Preview: Michigan at Michigan State

Preview: Michigan at Michigan State

October 29, 2021
Sep 3, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs with the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats during the fourth quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan is now #5 in rushing offense (253 yards/game) and #14 in rushing average (5.46 yards/carry). They’re also #3 in the country with 25 rushing touchdowns. Both of Michigan’s running backs are on pace to gain 1,000+ yards during the regular season, which would be the first time two players top that mark since 2011 (Denard Robinson, Fitzgerald Toussaint). That won’t be easy to achieve considering the tough opponents down the stretch, but it’s still impressive to be on that pace after seven games. Up front the success may depend on the health of the offensive line, where left guard Trevor Keegan and right guard Zak Zinter both missed last week’s game due to injury. Michigan State is #29 in rushing defense (119 yards allowed/game) and #22 in yards allowed per carry (3.27). The top two leading tacklers are senior safety Xavier Henderson (6’1″, 210) and sophomore safety Angelo Grose (5’10”, 180), followed by junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch (6’2″, 230), a Tennessee transfer that Michigan pursued heavily in the 2019 class; they have 60, 53, and 52 stops, respectively. Henderson leads the team in non-quarterback takedowns behind the line with 5 so far this season. Redshirt junior Jacob Slade (6’4″, 315) doesn’t make many plays but he stops things up well, and redshirt freshman Simeon Barrow (6’2″, 285) is more of the penetrator. It’s not going to be easy sledding, but I expect Michigan to have some success running the ball.
Advantage: Michigan

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Michigan is #104 in passing offense (190 yards/game) and #55 in passer rating. Having thrown just 7 total touchdowns, Michigan’s quarterbacks slot in at #105 nationally. Starter Cade McNamara is completing 63% of his throws for 7.6 yards per attempt, with 5 touchdowns and just 1 pick. On the receiving end, Michigan’s leader in receptions is running back Blake Corum with 18 catches, and he’s averaging just 6.94 yards per reception. That’s fine because he’s mostly being used on checkdowns, but the problem is that Michigan has some good receivers and can’t figure out how to get them the ball more. Cornelius Johnson averages a respectable 18.4 yards per catch, but tight end Erick All is #3 in catches and averages just 9.8 yards per catch. (By contrast, MSU’s top three wide receivers have 27, 27, and 21 receptions.) The Wolverines have allowed just 3 sacks this season. Meanwhile, Michigan State averages 3.71 sacks per game, so something will have to give. Seven different players have at least 2 sacks, led by defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (6’3″, 246) with 5.5. The Spartans are #121 in pass defense (285 yards allowed/game) but are #27 in passer rating defense; the wide span in those numbers is largely due to playing some pass-happy, up-tempo teams early in the schedule. They’re tied for #58 in interceptions (6), with six different players registering one each. Grose leads the team in pass breakups with 6, and the top corner is senior cornerback Ronald Williams (6’2″, 185), a transfer from Alabama.
Advantage: Michigan State

Michigan is #25 in rushing defense (117 yards allowed/game) and #35 in yards allowed per carry (3.56). The Wolverines have done a good job of tamping down big plays in the run game, except for the 75-yard error against Northwestern last week. Michigan’s defensive tackles have improved significantly this year, and middle linebacker Josh Ross leads the team in tackles with 44. That crew has stopped the run well, and Michigan’s safeties – Brad Hawkins, Dax Hill, R.J. Moten – are solid tacklers who don’t mind coming up to get involved. On the opposite side, the Spartans have one of the top backs in the country in junior Kenneth Walker (5’10”, 210), a Wake Forest transfer, who has 997 yards and 9 touchdowns through seven games at a 6.56 yards per carry clip. He has two games with 230+ rushing yards, and he has three games where he was held below 85 yards. His offensive line is a solid group, with fifth year senior right guard Kevin Jarvis (6’6″, 325) perhaps the top player in the squad. Backup Jordon Simmons (5’11”, 195) has just 37 carries for 183 yards and 0 scores this season.
Advantage: Michigan State

Michigan is #20 in pass defense (182 yards allowed/game) and #22 in passer rating defense, giving up 9 touchdowns and making 4 interceptions. The defensive backs have generally been a little underwhelming, but the key has been the pass rush. Likely All-American outside linebacker Aidan Hutchinson has 6 sacks, while his compatriot on the other side, David Ojabo, has 5. Cornerback D.J. Turner II got the start last week over Gemon Green, while last year’s punching bag, Vincent Gray, continues to start. Michigan State is #50 in passing offense (250 yards/game) and #16 in passer rating. Sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne (6’2″, 210) has 15 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. MSU’s top two receivers have 27 receptions each, going for 562 and 512 yards. Those guys are junior Jayden Reed (6’0″, 185) and junior Jalen Nailor (6’0″, 190), both of whom are deep threats. Former running back Connor Heyward (6’0″, 230) is now listed as a tight end, and he’s fourth on the team with 16 catches for 145 yards. I still have nightmares about him shaking loose from Josh Ross last season for a touchdown.
Advantage: Michigan


  • Michigan State players offered by Michigan: TE Maliq Carr, LB Quavaris Crouch, OL Dallas Fincher, DE Michael Fletcher, TE Trenton Gillison, LB Cal Haladay, OG Kevin Jarvis, WR Terry Lockett, S Darius Snow, WR Ian Stewart, LB Ben VanSumeren


  • We’re not going to talk about it.
  • Michigan leads the all-time series, 71-37-5


  • Michigan 27, Michigan State 24 in overtime

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