Michigan-Michigan State: Five Predictions for Saturday's Game
Perhaps no fanbase has been more excited by Michigan's lapse into mediocrity over the past few years than Michigan State.
With articles on Bleacher Report like "The Top 10 Reasons to Hate the University of Michigan," it's clear that the Michigan State team and fanbase are hyped for this Saturday's showdown in the Big Ten.
Long looked down upon by Michigan's football program (their two main rivals are Ohio State and Notre Dame), Michigan State has a chance to beat Michigan for the third straight season.
This game is about more than bragging rights, however. Coming off an emotional win against Wisconsin, Michigan State looks primed to make a run at the Big Ten title.
Adding to Sparty's excitement will be the return of coach Mark Dantonio, who is expected to be in the Big House, though he is still recovering from a heart attack and blood clot.
For Michigan, a victory at home would signify a return to national prominence and move the heater a little further away from Rich Rod's seat. Michigan was in a similar position last year, only to have their hopes dashed by Michigan State en route to a disappointing 5-7 season.
Another big game by Denard Robinson may also solidify his status as a Heisman candidate. Though his numbers are staggering, they have come against relatively weak competition. A big game against State and Denard will be a bona fide superstar and Heisman contender.
Let's go ahead and take a look at five predictions for this game.
Quarterbacks Running (and Throwing) Wild
Everyone in the country now knows what Denard Robinson is capable of doing. In the first five starts of the season, Robinson has put up historic numbers. He is the nation's leading rusher, putting up over 900 yards and a staggering 9.2 YPC.
Robinson, however, is not one-dimensional. In addition to his rushing numbers, Robinson has also thrown for over 1,000 yards and is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes.
Expect this trend to continue against the Spartans. Though Michigan State boasts the best defense that Robinson has faced thus far this year, he will still put up large numbers. Michigan's spread offense opens running and throwing lanes for the sophomore. Expect coach Rich Rodriguez to lean heavily on his superstar throughout the game.
For Michigan State, Kirk Cousins will also have a field day against a weak Michigan secondary. Last week, Michigan gave up 480 yards in the air to Indiana's Ben Chappell. Though the Michigan State offense doesn't rely on the pass the way Indiana's does, expect Cousins to go over his 226 yard/game average.
Michigan Defense: Bend and Break
While Michigan's offense has been making headlines, the Michigan defense has been porous. The Wolverines defense is giving up over 430 yards/game and yielded 37 points to FCS opponent UMass and 35 to Indiana.
Though the Wolverines are particularly poor against opposing quarterbacks, their run-stopping ability also leaves much to be desired. They can't afford to bring up safeties into the box to run-stop because their corners will likely get burned on the outside.
Expect both Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell to have big days on the ground.
Tate Forcier Will See the Field
I wrote two weeks ago that Denard Robinson would struggle to stay healthy throughout the season. Though he hasn't missed any games, he sustained a few minor injuries against UMass and Indiana.
Even with the likely return of RB Michael Shaw, Robinson will once again carry the offensive load and take hits from a defense that is considerably more physical than either Indiana or UMass. Backup QB Tate Forcier will likely get a few snaps against Michigan State.
The Kicking Game Will Be a Factor
Seemingly every season the Michigan Wolverines have a horrendous kicker. This season is no exception. The kickers are a combined 1-of-5 on field goals and have yet to hit from 30 yards or more.
If Michigan is unable to sustain drives in the final third of the field, they will have to hope for a miracle to get points. These kickers are unreliable, so expect Rich Rod to be aggressive on fourth down. This inability to put points on the board with field goals will hurt Michigan.
Michigan State is fortunate enough to have Dan Conroy on their sideline. The sophomore kicker is 7-of-7 this season, all outside of 30 yards, and has even connected from 50 yards. If the Michigan defense manages to keep Sparty out of the end zone, Michigan State can still put points on the board.
Expect a Barn Burner
While Michigan State's defense will be the most accomplished unit that Michigan has faced, I still expect Michigan to put up points at home. Robinson will likely pass the ball more this week and lean on his running back corps, especially if Michael Shaw is at 100 percent.
Michigan State may be able to contain the Michigan offense on several drives and dominate the time of possession battle, but Michigan's offense is explosive and only needs the ball for a few minutes to put up big numbers.
I've already devoted a good portion of this article to tarnishing the Michigan defense, so I will reiterate, Michigan State is going to have success against Michigan. Michigan will give up big numbers, both on the ground and in the air, and the Spartans will put up a lot of points. This should be a high-scoring affair.
Though these teams are certainly rivals, Michigan State's hatred for Michigan far outstrips Michigan's hatred for the Spartans.
Expect Dantonio's team to be fired up, hoping to once again assert that they are a legitimate contender in the Big Ten, a week after an emotional win against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Defenses on both sides will struggle—Michigan because their defense is awful and the Spartans are consistent if not explosive, and Michigan State because Denard Robinson is the most difficult player in the country to contain. Whichever team's defense steps up and makes plays will win this game.
Michigan's defense has not yet demonstrated an ability to generate important turnovers or make big stops. Michigan State will make just enough plays defensively to win this ball game, despite another big day from Robinson.
Prediction: 38-28—Michigan State tops the Wolverines for a third straight year.