How Michigan’s In-State Rival Could Keep Them From College Football Playoff

    Michigan’s hopes of making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff hinge – at least in the here and now, since there’s still five weeks until

    October 17, 2018

    Michigan’s hopes of making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff hinge – at least in the here and now, since there’s still five weeks until the Wolverines play at Ohio State – on beating their Spartan rivals, something they’ve done just once since 2013.

    Michigan State, ranked No. 24 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, hosts No. 6 Michigan Saturday for a 12 p.m. ET kickoff, one of four matchups between ranked teams in Week 8.

    It’s the Wolverines’ highest ranking since they were No. 6 in the Playoff Selection Committee’s final rankings in 2016, a season when they peaked at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll following a 9-0 start.

    Michigan quarterback Shae Patterson, the transfer from Ole Miss who was granted a waiver to play this season, could be the difference between the Wolverines’ struggles against the Spartans continuing or Michigan claiming its second win over its in-state rival in the last three years.

    Defense has often ruled the day in the last five meetings between Michigan and Michigan State.

    Most recently, Michigan State held on for a 14-10 win in Ann Arbor last fall when the Big Ten East brethren combined for just 7-of-31 on third-down conversion attempts, 27-for-57 passing and 552 total yards of offense.

    One side has cracked 30 points just twice – Michigan State in 2014 and Michigan in 2016 – in the last five years.

    This year should be no different.

    Michigan ranks first nationally in passing defense, Michigan State leads the country in rushing defense.

    Vegas favors Michigan by a touchdown and a PAT.

    Michigan State, which entered the season as a possible dark horse in the Big Ten, has already lost twice but it can still play the role of spoiler for Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom must travel to East Lansing.

    The Spartans have allowed just 62 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry.

    Except for Penn State running back Miles Sanders’ 78- and 48-yard runs in a 21-17 loss to Michigan State last week, the Spartans don’t give up big plays on the ground. In their first five games, the longest run they allowed in each game was for nine, 14, 12, 16 and 11 yards, respectively.

    Michigan senior running back Karan Higdon has rushed for at least 100 yards in his last five games (he didn’t play in Michigan’s win over SMU) but in his last two games against the Spartans he ran for 65 and 44 yards, respectively.

    If Michigan State takes away the run, which it has done all season except for the pair of runs from Sanders, can Patterson beat the Spartans’ defense through the air?

    Even though Michigan State’s passing defense ranks 118 out of 130 FBS teams at 286 passing yards allowed per game, Michigan’s passing offense is similarly ranked nationally at 94th with 207 yards per game.

    Patterson has struggled against ranked opponents and on the road. In Michigan’s games at then-No. 12 Notre Dame, at Northwestern and versus then-No. 15 Wisconsin, Patterson recorded his three lowest single-game completion percentages of the season.

    He didn’t throw a touchdown pass in any of the three games.

    • vs. Notre Dame – 20-30, 227 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
    • vs. Northwestern – 15-24, 196 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
    • vs. Wisconsin – 14-21, 124 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT

     

    Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke has had his own struggles passing, in the form of seven interceptions in six games, matching his season total from last year. He threw for just 94 yards against the Wolverines in 2017.

    Saturday’s matchup has all the makings of another low-scoring, defensive slugfest, where the winner could be a win over Ohio State from competing for the Big Ten Championship.

    Before Michigan can get a chance to prove it’s the best team in the Big Ten or one of the four best in the country, first it has to show it’s the best team in its own state, a title the Wolverines have rarely held in the last decade.

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