MSU vs. U-M: Closer than you think
University of Michigan is ranked number seven in the country. When a team is ranked that high, it’s usually a sign of elite play on both sides of the ball.
U-M is 4-0 with a win over a ranked Florida teams; none of their games have been close. Their tightest game was against the Gators, in which they trailed 17-13 at the half, only to score 20 unanswered points in the second half.
So, yes. No matter how you spin it, this year’s Wolverines are a great team. But are they unbeatable?
A look behind the numbers at the surface show a U-M team that’s struggled more than the eye test reveals.
The Wolverine defense is giving up 13.5 points and 203.3 yards per game. Those are stellar numbers -- they have the number one total defense in the FBS, in fact -- until you realize their competition. Of the 130 teams in the FBS, the best offense that U-M has faced is Purdue, whose offense is 80th overall in total offense. They have yet to face a true test on defense, and this weekend’s matchup against MSU provides exactly that.
MSU doesn’t have the most electric offense in the country, but, at 52nd, they are not to be played with. They have a squadron of tough running backs, a group of talented young wideout and a running gun-slinger at quarterback that keeps every defense honest.
Even if MSU doesn’t have the most experienced offense, their play style and big-play potential keeps defenses guessing. It will be interesting to see how Michigan handles it.
That brings us to the other side of the ball. U-M's offense, despite scoring 31.5 points and garnering 407.3 yards of offense per game, has been rather disappointing. They’ve only played one defense in the top half of total defenses in the FBS -- Air Force, who is number 31.
MSU’s defense is by far the biggest test for the U-M's offense. The Spartans currently rank number five in total defense in the country, and that’s including their game against Notre Dame, the number 30 offense in the country. MSU, despite losing 38-18, actually outgained the Irish by over 100 yards in their meeting. The Spartan defense gave up 38 points because of turnovers but only held Notre Dame to 355 yards. And that’s against a much more potent offense than U-M.
The quarterback situation at U-M will also hamper the Wolverines’ chance to run away with this game. Quarterback Wilton Speight is out for several weeks due to injury, and backup John O’Korn is starting. At the surface, that might not seem that bad for Michigan, as Speight has been incredibly disappointing this season. But the fact that O’Korn hasn’t been able to outplay a guy in practice who has a 54.3% completion rate and a 3:2 touchdown-interception ratio is worrisome in itself. O’Korn was an established starter at Houston before he transferred to U-M and hasn’t found his footing since. How can you expect him to finally find it against the fifth-best defense in the country?
Overall, this game is going to be closer than people think. The Wolverines are double-digit favorites and most analysts are expecting a blowout. MSU always comes to play against their rival, though, and in down years have been able to give U-M trouble. For example, last season, the Spartans had three wins -- as many as they already have this season -- and U-M was arguably better than they are this year, and MSU only lost by nine.
The young MSU offense is quickly becoming more cohesive; they are cutting down on the turnovers. And the defense, while young, has already found its identity as an elite group in Division I college football. They will give O’Korn and the Wolverines fits.
It’s going to be a fun one.