Run game will likely decide outcome of MSU—U-M on Saturday, according to Dantonio
It’s plain and simple this week — whoever runs the ball more effectively will likely win the game.
Whenever No. 8 MSU (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) and Michigan (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) tangle up, history shows that the team who gets more yards on the ground will come away with the victory.
In 41 of the last 44 battles between the two in-state rivals, the team that produces more rushing yards has been victorious. This includes last year’s matchup when MSU out-rushed U-M 142 to -48.
While head coach Mark Dantonio believes that U-M’s -48 rushing yards from a year ago is a misleading stat because of the seven MSU sacks, he said winning the rushing battle will be key this week.
“Any football team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins the football game, and I think that’s pretty much true probably in most football games,” Dantonio said. “If you win up front you’ve got a great chance to win the football game. Doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen, but you have a chance.”
Controlling the line of scrimmage has become MSU’s bread and butter when playing against U-M during the Dantonio era. MSU has outgained the Wolverines on the ground in each of the last six games by a combined margin of 609 yards.
However, U-M will appear to provide a more difficult matchup in the trenches this year. MSU ranks 15th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 260 yards per game, but on the opposite side U-M ranks fourth in the nation in rushing defense, only surrendering 93.6 yards per game on the ground.
Winning the battle up front is something senior offensive lineman and captain Travis Jackson considers to be key for success. After playing in his share of battles for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, Jackson said the offense understands the importance of generating a strong rushing attack this week against an impressive U-M front seven.
“Their front seven is very physical, they play really fast,” Jackson said. “We just watched film on them on Sunday night and (Monday), so they’re going to come ready to play, and that’s going to be a difficult task for us. But we need to get the run game going and have it be consistent through all four quarters.”
A lot of living up to Jackson’s run game goals will fall upon the shoulders of senior running backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. Langford ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game — behind four guys who rank one, two, three and four in the nation for the same statistic — and Hill has emerged as a weapon as of late, recording 250 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.
Langford said not much will need to change this week offensively as long as the offensive line can continue to open up holes for the backs.
“The offensive line has done a great job up front, rotating people in and keeping people healthy, so they open up big holes,” Langford said. “The rest of the running backs have to deliver behind the offensive line, they’ll do a great job.”
Kickoff between MSU–U-M is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday from Spartan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on ABC.