Michigan has a potent offense, but also has a knack for turning the ball over. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
The Wolverines win if ...
Cut the offense in half
Michigan Stateís offense is not a well-oiled machine, unlike its defense, but it has found balance with sophomore Connor Cook settling in as the starter and getting help in the run game from junior Jeremy Langford. Take one of those weapons away, and the Wolverines will be in a good place. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is smarting after giving up 572 yards offense to Indiana, but even more irritating was allowing 162 yards rushing.
Go big or go home
Michigan is not going to be able to run the ball. That doesnít mean the Wolverines must abandon the run, but thatís not going to be the way this offense will be most effective. Michigan will have to use more of the spread elements they used against Indiana. But the offensive line is going to have to get some push. QB Devin Gardner will need time to work because his shots against the Michigan State defense are going to be limited. We have seen Gardnerís ability to launch the big play, and have seen how big WR Jeremy Gallon can play and what a mismatch TE Devin Funchess can be. This will be the most physical secondary Michigan has faced, but can Michigan State keep Gallon and Funchess in check?
Much was made about how the Spartans out-toughed the Wolverines two years ago when the teams last met in Spartan Stadium. LT Taylor Lewan said Michigan was ďbulliedĒ and vowed to not allow that to happen in his final game in the rivalry. The Wolverines have to match the Spartansí physical nature, particularly the offensive line. The interior is young, with a freshman starting at left guard and a backup tackle making his second start at right guard. Michigan might benefit from having two weeks off to prepare.
The Wolverines lose if ...
Devin Gardner has 10 INTs and Michigan has 17 turnovers. But the Wolverines have been on the plus-side the last few games, shaving three from their turnover margin and are now minus-2. This is not insignificant, but it also doesnít mean Michigan has cleaned up its act. Turnovers have kept mediocre teams in games and forced Michigan to climb out of deep holes. The Wolverines canít afford mistakes against the Spartans defense, which has scored five touchdowns. Not playing a clean game seems like a virtual certainty.
No ground game
Offensive coordinators preach balance from their offense, not necessarily yards split down the middle. Michigan State is the nationís No. 1 run defense (54.9 yards), just ask Illinois (25 yards, 21 carries). All eight of Michigan Stateís opponents have been held to less than 100 yards. In fact, Michigan State is the only FBS team that hasnít allowed a team to gain 100 yards rushing. This doesnít mean QB Devin Gardner canít find a way to run, but against this defense, even he will have difficulty finding critical yards.
Digging a hole
Michigan always seems to have a spark in the third quarter, outscoring opponents 94-50. But getting behind against Michigan State and needing to stage a comeback could prove Michiganís undoing. Michigan has trailed at halftime in its two road games. Michigan came back to edge Connecticut, and after building a 10-point lead against Penn State, lost in four overtimes. If Michigan wastes possessions in the first half and Michigan State is able to establish a lead, Michigan will have little success picking holes in the defense the second half.