Michigan Wolverines vs. Michigan State Spartans Pick
Michigan Wolverines (6-1 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. Michigan State Spartans (4-2 SU, 2-4 ATS)
College Football Week 8
Date and Time: October 20 at 12pm ET
Where: Spartan Stadium
By: Ted Walker, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -7/MSU +7 (GTBets)
Over/Under Total: 40.5
The big brother v. little brother match-ups in NCAA football are most often dominated by the big brother but the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has belonged to Sparty for a good long while now. MSU has won eight of the last ten against Michigan, running up a perfect 10-0 mark against the spread over that span. Both teams enter the week in a very similar spot with each eyeing the top of the Big Ten East but the loser this weekend winds up in a bad spot regarding their division standing. This game rarely needs extra stakes to raise the atmosphere but this meeting is a bit rare as both come in with high hopes for themselves and neither is solely in the spoiler role. It is always a fight between these rivals and Saturday looks to be one of the best editions yet.
Can State Score?
One of the big questions heading in for Sparty will be their ability to get points on the board. Michigan brings the 2nd rated defense in terms of yards allowed and Michigan so that was always going to be the true test but Michigan State is also dealing with several injuries on offense. MSU enters the week 80th in yards gained and 85th in points scored at 26.2 per game. The State running backs are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and could have a long day against the Wolverine run defense that limits the opposition to 108 yards per game. Brian Lewerke has had to do much of the heavy lifting through the air with the run game struggles. He has made some big throws but has also thrown seven interceptions alongside his eight touchdowns. The Michigan secondary has seven interceptions itself, returning three for scores. Lewerke is also limited to essentially one healthy playmaker in Felton Davis. Against Penn State, Lewerke targeted Davis on 18 occasions, completing eight passes for 100 yards and the eventual game winning score. That duo will need a similarly successful outing if MSU is to hand on Saturday but it seems more probable that Michigan finds a way to double Davis and make State look elsewhere. Much of the Spartan depth at wideout is out due to injury, including second leading receiver Cody White.
The Wolverine Way
It really is no secret how Michigan intends to handle this game, or any game for that matter. The offense has balance in averaging over 200 yards in both passing and rushing but that run game is where the money is made. Karan Higdon leads the team with 687 yards and six scores and averages 5.7 yards per carry. As a team, the Wolverines average 5.3 yards per tote and that production sets up easy third-down looks, of which they convert nearly 50%. Michigan State brings the best run-stopping unit to the game but they have also shown cracks, including giving up two 48+ yard touchdown runs against Penn State last week. Shea Patterson is a mobile QB and can contribute on the ground but he is also stepping up his passing game with ten touchdowns against three interceptions. Michigan has a big target in Zach Gentry and also dynamic pass catchers in Nico Collins (16.4 YPR) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (5 TDs). UM isn’t a top-notch offense but they have enough in the run game to set up the pass and that defense also reaps the reward of being fresh with the offense often winning the time of possession battle.
The best unit on the field Saturday is Michigan’s defense. They are 1st against the pass and 9th in points allowed at just 15.4 per contest. The front limits the opposition to just 3.0 yards per carry on average and that isn’t likely to change this weekend with State averaging a lowly 3.4 yards per tote. The Wolverines have recorded twenty sacks and stop the opponent over 67% of the time on third down. Michigan put on a clinic against Wisconsin last week and routinely disrupted Alex Hornibrook with impact pass rushing. If they are in Lewerke’s face all day, it will be hard for Sparty to convert on third or set up big plays.
These games have been close in recent seasons with five of the last ten decided by nine points or fewer, including four with a margin of less than six. I think the missing ingredient for Michigan State is offensive balance. They are 115th out of 130 teams in rushing offense and you cannot be one dimensional against a very capable defense. State can stick with the run and try to limit the amount of time Michigan has the ball but Sparty wants a win for its own motivations and they know they need to score at some point. MSU battled with Penn State all last week but eventually needed to push the pace to notch that winning score on the road. They can try a similar method this weekend but Michigan is going to be better at holding a lead than Penn State was and it go wrong fast for Michigan State if they trail early. Without that run game component, Michigan is going to zero in on disrupting Lewerke.
With Michigan cruising against Wisconsin last week, they saved a lot emotional energy for the Spartans. This was always going to be a tense battle but having an easier go of it against the Badgers certainly helps the confidence and there is plenty left in the tank. The opposite is probably true for Michigan State as they had to sell out against Penn State and spend all the energy they could. Congrats to them for getting the win but it is going to be a nervous time in East Lansing if MSU comes out flat Saturday.
Seven points feels like quite a bit to lay as there have been so many close games in recent meetings and that isn’t lost on the betting public as about 53% of the money has come in on Michigan State. I’m going the other way however as Michigan is improving each week and their only loss is against a Notre Dame team that is projecting as playoff participant at this point. State just doesn’t have the offensive consistency, diversity or playmakers right now. The Spartans were the beneficiary of some bad weather last year in winnings a close one but you just can’t count on that again. Michigan reverses a decade of ATS losses with a 27-17 win this weekend.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan
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