Michigan football at Michigan State: Scouting report, prediction

Injury report

Michigan

Out: P Brad Robbins, DB Benjamin St-Juste, DE Luiji Vilain. Questionable: DE Rashan Gary, WR Tarik Black.

Michigan State

Out: P Jake Hartbarger, CB Tyson Smith. Doubtful: LG David Beedle, WR Cody White, CB Josiah Scott. Questionable: WR Darrell Stewart Jr., WR Cam Chambers, WR Felton Davis III, WR Brandon Sowards, WR Jalen Nailor, RB LJ Scott, RG Kevin Jarvis, CB Josh Butler, DE Dillon Alexander, DT Mufi Hill-Hunt, TE Noah Davis, LB Ed Warriner, LB Chase Kline, OL James Ohonba. Probable: FB Collin Lucas.

Scouting report

When Michigan has the ball

U-M’s trend of adding elements to what already has been a balanced approach continued last week as the Wolverines unveiled multiple zone-read concepts and showed an ability to force defenses to defend every gap in the run game. This was an impossible ask of Michigan’s front a year ago. The Wolverines have built confidence, but Saturday will be their toughest challenge offensively. MSU’s front seven is one of the steadiest in America as the Spartans are yielding just 62.3 yards rushing per game. Several teams have abandoned the run game vs. MSU, as the Spartans see just 26.7 attempts per game — third lowest nationally. Penn State had some success a week ago, but plenty of that came via individual effort by Miles Sanders. Kenny Willekes is a terrific defensive end (five sacks, nine tackles for loss) and Raequan Williams is an NFL prospect inside. Joe Bachie is an outstanding college linebacker. The secondary has had its issues, especially with Josiah Scott out. 

When Michigan State has the ball

So far, this has not been the type of growth year most believed they’d see from Brian Lewerke. The junior quarterback ranks fourth in the Big Ten in yards per game, but he has eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. The offensive line has been a mess. MSU is second-to-last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed, third-to-last in tackles for loss allowed and second-to-last in yards per carry. L.J. Scott hasn’t played since Week 2. And U-M’s defense is No. 1 nationally against the pass, and No. 2 overall and second in the Big Ten with 20 sacks and 54 tackles for loss. But MSU does have Felton Davis, and Lewerke can scramble if given room. The Wolverines had fits with jump balls to big receivers early in the loss at Notre Dame and gave up yards on the ground to the quarterback. Similar concerns exist here, even if Michigan State’s offense has struggled.

Secondary situation

Michigan State’s secondary has given up some yards this season, as the Spartans rank 13th in the Big Ten at 286 yards allowed per game. That number doesn’t tell the entire story, though, as teams have often refused to run the ball vs. MSU’s front. The Spartans have faced a league-high 42 pass attempts per game, which means yards are probably going to happen. Most important there? MSU allowed just nine touchdown passes and 6.8 yards per attempt. This isn’t an elite secondary and Michigan can absolutely find yards down the field if it has time. But it’s nowhere near as bad as the numbers would suggest.

Prediction

Michigan 17, Michigan State 14: This has been one of the toughest games to pick in recent memory. On paper, Michigan is the better football team. The game isn’t played on paper, though, and Dantonio’s record against U-M is ridiculous. I picked MSU in the summer, but things have changed. Both defenses are top notch. MSU’s offense is rough. Michigan has been building. I wouldn’t be surprised by either outcome, but I can’t pick a game based on mind games alone. Logically, Michigan should win this.

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