Control of the Big Ten Legends Division is on the line as the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) are set to host the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines (6-1, 2-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 PM ET and will be televised on ABC.
With many matchups to watch in this game, isportsweb has put together a point-by-point match up breakdown of the game with Lucas Rains bringing up the points for the Michigan side and Ryan Squanda bringing up the points for the Michigan State side.
Without further ado, let’s get into the breakdown of matchups in Michigan vs. Michigan State 2013.
Michigan Passing Offense:
The Michigan offense as a whole has struggled with consistency all year long. Following a game where it set multiple offensive records, as well as last week’s bye week, they could be better prepared for Michigan State on Saturday. The Wolverines rely on Devin Gardner for much of its offensive production, as he leads the Big Ten in total yards with 2,299 yards (1,779 passing).
While Gardner has looked good at times, the turnover bug is cause for major concern for Michigan. With the aggressiveness of the Michigan State defense, the way Gardner handles it could make or break the chances for the Wolverines. Michigan does have two things going for it when passing the ball: Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess.
Gallon, fresh off an easy 369-yard performance against Indiana is second in the Big Ten in receiving and could pose some problems for the MSU secondary that likes to press receivers. Funchess started the season at tight end, but has since been split out wide more, creating all kinds of matchup problems.
While Michigan has the weapons to throw the ball effectively, it begins and ends with the guys up front. The offensive line has not been great at blocking the run or protecting on the pass, so they will be a big key in the passing attack.
Michigan State Passing Defense:
Thus far on the season, the Michigan State passing defense has been stout. Game in, game out, they have came to play and with the exception of some questionable calls at Notre Dame in the fourth week of the season, the “No Fly Zone” has been in full effect nearly every play between MSU corners Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes.
However, while the Spartan passing defense does rank 3rd in the country, having given up just 160.6 yards per game, they certainly have yet to face a passing attack the caliber of Michigan, one in which quarterback Devin Gardner threw for over 500 yards two weeks ago, 369 of those yards belonging to wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.
On the other hand though, it wouldn’t be a lie to say that Gardner has faced a defense the caliber of Michigan State. Gardner has been very turnover prone this season, having tossed ten picks in the first seven games of the season. Now he’s about to face one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation, one that has 15 takeaways thus far and has taken five of those takeaways back to the house.
At Michigan State’s Tuesday morning football press conference, Dennard did bring up the point that this MSU football defense should have the opportunity to make some plays. How Gardner plays against this elite MSU defense will play a major role in the ultimate outcome of the game.
Michigan Rushing Offense:
Brady Hoke and Co. have tried multiple lineup changes on the line, with little to no consistency so far.
Freshman Kyle Bosch will start at left guard, as the line will face its biggest challenge of the season as they match up against the nation’s top-ranked defense. MSU’s defense allows just 55 yards per game on the ground this season.
Fitzgerald Toussaint has controlled the bulk of the carries for Michigan, running for 575 yards on 155 carries. If they hope to have any success running the ball, Michigan needs to spread the field and run from the shotgun. I really think MSU will force Michigan to throw the ball and hope for a couple Gardner interceptions. If Michigan is somehow able to run the ball well, it could be a good day for the Wolverines.
Michigan State Rushing Defense:
This is a category that looks to swing heavily in Michigan State’s favor. Through the first eight games of the season, Michigan State has given up just 439 yards on the ground (54.9 ypg). That’s good enough to place them first place in the nation…by a long shot. With Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint having somewhat of an up and down season thus far on the year, look for this week to be a down week as he goes up against the likes of Shilique Calhoun, Max Bullough and the rest of this Michigan State front seven.
Nevertheless, Gardner does bring another dimension to this game with his feet. We have seen in the past where Michigan State has struggled against some scrambling quarterbacks like they did against both Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. At the end of the day, if Michigan State can contain Gardner, they should be able to pretty much bottle up Michigan’s running game.
Michigan Passing Defense:
The Wolverines have quietly been steady (save for the Indiana game) on defense. While they are the 27th ranked defense in the nation, allowing 355.3 yards per game, its passing defense has been the Achilles heel. Michigan allows 255.4 yards per game through the air against the young defensive backs. Blake Countess has been the most consistent performer, as he has four interceptions. Youngsters Raymon Taylor, Jarrod Wilson and Jourdan Lewis have also played well at times.
The Michigan pass rush will look to pressure Spartans’ QB Connor Cook and force some bad decisions, which is something that the Wolverines have struggled with all year. Jake Ryan is expected to start, which gives them a much-needed boost in that department. Frank Clark is another guy who can generate a pass rush. I think the defense has the potential to shut down Cook and the Michigan State offense, one that only gains 180.9 yards per game (good for 106th in the nation) through the air.
Michigan State Passing Offense:
This is where much of the key to the game lays. What version of Connor Cook will we see out there come Saturday? Will we see the version who lit it up against Iowa, Indiana, or Illinois? (Maybe he only comes to play when the opponents start with an I)…Or will we see the version who failed to move the offense all afternoon long in games like Notre Dame and Purdue? While Cook has made some significant strides in the last month or so of being a Big Ten starting quarterback, it remains to be see if he can come to play on a consistent basis.
As for the guys on the receiving end of the ball, several MSU football receivers have stepped up this season and made some plays. Sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr. and senior Bennie Fowler have led a much improved receiving core this year over one that dropped numerous passes last year.
With the opportunity to make some plays this weekend against a mediocre Michigan passing defense, if Cook is able to establish a solid connection with his receivers early, things could pan out very well for the Spartans.
Michigan Rushing Defense:
This is where Michigan has thrived on defense, allowing only 99.9 yards per game, which is 9th in the country. James Ross III and Desmond Morgan have been very good at linebacker, with 50 and 47 tackles to lead the team. Michigan tends to struggle against teams with mobile quarterbacks, such as against Minnesota this year. Cook isn’t exactly a dual-threat quarterback, but he has the ability to run a little. The Wolverines will shift most of its focus on Jeremy Langford, who has run the ball extremely well in recent weeks. With Michigan State’s struggles on offense, Michigan needs to control the line of scrimmage and force Cook to throw the ball. The Spartans run for nearly 200 yards per game, and I think if they do that against Michigan, they come out on top. I see Michigan being able to limit the Spartans’ rushing attack pretty well, forcing Michigan State out of its comfort zone.
Michigan State Rushing Offense:
This is probably the biggest push and match up of the game: The Michigan State offensive line vs. the Michigan defensive line. Thus far on the season, the Michigan State offensive line has had a terrific push, blocking well for both the quarterback and giving the Michigan State tailbacks holes to run through.
At this point in the season, MSU junior running back Jeremy Langford has morphed into a very capable and patient running back for the Spartans, having topped 100 yards in each of the last three games. In addition, true freshman running back Delton Williams has also emerged as of late, breaking into the Michigan State rotation, averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
However, this weekend, these Michigan State tailbacks will be going up against a very good Michigan front seven, one that gives up just under 100 yards a game.
In a rivalry that has been defined by the team that wins the running game also wins the game, Langford’s ability to find the holes will play a major role in the outcome of this game.
Michigan Special Teams:
It has been really good, and it has been really, really bad. I see Brendan Gibbons playing a major role in this game. Last year’s contest featured 4 field goals from Gibbons in a 12-10 win. This game could very well come down to field goals again, as it is bound to be a defensive battle. Matt Wile has improved a lot punting the ball over the last few weeks. The field position game will be huge against Michigan State, so Michigan will rely on Wile if and when they are forced to punt. As far as returns go, Michigan could be at a disadvantage as Drew Dileo remains questionable to play on Saturday. Dileo has served as the punt returner due to the struggles of Dennis Norfleet. However, Norfleet is still explosive and will return kickoffs. I’m predicting a low-scoring affair, so it could come down to a last minute field goal from Gibbons again this year.
Michigan State Special Teams:
For Michigan State, their special teams superstar has to be Mike Sadler.
The junior punter has been absolutely clutch with his punts this season, time and time again pinning Michigan State’s opponents inside the 20, including a monstrous 69 yard boot a few weeks ago against Indiana, not to mention a 25 yard scramble off a fake punt to pick up a first down against Iowa a few weeks ago.
As for the kicking game, freshman Michael Geiger has been spot on after taking over the starting role in week three over Kevin Muma, connecting on 6 of 7 of his field goal attempts after Kevin Muma had a suspect beginning to the season.
All things considered, I think this is very evenly-matched game. I don’t see any huge advantages that one team has over the other, except for the fact that the game will be in East Lansing. If Michigan can avoid turnovers and put it in the end zone a couple times against a stout Spartan defense, I think they come out on top. However, that is no easy feat as Michigan State has limited opponents all year long. I think the game will come down to which quarterback plays better. With that in mind, I like Devin Gardner over Connor Cook in this one, as Michigan wins at Spartan Stadium for the first time since 2007. Late in the game, Gardner will find Gallon to go ahead for good. The Michigan defense will force a late interception, sealing the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the second straight year. Michigan wins 24-17.
Just like Lucas said, this game looks like it could be a very close one. At the beginning of the season it appeared Michigan was a lot better than they are now and that it would be lofty to expect Michigan State to be in the position they are in now.
Now that the game has finally descended upon us, the two major keys to the game appear to be the play of the quarterbacks as well as the push of MSU’s offensive line vs. the Michigan defensive line.
However, with Michigan States’s dominating defense, I predict it will be just too much for Michigan to handle while Connor Cook and this pedestrian Michigan State offensive attack does just enough to get by.
Michigan State wins 24-20.
Follow Ryan Squanda on Twitter @squandaryan
Follow Lucas Rains on Twitter @lucasrains