SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

UM vs. MSU: Edge to Michigan at every position

Angelique S. Chengelis, and Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wilton Speight

Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News break down the big game: Who has the edge at each position group -- Michigan or Michigan State?

QUARTERBACK

Michigan QB Wilton Speight used the bye week to break down every throw and play from the previous six games and worked to improve his decision making. It showed against Illinois — 252 yards and two TDs. He has thrown for 1,447 yards, 13 TDs and two INTs. And with the luxury of blowouts, he watched live the second half against Rutgers and fourth quarter against Illinois. Speight is third in the Big Ten in completion percentage at 62.6 percent. It’s not easy to replace the winningest quarterback (Connor Cook) in program history, and Michigan State certainly has struggled to do just that. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor started the first five games, and aside from an impressive outing in the victory over Notre Dame, he was far from spectacular and downright bad at times. He was replaced two weeks ago by redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. Edge: Michigan

Karan Higdon

RUNNING BACKS

Michigan has gone with a four-tailback rotation, and in the last two games against weak defenses (Rutgers and Illinois), it has 481 and 270 yards. It’s unclear whether freshman Chris Evans (concussion) will play. He leads the group with 416 yards. De’Veon Smith has the most carries with 79 and 412 yards, Ty Isaac has 332 yards, and Karan Higdon has had back-to-back 100-yard games and leads with six TDs. The biggest scoring producer is FB Khalid Hill with eight TDs. Michigan State has plenty of depth, but it hasn’t had a lot of consistency. Sophomore LJ Scott started the first five games but was up and down before giving way to junior Gerald Holmes for two games. Holmes runs hard and is better in pass protection, but Scott can be a game-breaker and he started again last week while running for 128 yards and a TD. Those two will rotate and might get help from sophomore Madre London, who has 17 carries. Edge: Michigan

Wojo's Pigskin Picks: Wolverines ready to plant their stake

RECEIVERS / TIGHT ENDS

WR Amara Darboh is leading the way for the Wolverines with 499 yards and five TDs. Jehu Chesson, the team’s MVP last season, isn’t having as productive of a season in part because of the defensive attention he draws, but he is always a big-play threat. Then there are the tight ends — senior Jake Butt has 310 yards and four TDs, redshirt freshman Tyrone Wheatley scored his first TD on his first reception last week. The Spartans are thin on experience at wide receiver, but senior R.J. Shelton is having his best season with 35 catches for 541 yards and four TDs and is third in the Big Ten in average (77.3 yards). Freshman Donnie Corley has shown flashes, fifth-year senior Monty Madaris is solid, sophomore Felton Davis has battled injuries, and freshman Trishton Jackson has seen spot duty. Michigan State is strong at tight end with fifth-year seniors Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles, but again has trouble with consistency. Edge: Michigan

OFFENSIVE LINE

Michigan has had to tinker with the left side of the line in the absence of injured LT Grant Newsome, and unveiled a new look against Illinois last week with Ben Braden moving from guard to left tackle, making room for freshman Ben Bredeson at guard. The elder statesmen of the line, like Braden, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Kalis are still smarting from getting pushed around in back-to-back games at Michigan State in 2013 and 2014. Michigan State has struggled up front trying to replace three players in the NFL. Fifth-year senior T Kodi Kieler and junior C/G Brian Allen have been solid, but the rest of the line has been a work in progress. Sixth-year senior Brandon Clemons is on defense while fifth-year senior Benny McGowan is serviceable. Redshirt freshman Tyler Higby has started three straight games at left guard while freshman Thiyo Lukusa is taking time from senior Miguel Machado at right tackle. Edge: Michigan

Maurice Hurst

DEFENSIVE LINE

Michigan has the No. 1 defense in the country in large part because of the tone set by a line that boasts a 1A-1B approach to its starters and is constantly refreshing itself with a rotation of talent. Michigan has 64 tackles for loss, the majority from the line —Maurice Hurst has 6.5, Chris Wormley and Chase Winovich have 5.5 apiece, freshman Rashan Gary has 5.0 and Taco Charlton 4.5. Ryan Glasgow continues to be menacing at NG. Michigan State junior Malik McDowell is an elite talent who has moved from tackle to end, but he is being double-teamed often. Junior DE Demetrius Cooper has been a disappointment while the interior has been beaten up despite some promise from redshirt freshman Raequan Williams and freshman Mike Panasiuk at tackle. The Spartans have turned to freshmen Josh King and Auston Robertson at end to try and spark the sluggish pass rush. Edge: Michigan

Riley Bullough

LINEBACKERS

Before the season, Michigan’s linebackers were overlooked and considered to be the weak leak. Depending on how you want to label Jabrill Peppers, he is, for all intents and purpose, a hybrid linebacker and leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and six QB hurries. Ben Gedeon leads the team in tackles with 56, including nine for loss. Mike McCray, finally healthy, has 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks, an INT and a fumble recovery. It was the deepest and most talented spot coming into the season for Michigan State, but junior Jon Reschke has been out most of the season with an ankle injury and sixth-year senior Ed Davis has been slow to come back from a knee injury. Fifth-year senior MLB Riley Bullough missed three games with a shoulder injury before returning two weeks ago. Junior Chris Frey has been the most consistent performer while sophomore Andrew Dowell has had his moments. Edge: Michigan

SECONDARY

Even after missing the first three games with an injury, CB Jourdan Lewis hasn’t missed a beat for Michigan. While he was out, Channing Stribling emerged as a threat at corner and has three INTs. S Dymonte Thomas has 33 tackles and an INT, and Delano Hill has an INT. The Wolverines are No. 1 in pass defense (111.0 yards). The lack of pass rush hasn’t helped, but Michigan State’s secondary has been burned plenty — it ranks 13th in the Big Ten in pass defense. There has been plenty of shuffling as S Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox got banged up last week, as did sophomore CB Vayante Copeland. It left the Spartans with a nickel package that included two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Edge: Michigan

Detroit News predictions: Michigan vs. MSU

SPECIAL TEAMS

After three missed FGs against Wisconsin, two by Kenny Allen, Michigan didn’t have an opportunity to kick until last weekend against Illinois. Allen, who is handling all three phases of the kicking game, made both attempts. Jabrill Peppers is clearly the biggest weapon in the return game. He returned a punt for a TD and is No. 3 nationally in punt returns (17.8 yards). Very little about this unit has been special all season for Michigan State. Senior K Michael Geiger is 5-for-8 while sophomore P Jake Hartbarger is averaging 40.7 yards. Michigan State also has allowed a kickoff return for a TD, a bad snap on a punt led to a TD, and a fake FG that failed. Edge: Michigan