Michigan State (6-0) vs. Michigan (5-1) 3:30 pm
Notes: Michigan State is 4-1 since 2010 against Michigan with an average margin in the four wins by an average margin of 19.5 points per game. Michigan beat the Spartans 12-10 in 2012 and is coming off three consecutive shutouts victories over BYU, Maryland and Northwestern by a combined score of 97-0. The Wolverines five victories have come over opponents with a combined record of 15-14.
The Spartans will take an unblemished record into Saturday’s contest in the “Big House” and have been struggling overall to find consistency on offense. Michigan State is averaging 31.3 points per game, however, the Spartans do not look as cohesive as they were last season when the team averaged 43.0 points per game. Quarterback Connor Cook is completing 59.9% of his passes for 1,334 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Cook is a big game quarterback that steps up as the stakes get bigger and has shown poise in the pocket in directing the Spartans offensive attack. Through the first six games, the the team has averaged 175 rushing yards per game and has passed for 222 yards per game through the air. Running back LJ Scott has been the feature back rushing for 418 averaging 5.9 yards per carry with 6 touchdowns. Scott is a tough inside runner that will be counted on this weekend to loosen up the Wolverines stingy defense and help dictate the offensive tempo for the Spartans on Saturday. Teammate Madre London is the change of pace back that can hit the perimeter with speed and force Michigan to play sideline to sideline. On the season, London has 399 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns. In order to get the road victory, the Spartans will have to challenge a solid Michigan secondary and stretch them vertically. Look for wide receiver Aaron Burbridge to be targeted early on by quarterback Cook. Burbridge has a team leading 34 receptions for 560 yards with 4 touchdowns and has the speed to take the top off of the defense. Look for Michigan State to come out throwing early on to see if Michigan can shut down Cook in the passing game. Head coach Mark Dantonio has confidence in Cook’s ability and look for the senior to start fast in this game. This is the best quarterback the Michigan defense has faced this year and the offensive line has played very well in pass protection allowing 4 sacks through 6 games.
The Spartans have not been the same defense in 2015 without former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who took the head coaching duties over at Pitt. The Spartans are allowing 21.3 points per game and have allowed mediocre offenses to beat them consistently this season. The team is yielding 130 rushing yards per game (88 rush. yds. in ’14) and 242 passing yards per game (227 in ’14). Michigan State will look to shut down the run on Saturday against the Wolverines and force Michigan quarterback Jake Ruddock to beat them with his arm. The Spartans have done an excellent job in creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have recorded 21 sacks through the first 6 games. Defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun leads the team with 5 sacks while Malik McDowell is second on the team with 3 sacks. Turnovers can be the key to to the road victory and Michigan State is +8 in turnover margin in the year. However, on the road in 2015, the Spartans have created two turnovers and are even in turnover margin through the first six games.
The Wolverines have been able to dictate the tempo offensively during the team’s five game winning streak. Michigan is averaging 29.5 points per game and has relied on being able to pound the football between the tackles and work off of play action. The team is averaging 201 rushing yards per game and is passing for 189 yards per game. Quarterback Jake Ruddock has played well in the system in engineering the Wolverines to five straight victories and seems to be more and more comfortable each week under the tutelage of head coach Jim Harbaugh. On the year, Ruddock has completed 62% of his passes for 1,135 yards with 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. However, in order to get the victory over Michigan State, Ruddock must be able to make plays in the passing game. Wide receiver Amarah Darboh leads the team with 25 receptions for 280 yards with 2 touchdowns and has great hands. Darboh has good speed and will need to challenge the Spartans defender’s deep to loosen up the Spartans front seven. Tight end Jake Butt must be utilized on smaller defensive backs and linebackers to create mismatch issues for the Spartans defense. Butt has 22 receptions for 274 yards and one touchdown. If the Wolverines can have success in the intermediate to deep passing game, this can open up the running lanes for running back, De’Veon Smith, who leads the team with 390 rushing yards averaging 5 yards per carry with 4 touchdowns.
The Wolverines have been riding the strength of the 2nd overall statistical defense in FBS that is allowing 181 total yards per game along with 6.3 points per game. Michigan plays with a blue collar attitude and has been punishing teams with their physicality on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolverines are allowing 63 rushing yards per game (3rd in FBS) and 115 passing yards per game (2nd in FBS). The unit is playing with confidence that is growing each and every week. Michigan has done a solid job in being able to create pressure and has 15 sacks overall through the team’s first six games. In order for the Wolverines to get the victory on Saturday, they will need to get pressure on Cook and force him to throw underneath the coverage. Michigan loves to blitz with safety Jabril Peppers, who has the ability to create mismatch problems for the Spartans offensive line. Peppers is a “rover” like back that is physical in run support and has the speed to cover the deep third of the field in pass coverage. In big games teams need to force turnovers and the Wolverines are -1 on the season in turnover margin. That statistic will have to change on Saturday for the team to get the victory in this rivalry game.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor at www.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
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