Derrick Green. I don’t think MSU will hold Michigan to negative rushing yards but I don’t think we’ll hear “The Victors” much, if at all, during the game. On the other side of the ball, Sparty has somehow managed to be one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. Yes, the NATION. The silver lining here, if there is one, is that Michigan’s defense (at least on paper) hasn’t allowed many yards. However, Blake Countess is still a major fixture on the back end and it’s pretty much a guaranteed touchdown when you throw at him these days.

I don’t think Michigan has a snowball’s chance in hell to win this game. I do, however, think they ‘could’ get hyped up for this one and play well for a while. If they can eliminate turnovers then they can keep it within three touchdowns, but I don’t think that’ll happen so this one is going to get ugly.

Michigan turns it over early and often and Connor Cook has a field day throwing at Blake Countess who has gone from All-Big Ten performer to All-Big Ten…well, whatever the opposite of that is. Sparty wins big and continues their reign of dominance over Big Brother.

Michigan State 49 – Michigan 0

Joe:  No matter how disappointing this season has been and is likely to continue to be, we can usually count on big rivalry games like this one to be competitive. For a half at least. Our guys will be fired up and playing on emotion and will stick with Sparty for the first few series. Devin Funchess should get the gang going early but I think that emotion will start to fade as the green and white running game starts to roll. The Spartans are very impressive up front and will wear our defensive line down over time. Connor Cook will take advantage of this in the second half and open things up, tossing two touchdown passes and running for another. After two close games in their last three, “Little Brother” wants to post some big numbers to sway some voters. I’m not sure we can do anything to stop em from accomplishing this goal. Sparty wins going away.

Michigan State 42 – Michigan 14

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 28th, 2013


Four weeks ago, Michigan came out of a bye week and trounced Minnesota 42-13, a win that has looked better and better the past couple of weeks. This time, however, the quality of opponent has been turned up considerably and instead of a home game it’s on the road against a hated in-state rival. The Spartans look to be the best team in the Big Ten Legends Division at this point, and this game is absolutely critical for each team’s hopes of winning the division.

Last year, Michigan ended its four-game losing streak to the Spartans with a 12-10 victory in Ann Arbor on Brendan Gibbons’ last second field goal. Michigan State had taken advantage of Michigan’s struggles during the Rich Rodriguez tenure, winning by a combined total of 123-72, including a 28-14 victory in East Lansing two years ago in Brady Hoke’s first season. Prior to that, Michigan had won six straight in the series. Now, the Wolverines look to build upon last year’s victory to start a new winning streak, but it won’t be easy considering Michigan’s road woes under Hoke. Let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MSUMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 29.9 | 42.4 65 | T-8 12.2 | 26.7 3 | 63
Rushing Yards 1,5721,287 439 | 699
Rush Avg. Per Game 196.5 | 183.9 37 | 49 54.9 | 99.9 1 | 8
Avg. Per Rush 4.6 | 4.2 2.1 | 3.2
Passing Yards 1,4471,838 1,285 | 1,788
Pass Avg. Per Game 180.9262.6 106 | 42 160.6 | 255.4 3 | 97
Total Offense 3,0193,125 1,724 | 2,487
Total Off Avg. Per Game 377.4 | 446.4 87 | 45 215.5 | 355.3 1 | 27
Kick Return Average 17.4 | 23.0 118 | 42 20.7 | 21.7 52 | 72
Punt Return Average 8.9 | 7.0 50 | T-78 8.6 | 7.6 71 | 61
Avg. Time of Possession 34:3933:07 2 | 15 25:05 | 26:53
3rd Down Conversion Pct 48% | 49% 26 | 23 28% | 40% 3 | 72
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 6-40 | 12-98 T-7 | T-47 18-166 | 16-103 T-46 | T-43
Touchdowns Scored 30 | 39 12 | 21
Field Goals-Attempts 10-13 | 8-13 5-9 | 14-19
Red Zone Scores (24-29)83% | (29-34)85% 66 | T-51 (12-15)80% | (20-24)83% T-49 | T-67
Red Zone Touchdowns (16-29)55% | (15-34)74% (9-15)60% | (12-24)50%

It’s no secret to anybody who has seen Michigan State play this season that defense is what defines them. Looking at the defensive numbers and national ranks above, it’s obvious that the Spartans boast the best defense in the Big Ten and one of the tops in the country. Only one opponent – Indiana – has managed to score more than 20 points (28) and three of seven have been held to six points or less. The Hoosiers are also the only opponent to gain more than 300 yards of total offense (351), while three have been held to 172 yards or fewer. None have rushed for 100 yards. Indiana came the closest with 92.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Michigan State’s defense has been its ability to score. The Spartans lead the nation with five defensive touchdowns and three different players have scored at least one. That’s something of great concern for Michigan fans given Devin Gardner’s turnover problems through the first half of the season. But Gardner has taken better care of the ball the past couple of games, and when he does Michigan’s offense is dynamic.

Pat Narduzzi's defense ranks in the top three nationally in most defensive categories

Michigan State’s offense, on the other hand, could be described as anything but dynamic through the first few weeks of the season, but has started to show signs of improvement in recent weeks, scoring 42 points against Indiana and Illinois in two of the last three games. However, the one game in between those two, a 14-0 win over lowly Purdue, which allows 34.4 points per game, was anything but a solid offensive performance. Prior to the Michigan State-Purdue game, the Boilermakers were giving up over 42 points per game to FBS schools. They held the Spartans to less than 300 total yards and the Spartans’ offense to just seven points (the other seven were on a 45-yard fumble return by linebacker Denicos Allen).

Michigan State’s offense does most of its work on the ground, averaging 196.5 yards per game, which ranks 37th nationally and fifth in the Big Ten. Notre Dame and Iowa held the Spartans’ ground game to just 119 yards and 135 yards, respectively, on just 3.5 yards per carry. This past Saturday, MSU turned in its best rushing performance of the season against an FBS foe, gaining 269 yards on 55 carries against Illinois. But the Illini feature the Big Ten’s second worst rush defense.

The passing game has left a lot to be desired, averaging just 180.9 yards per game. That ranks 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Minnesota, and 106th nationally. The best performance of the season was a 277-yard output against Iowa, which is impressive as the Hawkeyes boast the conference’s second best pass defense. Notre Dame limited the Spartans to just 135 yards on 16-of-36 passing, while Purdue held MSU to just 112 yards through the air.

Despite the lack of a consistent passing game, Michigan State does a great job of keeping its quarterbacks upright. The Spartans offensive line has allowed just six sacks through eight games, which is best in the Big Ten and seventh nationally.

Another area that the Spartans excel in this season is turnovers. They have given the ball away just nine times through eight games, second only to Ohio State’s eight, and the defense has taken it away 15 times. Conversely, Michigan has turned it over 17 times and has also forced 15 turnovers.

On thing Michigan State does not do well is penalties. The Spartans rank last in the Big Ten, averaging 6.5 penalties and 65.1 penalty yards per game. By comparison, Michigan averages 5.1 and 40.3.

As you can see from the stats and rankings above, Michigan State does a lot of things well, most notably on defense, but despite the lack of a flashy offense the Spartans protect both the quarterback and the ball. But what hasn’t been mentioned yet is the quality of opponents Michigan State has faced thus far. The seven FBS opponents have a combined record of 21-32 and the team MSU has faced with the best record (Notre Dame, 6-2) handed the Spartans their only loss of the season. The next three weeks, beginning with Michigan, will tell us just how good this Spartan team really is.

Regardless, this is Michigan State’s Super Bowl, the game they prepare for all season, so it’s sure to be close. The outcome will likely come down to Michigan’s ability to move the ball on State’s defense without turning it over. The weather figures to be cold, windy, and possibly rainy, so a low scoring affair is in order.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the big battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy the rest of the week.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Connor Cook 118-197 1,238 12 2 47
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Jeremy Langford 141 655 9 32 4.6
Nick Hill 55 289 1 35 5.3
Delton Williams 29 210 1 42 7.2
Connor Cook (QB) 44 137 0 20 3.1
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Macgarrett Kings 26 303 3 46 37.9
Bennie Fowler 20 278 4 37 39.7
Tony Lippett 19 190 0 20 23.8
Aaron Burbridge 17 146 0 26 20.9
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Denicos Allen (LB) 22 26 48 8.0-25 3.0-16 (1 FR TD)
Max Bullough (LB) 13 34 47 6.5-17 1.0-7
Darqueze Dennard (CB) 15 18 33 2.0-4 0 (2 INT)
Shillique Calhoun (DE) 11 5 16 8.0-41 (1 INT) 4.0-24 (3 FR)
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Michael Geiger 7 6 49 17 17
Kevin Muma 6 4 30 13 12
Full Stats

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.