Date: Saturday, October 7th
Game Time: 7:30 pm ET
Venue: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Betting Line: Michigan -14
What's at stake
Coming into the season, week six of college football was something most fans in Michigan had circled on the calendar.
The reasons people are paying attention to this weekend's matchup goes beyond just rivalry now.
For Michigan State (3-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) and Mark Dantonio, this game has the chance to be a signature win of the season and give them their second conference win (only one a season ago).
For Michigan (4-0, 1-0), Harbaugh has the chance to notch a winning record against the Spartans (2-1) and find out if he has the starting quarterback for the rest of the season in John O’Korn.
With the chance to put the last memory in the Big House between the two teams behind them, Michigan is suddenly playing in a high stakes games with the Spartans many didn’t see coming into 2017.
Here are the key pointers for this Saturday nights prime time contest.
Can LJ Scott get it going?
Michigan State was able to defeat Iowa last week 17-10 by scoring no points in the second half and allowing their defense to finish the game.
Normally when the game is at hand, you let your running back control the game, especially if its a veteran.
Scott, a junior, couldn’t do that last week. In fact, he couldn’t get the rushing game going the entire day.
He had 14 rushing attempts for 28 yards (2 yards per carry). Brian Lewerke, the quarterback, had 42 yards on 12 carries.
A season ago Scott came out and went right down the throat of the Michigan defense and helped them score on the opening drive of the game.
Michigan’s defense is No. 1 in total defense on the season (203.3 YPG) and is very fast from sideline-to-sideline.
MSU will need to establish some kind of ground game to put up points vs Michigan who does allow the occasional big play. To get that opening for a big play and passing game, it starts with Scott and the ground attack.
Can Michigan protect the ball and start strong?
If there is one thing in rivalry games that can keep the underdog in it, it would have to be momentum swings.
Turnovers and starting slow would be two of the biggest advocates in that category.
It goes without question to say that Michigan Stadium will be sold out and rocking as kick-off approaches. However, giving MSU any sniff of a chance can make 110,000 plus people quiet in a hurry.
Michigan has only allowed six total touchdowns through four games this season, two of them coming off the arm of Wilton Speight.
Speight may not be playing due to injury, but if O’Korn makes those mistakes it will not only kill his confidence but give the entire Spartan sideline a jolt of it.
O’Korn was 5-for-5 with a touchdown pass on his first drive against Purdue, getting him fired up and into the game. That is exactly what Michigan needs if they want to win this game with ease.
Otherwise Dantonio will have his team ready and anxious to make those kind of game-changing plays and you can bet they will capitalize if they get them.
Michigan’s O-Line vs the Spartan-D
Two things are for sure: A gigantic reason for the Spartans having three wins is their defense and Michigan’s offensive line has created more questions than answers.
MSU’s defense has only allowed 993 yards through four games this season (248.3 YPG). Michigan’s offense is 110th in sacks allowed and 119th in tackles for loss per game in the country.
While Chris Evans and company did start to form more of a rushing game against Purdue, the Spartans are 11th in the country against the rush.
It doesn’t get any easier for the passing game where MSU ranks sixth in the nation, making it hard for O’Korn in company.
In order for O’Korn and the Wolverines’ running backs to find success, it starts with the big men up front. They will need to give Michigan time and running lanes or the Spartans will do what they’ve done all season.
What will happen
Michigan State has truly shown they aren’t the same team as they were a season ago with their win over Iowa who nearly topped Penn State.
However, losing the way they did at home against Notre Dame doesn’t show much promise in them taking down the Wolverines who are 3-0 in night games in Ann Arbor.
The Spartans will keep this game close until the fourth quarter and beat the spread, but this time Michigan won’t hand them a win at the end of the game and instead will finish it off with a touchdown of their own.
Final Score: Michigan 24 MSU 14