Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo preview the Michigan vs. Michigan State rivalry with Chris Howard and Nick Hill. The Detroit News
Matt Charboneau and Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News break down Saturday's Michigan vs. Michigan State game (noon, Fox, 760, 950).
MSU pass offense vs. UM pass defense
Michigan is fifth nationally and third in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing an average 153.6 yards. Five opponents have been held to 135 passing yards or fewer, including Notre Dame, which had 133 passing yards. Michigan has allowed eight passing touchdowns and six interceptions – two each by safety Josh Metellus and cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Lavert Hill – and also has broken up 39 passes.
The Spartans’ passing attack has been inconsistent at times but overall has been the most effective aspect of the offense. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is only completing 55.7 percent of his passes but is fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 223.6 passing yards a game. Michigan State will be without leading receiver Darrell Stewart but junior Cody White went over the 100-yard mark in last week’s game while freshman Tre Mosley scored his first touchdown in his first career start. The loss of tight end Matt Dotson to a torn Achilles last week is significant.
► Edge: Michigan
MSU rush offense vs. UM rush defense
Since giving up 359 yards in the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin, the Wolverines’ run defense has given teams fits the last six games. Iowa had 1 yard rushing, while Maryland had 129, the most Michigan has given up in that stretch. Michigan had allowed 70 rushing yards or fewer five times, tied for second among Power Five teams, and is giving up 2.86 yards per carry, the lowest yards per rush since 2006.
The Spartans have struggled to consistently run the ball behind an offensive line that has been shuffling all season because of injuries. MSU started two true freshmen up front last week and gained a season-high 275 yards on the ground vs. Illinois. However, at 130.9 yards a game, the Spartans’ ground attack still ranks 13th in the Big Ten. Redshirt freshman Elijah Collins leads Michigan State with 715 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
► Edge: Michigan
UM pass offense vs. MSU pass defense
For Michigan it all starts with quarterback Shea Patterson, who is finally healthy and becoming more of a playmaker. The Wolverines have four receivers with 20 or more catches and another with 19. Eight players have accounted for 14 receiving touchdowns, including three apiece for Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Ronnie Bell leads the receivers with 471 yards on 28 catches but Collins, a big-play threat, is second with 439 yards on 22 catches (20 yards per catch). Michigan also utilizes tight ends Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon and each has two touchdowns.
Michigan State has been a victim of the big play throughout its four-game skid, an issue that won’t get any better if junior cornerback Josiah Scott is limited. He left the Illinois game in the third quarter and did not return but is listed as the starter this week. That means sophomore Shakur Brown, who had an interception last week, and senior Josh Butler, whose pass interference call in the final seconds was critical, will be counted on to pick up the slack. The Spartans also haven’t consistently put pressure on the quarterback, recording 25 sacks through nine games.
► Edge: Michigan
UM rush offense vs. MSU rush defense
Michigan run game has come along in recent weeks and features the one-two punch of Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet, and Tru Wilson adds another wrinkle. The Wolverines have averaged 223.5 yards the last four games and had 303 in the lopsided win over Notre Dame and 295 at Illinois. The backs have accounted for 16 of the team's 23 rushing touchdowns, including 11 by Charbonnet.
Aside from the Wisconsin and Ohio State games, Michigan State has remained one of the better rush defenses in the nation. Despite giving up 323 yards to the Buckeyes and 222 to Wisconsin, the Spartans still rank 16th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 108.1 yards a game. Even without suspended middle linebacker Joe Bachie, the Spartans held Illinois last week to 36 yards rushing.
► Edge: Michigan State
The Wolverines continue to use a two-kicker approach with Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin and they are a combined 7-of-13 on field-goal attempts. The kickers have two misses from 58 yards and one from 55. Meanwhile, punter Will Hart is averaging 46.1 yards per punt and ranks first in the Big Ten and ninth in the NCAA. Michigan has successfully executed two fake punts this season.
Michigan State’s kicking game has been a problem all season as junior Matt Coghlin opened the season making his first seven field goals but has gone 6-for-13 since. Senior punter Jake Hartbarger is fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 43.4 yards a kick, while the return game has yet to identify a game-breaker in either kickoff or punt returns.
► Edge: Even
Michigan has turned up its rushing attack at the right time. In the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, the team that rushes for the most yards has won 44 of the last 49 games.
Michigan State has lost four straight but understands a win would not only soften the blow of a disappointing season but move the Spartans closer to bowl eligibility and likely improve their bowl game, with Maryland and Rutgers to close the season.
► Edge: Even
Michigan players to watch
Shea Patterson, QB: This will be the final Michigan-Michigan State game for the Michigan starting quarterback, and he’d like to go 2-0 against the in-state rival. Patterson is fully healthy and that means he has given the offense the added dimension his ability to run provides. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 1,773 yards, and has run for five touchdowns. Rivalry games make memories for players and after walloping Notre Dame a few weeks ago, Patterson said that’s one game he will never forget. He also said this week that his 79-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in last season’s 21-7 victory at MSU will also stick with him among his best college football memories.
Zach Charbonnet, RB: He already has a Michigan record with 11 rushing touchdowns as a freshman, and if the last few games are any indication, the Wolverines will be going to the run quite a bit against MSU. That means lots of Charbonnet and his cohort in the backfield, Hassan Haskins. Charbonnet has rushed for 559 yards on 117 carries and is second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in rushing touchdowns. Charbonnet is steady and consistent, and the emergence of Haskins has given a significant boost to the Wolverines’ run game.
Aidan Hutchinson, DE: He’s only a sophomore, but Hutchinson, making his first start at defensive end in an MSU game, has become one of the fiercest emotional leaders of this defense. He is exactly what the Wolverines need in a rivalry game like this, particularly considering he grew up in the area and perhaps understands the rivalry better than most. He has 42 tackles this season, including 7.5 for loss, three sacks and five pass breakups. He’s had a pass breakup in each of the last three games, Penn State, Notre Dame and Maryland.
Michigan State players to watch
Elijah Collins, RB: The redshirt freshman came out firing early in the season, gaining 192 yards in his first start against Western Michigan in Week 2. From there, yardage has been tough to come by as the Spartans’ offensive line has dealt with its share of injuries. Still, Collins has been effective, finding seams where they sometimes don’t appear to exist. Behind a revamped starting lineup last week against Illinois, Collins ran for 170 yards and a touchdown as MSU gained a season-high 275 yards on the ground.
Cody White, WR: Like most offensive players, it’s been a tough year in terms of consistency for the junior. But with senior Darrell Stewart out for potentially the rest of the season, White becomes one of quarterback Brian Lewerke’s primary targets. His seven receptions for 128 yards last week against Illinois were both season highs as Michigan State was rolling early in the game. To get a full 60 minutes, there’s little doubt Lewerke and the Spartans will need to lean heavily on White.
Antjuan Simmons, LB: Playing in the middle was hardly what the junior expected this season, but after senior Joe Bachie was suspended ahead of the Illinois game, Simmons was shifted from the outside into the most important spot on the defense. It’s a big step for the Ann Arbor native, but one he is relishing. He’ll continue to move around in different defensive packages, but the Spartans are relying on Simmons to run the defense. It worked well in one aspect last week as MSU limited Illinois to just 36 yards rushing, but cutting down on the big plays in the passing game will be critical.
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