Rivalry week is here, and the undefeated No. 4 Michigan Wolverines are set to take on the 3-4 Michigan State Spartans tonight at the Big House. As has been the case for every one of their games this season, the Wolverines are the favorite, and the spread is more than three touchdowns over their in-state rival.
While this is not the same Michigan State that handed Michigan its only loss of the regular season in 2021, the Spartans should not be taken for granted. Rivalry games have a tendency to stay fairly close, no matter how good said rivals are coming into the matchup.
Here are some keys to victory for the Wolverines.
Run the damn ball
In rivalry games, and tight games in general, it’s important to stick to your strengths. With the Wolverines, their biggest strength is their run game.
Blake Corum is one of the best backs in the country with 901 rushing yards (seventh-most in the country) and 13 rushing touchdowns (tied for the most). It’s helped that he’s been able to run behind an offensive line featured on the Joe Moore midseason watch list.
Stopping the run is far from a strength for the Spartans, who have allowed 153.3 rushing yards per game this season, a mark that ranks 79th in the country. This needs to be a game where the Wolverines dominate time of possession, and the best way to do that is to keep picking up first downs. Corum may very well be the best player in this game, and he certainly needs to perform accordingly to secure a Michigan victory.
Limit Jayden Reed
As our Dan Plocher covered earlier this week, Jayden Reed is one of the most explosive wideouts in the Big Ten and should take a large portion of Michigan’s scouting report.
As Michigan fans are so painfully aware, in last year’s loss, Kenneth Walker III rushed for 197 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterback Payton Thorne threw for one less yard than that, but a few key deep passes were a huge reason why the Spartans won.
Michigan needs to limit Reed in this one — either have DJ Turner shadow him or have Gemon Green cover him with some help from safeties Rod Moore and R.J. Moten.
Reed is one of the most potent weapons for the Spartans and if he has a quiet ball game, the Wolverine defense would have succeeded.
Star players need to show out
In order to secure a victory in a rivalry, you need a complete team performance, and that includes relying on your stars to dominate. To keep the Spartans from making this game scary a few days ahead of Halloween, the star players for the Wolverines on both sides of the ball need to show out.
We already covered Corum, but some clutch catches from Roman Wilson and Ronnie Bell will make J.J. McCarthy breathe a little easier.
On the broadcast, we’ve heard all about the athletes in Michigan’s pass rush, with seniors Mazi Smith and Mike Morris headlining the unit. Those two need to dominate the point of attack and make life hell for Michigan State’s offensive line.
Michigan has much more talent in this matchup and if that talent shows up, fans may be able to confidently turn off the game early and head to their spooky festivities.