The words I could use to describe this weekend’s tilt in Ann Arbor could be an essay filled with information that people might get bogged down by. You’ve been here all week, you’ve seen the coverage. Heck, you watched the games last week. So let me start by summing this up succinctly.
For Michigan, the narrative this week is not only tasking care of business against its rival up the road. It is also about staying hot after a blistering performance offensively on the road last week at Minnesota and starting the season off with a bang in a 49-24 drubbing of the Gophers. As good as the performance was, people in the building would tell you they feel they left a lot on the field and think they can do better. There are some things to shore up defensively, but the good news is that the Spartans might actually provide the opportunity to do so.
The Spartans are not good, which was to be expected under first-year head coach Mel Tucker and the ghost of a program that Mark Dantonio left behind. They turned over the ball seven times last week in a loss to Rutgers of all teams, which earned them their first Big Ten victory since the 2017. As bad as it looks on paper, it’s probably worse. Despite this, there is an explosive element to the offense with Western Michigan transfer wideout Jayden Reed and sophomore Jalen Nailor. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi did not perform well enough last week, but still earned 319 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his two interceptions and two fumbles (one lost).
Seven turnovers is an impressive level of ball security ineptitude, so one would expect that Tucker’s squad does a better job of taking care of the football this week. But could they still turn it over four or five times? It could happen, and it would still technically be an improvement.
I would expect Michigan State to load up and attempt to stop the run against the Wolverines in an attempt to make Joe Milton and the offense one-dimensional. If this winds up happening, it gives us a chance to see what Milton can do when he is forced to use his arm to win games. We know the talent is there, but it was not tested a whole bunch at Minnesota.
The rivalry does not have the juice it once did with Mark Dantonio gone from the program and MSU’s talent level in the crater, but it’s still a game for state supremacy with a trophy on the line. Michigan players have preached an “every week matters” mantra with a truncated season and having some much on the line. Given the respect for the rivalry that Harbaugh and his team have built up over the last number of years, expect them to be sharks in the water as they were in last year’s 44-10 win in Ann Arbor.
Michigan wins if _____.
Run your offense, get stops on defense and take care of the football. It really does not have to be any more complicated than that.
Michigan State wins if _____.
The passing can be as explosive against the Michigan defense as it was against Rutgers and they get their running game and turnover woes figured out. I cannot believe I even just typed that sentence.
This won’t be close. Michigan knows it can play a better football game than the one it did last week and there’s little chance they overlook the Spartans. If it’s more competitive than we expect, you can chalk that up to rivalry weirdness. They’ll be ready to play this weekend.
Michigan 41, MSU 13
Date: Oct. 31, 2020
Location: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Television: FOX (Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt, Jenny Taft on the call)
Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, FuboTV (free trial link here)
Radio: 97.1 the Ticket FM/950 AM in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, see affiliate stations here
Spread: Michigan -24.5, over/under set at 52 points (Vegas Insider)
- This will be the 113th meeting between the Wolverines and Spartans with Michigan holding a 71-36-5 record in the all-time series. For the Michigan State fans that argue most of those wins came before the modern era, the Wolverines have won 26 of the last 41 games in the series and 34 of the past 50 games since 1970.
- Michigan holds a 50-22-3 advantage all-time in games played in Ann Arbor.
- Michigan plays on Saturday for the 20th time on Halloween. They have a record of 14-4-1 in those games with the most recent being a 29-26 win at Minnesota in 2015.
- Bo Schembechler lost his first game against MSU in 1969, then ripped off 13 of the next 14 wins in the series and finished his career 17-4 against them.
- Jim Harbaugh is 3-2 against the Spartans since arriving at Michigan. Both losses came in his first three years in the “trouble with the snap” game and a 14-10 Spartan victory in a monsoon during the 2017 season. The Michigan victories came in 2016 (32-23), 2018 (21-7) and 2019 (44-10),
- The team that has rushed for more yards has won 45 of the last 50 games between these two teams.