Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Michigan State

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 21-7 win over Michigan State on Saturday.

The D, The D, The D

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called the Wolverines’ defensive performance in the 21-7 win at Michigan State a “dream” game. The Spartans were held to 94 yards and were 0-for-12 on third down. Michigan last held a team under 100 yards two years ago when Rutgers gained 39 in a 78-0 blowout. Michigan State entered the game averaging 394.5 yards a game and 25.8 points. The seven points were the fewest by the Spartans in this rivalry since 2002 when Michigan won, 49-3. Michigan has now held seven of eight opponents this season to their season low in yardage. The Spartans had 15 rushing yards.

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It certainly worked to the defense’s advantage that the offense held the ball for 41:03. Michigan has resumed its No. 1 spot in total defense, yielding an average 222.0 yards a game, is No. 1 in pass defense (122.9 yards), is No. 7 in rush defense (97.1), and No. 7 in scoring defense (14.4). Of course it’s too soon, but the Michigan defense against which all are measured is the 1997 national championship defense. Those full-season stats looked like this — total defense, 222.8 average, rush defense (89 yards), pass (133.8), points (9.5). Too soon and plenty of football to play, but that’s the bar the current Wolverines are shooting for.

Checking the boxes

Perhaps there was some shoulder-chip role reversal at play during the past week. Heck, maybe even this whole season. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has taken it to an art form coaching his team to overcome disrespect, and yet, here were the Michigan players after the 21-7 win at Michigan State talking about how many questions they’ve had to overcome. Michigan coaches even displayed photos of MSU celebrating at Michigan Stadium a year ago throughout the football building to keep the Wolverines’ focus and attention.

“It just felt kinda like a chip on our shoulder,” cornerback Lavert Hill said. “Just motivation for us from last year when they had the trophy In front of our stands.”

The Wolverines have been saying this season they don’t care what the outside world has been saying about them. But, clearly, they are aware. Running back and co-captain Karan Higdon after the game made clear they are know what the criticisms have been.

“Every week it seems that people find reasons to critique us or talk about why we don’t deserve to be a top-ranked team,” Higdon said. “Last week (before Wisconsin) it was we don’t show up in big games, this week it’s Michigan State has the No. 1 (run) defense. Blah, blah, blah. We showed up and did our job.

"That’s all that matters.”

It had also been pointed out on more than one occasion Michigan hadn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2006 — 17 straight games. The Wolverines snapped that against MSU.

Nordin issues

As Michigan prepares for its final push in the regular season after its off day this coming Saturday, one area that will get full attention is its kicking game, specifically Quinn Nordin. Nordin has exceptional leg strength, but he has been hit or miss. He is 11-of-15 this season on field goal attempts, including 3-3 his last six. That includes a bad miss on a 36-yard attempt at Michigan State.

Nordin has good range, according to Chris Partridge who coordinates special teams, and can hit 50-yard-plus kicks. He has been perfect on three attempts inside 29 yards has one miss from 30-39, two from 40-49 and is 1-of-2 from 50-plus — he has made a 50-yarder this year. Being solid on field goals is critical late in the season, and this is the time when Nordin is going to have to step up.

Patterson delivers

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson  reacts after his team scored a second-quarter touchdown against Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing.

Shea Patterson is ranked 18th nationally in completion percentage at 67.2 percent and is No. 22 in pass efficiency. That tells part of the story. Patterson, in his first start against the Spartans, was 14-of-25 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yarder to Donovan Peoples-Jones. He also ran eight times for 24 yards. That included a critical fourth-and-two conversion early in the fourth quarter when he ran for 11 yards. That kept alive a drive capped by Ben Mason’s five-yard touchdown run for the final points of the game.

Patterson admits he is still learning and evolving in Jim Harbaugh’s offense, but this was his fourth multi-touchdown performance in eight games at Michigan. He completed passes to eight different receivers, and the 79-yard pass to Peoples-Jones was the receiver’s longest career reception and it was the longest pass of Patterson’s career (at Ole Miss or Michigan). 

“He’s a great player,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Patterson. “Love him as a competitor, love his talent. Just keeps amping. As the game goes on, he embraces all the pressure situations, just pours his heart and soul when he’s playing the game. Just the ultimate respect for him and the way he plays and who he is and how he competes. Competes like a maniac. Love it.”

Taking a break

Michigan gets a chance to rest and relax after a few days of practice this week before resuming game-week prep for Penn State, which comes to town Nov. 3. Two of the Wolverines’ final four games are against ranked teams, the Nittany Lions and Ohio State in the regular-season finale — those teams are a combined 12-3 — and sandwiched between those are games against Rutgers and Indiana. The four have a combined record of 17-14 and while Rutgers is a dismal 1-7, Indiana (4-4) should not be overlooked.

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Michigan is leading the Big Ten East and can sit back this weekend and watch Iowa play at Penn State to get a good look at what the Nittany Lions bring to the table. This is the time the Wolverines will use to get healthy.

Receiver Tarik Black was in uniform last Saturday for the first time since breaking his right foot a week before the season. These next two weeks should go a long way toward getting ready to return to game-speed.

And perhaps there will be some revelation about the status of defensive end Rashan Gary and his right AC-joint shoulder issue.


Twitter: @chengelis