|This story originally published on CollegeFootballNews.com|
Michigan (6-1) at Michigan State (7-1) Nov. 2, 3:30, ABC
Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's Game On in the Legends. br>
Nebraska might have lost to Minnesota, and Michigan might have gagged away a loss to Penn State, but none of that matters no. With little due respect to Iowa and Minnesota, and blowing off a tired Northwestern squad, it's between the Huskers, Spartans and Wolverines for the right to play – almost certainly – Ohio State for the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl. And it all starts here.
Michigan State appears to be finding its stride at just the right time. The defense gives up points from time to time – it's not the Alabama D – but it's rocking and rolling over the last few weeks with a shutout over Purdue and a stomping on Illinois' homecoming allowing just three points. With Nebraska and Northwestern on the road over the next few games, the defense will get tested, but Michigan is the biggest challenge so far.
Which Wolverine team will show up this week? The offense got over its case of the yips against Akron and Connecticut to blow up against Minnesota, Penn State and Indiana with 145 points in the three games, but Michigan State has allowed just 98 points on the season and has the talent and the ability to give Devin Gardner and company a very, very bad day.
Michigan has a tougher road to deal with, facing Iowa and Northwestern on the road along with home dates against Nebraska and Ohio State at home, and with the gaffe at Happy Valley, a loss to the Spartans could be devastating. MSU isn't going to lose its final three games.
Why Michigan Might Win: How do you get by a smart, veteran defense that's great at getting into the backfield and being disruptive when it has to? Get the ball out of the quarterback's hands in a hurry. Consider it a very, very bad sign if Devin Gardner has to be the main runner and all-around playmaker – MSU's defensive front can close down one guy, even if he's as good as No. 98. Gardner has been effective down the field as he's gaining more and more confidence since the problems earlier this year. He needs to do a lot of quick-hitting passes and accept that a three-yard gain isn't all that bad. He's not going to average 17 yards per try like he did against Indiana, but that's okay. Ball control will be a big deal, however …
Why Michigan State Might Win: There's a problem for a Wolverine passing game that's going to want to get things moving quickly and efficiently; MSU's secondary is a rock, allowing just 161 yards per game. Michigan makes way, way too many big mistakes. The Wolverines have been saved at times by a defense that's strong at taking the ball away, but Michigan State, for all its offensive flaws, doesn't give it away on a regular basis. The Wolverines have to be nearly flawless against a Spartan defense that won't allow too many opportunities, but they've turned it over three or more times in four of the seven games on the year. As long as the MSU offense can take advantage of the help the defense provides, there won't be a problem.
Who To Watch Out For: It's Devin Gardner vs. The World. He's coming off a special day against Indiana, throwing for 503 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 81 yards and three more scores, but everyone has fun against the Hoosiers. Last year against the Spartans he caught a pass for eight yards when he worked at wide receiver, but now, if he doesn't have his most effective game of the year – it's all relative compared to the Indiana game considering the competition – Michigan can't win.
- While Gardner has to be nearly flawless, Michigan State's Connor Cook has to merely be serviceable. He did exactly what he needed to do against Illinois last week, completing 15-of-16 throws for 208 yards with three scores, and he didn't throw a pick. He might not exactly be Peyton Manning as a passing machine, but with the defense he has backing him up, there's no need to wing the ball all over the yard.
- Considering everything the Sparty defense is doing, the play of Jeremy Langford has flown under the radar. A jack-of-all-trades, he started out his career as a corner, moved to receiver and now is the workhorse running back, hitting the 100-yard mark three games in a row with three scores against Indiana and two against Illinois. He has the hands to be a key receiver, but after catching five passes against USF, he hasn't seen too many throws his way.
- Michigan State's leading receiver, MacGarrett Kings Jr. has caught 25 passes for 299 yards and three scores on the year. Michigan's Jeremy Gallon caught 14 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. He'll have a hard time breaking free against Darqueze Dennard and a Spartan secondary that's putting the clamps down on everyone, but he has to give it a try. This might be a great MSU defense, but the Wolverines can't be afraid to attack it.
What Will Happen: Michigan will get frustrated, and fast. However, the Wolverine defense will come up with some big moments of its own to keep the game within reach. The Sparty D will have to come through with a few big late stops, and it will.
Prediction: Michigan State 24 … Michigan 17
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