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Three Spartans to watch against Michigan this weekend

These guys can be disruptors on Saturday.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State is a massive underdog heading into the contest with the Michigan Wolverines this weekend. Betting lines show a discrepancy of 22 points, and that’s because the Spartans went on a four-game skid by losing to Washington, Minnesota, Maryland and Ohio State.

In their last game, the Spartans narrowly escaped at home against Wisconsin in double overtime. Coming off a bye, they have had plenty of time to prep for this contest in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines.

Despite a 3-4 record, this Spartans team is going to bring everything they’ve got when they come into the Big House. This was once a top-15 team in the country because they have some serious weapons on both sides of the ball.

Let’s take a deep dive into some of the players who can make an impact in the rivalry game.

LB Jacoby Windmon

Windmon is MSU’s best player and he patrols a defense lathered with veteran leadership. With the way he is playing right now, he may be one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. Through seven games, he has won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor three times. This includes the Spartans’ last matchup against the Badgers where he had a season-high 11 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble that helped seal the victory.

Windmon has a knack for getting the football loose. He has six forced fumbles and with how often Michigan plans on running the football, it’s definitely something to keep note of. If Michigan State is going to keep this game close, the Spartans will have to force some turnovers, and Windmon is their best bet.

WR Jayden Reed

Speaking of players who may be among the best in the Big Ten, Jim Harbaugh called Reed the best receiver Michigan will have faced this season. Reed finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2021, and he is one of the most explosive downfield threats in the conference.

Reed had a huge game against Wisconsin, as noted above, and he will need to continue that. It will be DJ Turner’s toughest test of the season, and it’s an opportunity for both guys to put together some NFL tape.

Deep bombs through the air is how Michigan State beat the Wolverines as underdogs the last time they came to Ann Arbor. Rocky Lombardi completed five passes of 30 or more yards as the Spartans left the Big House with a 27-24 win.

If Mel Tucker comes in with a similar game plan, Reed is going to be the most likely x-factor. There are very few players in the country that are as good at 50/50 balls as Reed is and if he comes down with a few of them, he could have a big day.

RB Jalen Burger

This is the Big Ten. Running the football is the identity of nearly every team and over the last few weeks, the Spartans have been terrible at it. In the last five weeks, Burger has ran for 103 yards on 34 rushes — just three yards per carry in all of Big Ten play.

In the first two weeks of the year, Burger ran for 227 rushing yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. That was against Akron and Western Michigan where he looked like he was going to be the second straight transfer running back to come in to East Lansing and outperform expectations.

My question heading into this game is which Jalen Burger do we get? The vengeful, explosive Burger who has dominated poor competition? Or the Burger who has struggled against Power 5 defenses over the past five weeks?

The thing is, it’s been more than just Burger. Jarek Broussard has just 56 yards in the same stretch. Elijah Collins is the third back, and he has only 89 yards total since getting into the rotation the past five weeks. This team is clearly not running the football the way it had last season.

Establishing the run will be vital for the Spartans this weekend. If they can do it, I suspect Burger to be at the forefront. But based on how this team has run the ball over the past couple weeks, there is some serious doubt in how they will perform against a Michigan defense that has the No. 5 rush defense in college football this year.