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The Michigan State Spartans head into Saturday's showdown desperate for a win. The Spartans lost their last four contests, including a 37-34 defeat to Illinois, where Michigan State gave up 27 points in the fourth quarter.
They're facing a Michigan Wolverines squad that's starting to find their offensive identity. The Wolverines won their last two games against Notre Dame and Maryland by outscoring their opponents 83-21. Michigan is trying to keep pace with Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana in the Big Ten East Division race.
This in-state showdown takes place at Michigan Stadium at noon EST. The game airs on Fox.
The Spartans are hoping to pull off the upsetMichigan State has done well in Ann Arbor before, as they won their two last games against Michigan on the road. However, to pull off the upset this week, the Spartans require more consistent play in all phases of the game.
Offensively, the player to watch is quarterback Brian Lewerke. He had his bell rung in last week's game against Illinois. University officials announced he was cleared to play this week after undergoing concussion protocol, which contradicted what head coach Mark Dantonio reported. Because of these conflicting reports, there's uncertainty surrounding how healthy Lewerke is going into this contest.
And he's facing a Michigan defense that's among the best nationally in applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks by generating three or more sacks per game. Compounding matters for Michigan State is they'll be without tight end Matt Dotson, who will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his Achillies tendon. This is a huge loss for Michigan State who'll have to rely on an already makeshift lineup to try to generate a passing attack against the nation's fifth-best passing defense.
Defensively, the Spartans need to apply pressure to force quarterback Shea Patterson to rush reads. The Spartans' weakness has been in their secondary where they surrender more than 214 passing yards per game, so if they're unable to pressure Patterson, they could be playing catchup.
Michigan is playing their best football of the seasonUnlike the Spartans, who are struggling to finish the season strong, Michigan has been on fire, winning their last two games in dominant fashion. The success has been in all three phases too.
While the Wolverines don't rely primarily on Patterson to carry their offense, his steady play has made a huge difference. He could have a big game against a Spartans' secondary that gives up yards in bunches. To make this work, the offensive line has to do a good job of keeping the pocket clear. This is a tall order too given Michigan State's ability to blow up plays. The Spartans average close to three sacks per game.
This also extends to the Wolverines' rushing attack. The Spartans' defensive strength is their front seven, who shut down running plays at the line of scrimmage. They surrender only 108 rushing yards per contest, so whoever wins this battle up front determines the tempo and likely outcome of the game.
Defensively, the Wolverines must apply pressure to Lewerke, who's shown the ability to make erratic reads when pressured. Given the Spartans are using a makeshift offensive line due to injuries, protecting Lewerke could be a tall order against one of the nation's most talented defensive front sevens.
Trends found on Covers.com Michigan is:
- 5-1 ATS in last 6
- 4-1 ATS in last 5 Big Ten games
Michigan State is:
- 0-5 ATS in last 5
- 0-4 ATS in last 4 November games
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
The Wolverines are playing their best football of the season while the Spartans enter this contest on a four-game losing streak. Moreover, Michigan's defense will make it difficult for Michigan State to establish any sort of offensive momentum. Look for these quick three-and-outs by the Spartans to open up opportunities in special teams for the Wolverines, where return specialists Giles Jackson and Javon Leake could create short fields with long returns. Overall, Michigan holds a clear advantage in all three phases of the game and they use their talent to overpower a struggling Michigan State squad.
Prediction: Michigan -13.5
Full-Game Total Pick
I don't expect this to be a high-scoring contest, as both teams' defenses start strong. The difference comes down to the stellar play of the Wolverines defense that holds Michigan State to a low point total while supplying the Wolverines' offense with shorter fields to convert drives into scores. This allows Michigan to pull ahead early and keep the lead for the duration of the game in a lower-scoring contest.
Prediction: Under 45