Early Analysis: Michigan State vs. Michigan

Devin Gardner and Michigan hope to gain an upper hand against defensively sound Michigan State. Photo: USA Today Sports

No. 21 Michigan at No. 22 Michigan State
Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC
Line: Michigan State -3.5

It’s not very often that a game between two ranked opponents that is appearing on national television can fly under the radar. That seems to be the case in this game this year, however.

In addition to the basic bragging rights that come with this game, control of the Legends Division and the inside track to the Big Ten Championship game will go the victor of this matchup. Michigan has an explosive but sometimes inconsistent offense. Michigan State has one of the top defenses in the country, but not a lot of firepower on the offensive side, although they have started to pull it together as of late.

The division won’t be clinched this weekend, but plenty is at stake as difficult stretch runs face each team. Will a victory over a blood rival be enough of a springboard to Indianapolis?

For Michigan to win: Protect the football. Possession is crucial in a game like this, and the one thing that Michigan cannot afford to do is sacrifice possession of the ball or field position. The Wolverines have turned the ball over 17 times through seven games this season, and actually have a negative turnover margin so far this season. Michigan State has forced 15 turnovers this season through eight games. An already difficult defense becomes even harder to face if you give up opportunities, which is something Michigan simply cannot do.

For Michigan State to win: Throw the ball. The Wolverines are in the bottom half of the country in pass defense at number 99 in the country. Michigan State’s passing offense, though, is worse than that, ranking 108. Something has to give, and this defense offers the perfect opportunity for the Spartans to work on their passing game in advance of the stretch run in the Big Ten. Michigan State needs to take advantage of the breakdowns in coverage that sometime plague the Wolverines. Michigan will be geared to take away the Spartan’s ground game, and so going to the air will be mandatory for the Spartans to win at home.

Key Player, Michigan: Fitzgerald Toussaint, running back. The senior has been a bit up and down with his performances this year. Two weeks ago against Indiana, Toussaint had a great game, rushing for 151 yards on 32 carries. The week prior to that, in the ghastly overtime loss to Penn State, he had 27 yards on 27 carries. Michigan State’s run defense only allows 54 yards per game and about two yards per carry. If Michigan is going to win, it will need to lean on Toussaint to force his way through the line and keep the chains moving.

Key Player, Michigan State: Connor Cook, quarterback. After taking over in the third game of the season as the starting quarterback, the sophomore has been the solid, steady presence that the Spartans need. Cook is probably more of a game manager at this point, so it will be interesting to see what might happen if called upon to do more. Michigan State leans heavily on running the ball, so expect Michigan to force the Spartans to throw and see if Cook can deliver. If he can have a big game through the air, it could be a long day for the Wolverines.

Key Stat: 57.7 percent. Michigan State has the number one defense in total yards. They have also forced their opponents to punt on 57.7 percent of the drives against them this season, which is tops in the FBS.

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About Dave Singleton

Dave Singleton has been writing about sports and other stuff on the internet for over a decade. His work has been featured at Crystal Ball Run, Rock M Nation and Southern Pigskin. Born and raised on the East Coast, Dave attended college in the Midwest. He now lives in the Las Vegas area.

Early Analysis: Michigan State vs. Michigan


Michigan State at No. 23 Michigan

Saturday, 3:30 PM Big Ten Network

Line: Michigan -9

The Paul Bunyan Trophy is one of the largest trophies in college football, standing over nine feet tall from its base to the top. The current class of Michigan seniors has never seen the trophy, as Michigan State has won the last four matchups.

Michigan comes into the game ranked and with a bit of momentum on their side, having won their last two games by the combined score of 89-13. The Spartans have struggled a bit this season and would fall to .500 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten and 0-2 in the division if they lose. A lot is on the line this Saturday in the Big House.

For Michigan State to win: Contain the running game. Which on some level is code for, "Keep Denard Robinson in the pocket." Maintain discipline on defense and don't allow Robinson to break off any long runs. But it's not just Robinson, as Fitzgerald Toussaint is due for a big day soon and Thomas Rawls is an option as well. Force Michigan to beat you with Robinson's arm, which is inconsistent at best.

For Michigan to win: Keep them off balance.The Wolverines have become a run heavy team the last two weeks, rushing the ball 105 times versus 31 pass attempts. It's worked, as the scores have indicated. But the Spartans have to be expecting the run, so the Wolverines are going to have to throw it a little bit. Play action passing might be the key to victory for the Wolverines. Robinson doesn't have to throw it 30 times to win, but a few well timed surgical strikes downfield could turn this from a close game into a laugher.

Key Player, Michigan State: Max Bullough, LB. The junior linebacker is a Michigan native, and he leads the team in total tackles with 57. The defense is going to have to step up big time and contain the run if they want to stay in the game, and the linebacking corps in particular is going to have to work hard to contain Robinson and the running backs, as well as make sure tackles to keep the short runs from turning into long runs.

Key Player, Michigan: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB. Toussaint rushed for over 120 yards in four of the last five regular season games to end the 2011 season. He has not come close to that level of production yet this season. If he can run like he ran in November last season this Saturday, it could go a long way to opening up the offense even more for the Wolverines in this bitter rivalry game.

Key Stat: Five in a row. Michigan State has never won five in a row in this all time series. This is only the second time that the Spartans have even won four in a row. The last time that happened was 1959-1962. A strong defensive effort and a big day from running back Le'Veon bell could bring Paul Bunyan back to East Lansing for a fifth year in a row. But the Wolverines are hungry to get the trophy back for the first time since Mike Hart ran the ball for Lloyd Carr. The Wolverines have momentum and the home field advantage. Tune in Saturday afternoon to see who comes out on top.

About Dave Singleton

Dave Singleton has been writing about sports and other stuff on the internet for over a decade. His work has been featured at Crystal Ball Run, Rock M Nation and Southern Pigskin. Born and raised on the East Coast, Dave attended college in the Midwest. He now lives in the Las Vegas area.