5 bold predictions for Michigan State vs. Michigan
Hostile. Aggressive. Unhinged. Dramatic? That’s a rivalry for you.
As Michigan State prepares to make the trip to Ann Arbor and face Michigan, there’s a sense internally that perhaps this is the moment. The time when it all comes together. Instead of viewing themselves as a 3-4 team, Mel Tucker’s squad is turning over a new leaf and hitting the reset button.
The Spartans have nothing to lose. Getting boat-raced by the defending B1G champs certainly won’t help when it comes to bragging rights, but a loss doesn’t eliminate MSU from making a bowl game. A win wouldn’t change the fact that the program has taken a step back in Year 3 of the Tucker era rather than 1 forward.
A win would prove, however, that when the Spartans are clicking, they can survive in the conference long-term.
As for Michigan, a loss won’t mathematically eliminate its chances of making it back to Lucas Oil Stadium or potentially the College Football Playoff, but it does add avoidable pressure entering November. Losing to an in-state rival won’t bode well with the boosters. It also forces a must-win situation for The Game on Nov. 26 against Ohio State.
Upsets are bound to happen in rivalry games. The Spartans might be underachieving after finishing 11-2 last season, but Tucker is 2-0 against Jim Harbaugh. Since 2008, Sparty owns the Wolverines in the bout for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, posting a 10-4 record during that span.
Never say never on a college football rivalry Saturday. Plus, with Halloween right around the corner, spooky season is upon us too. Could Michigan be in for a scare? Can Sparty make Saturday a treat for their fans?
Here are 5 bold predictions for the battle in the Big House:
1. Sparty strikes first
What does Michigan State have to lose? It’s dignity? No, the Spartans already felt that burn when losing to a Pac-12 team with a 1st-year coach and new quarterback. Its chance at the B1G title game? That went out the door after Week 4’s loss to Minnesota.
Its coach? Have you checked message boards? Fans would be more than happy to see another program offer Tucker a position just to send him packing out of East Lansing. Most would probably pay to watch him board that flight and hum “Kumbaya, My Lord” in the process.
The Spartans will leave no stone unturned. This week is their Super Bowl, and Michigan is the 2008 New England Patriots 1 win away from making history. Players are practicing like there’s no tomorrow. Coaches are scheming up game plans that not even Harbaugh and Co. saw last season at Spartan Stadium.
And because of it, MSU takes the early lead. Whether it comes to forcing a 3-and-out and trusting Payton Thorne to find Jayden Reed deep downfield, or perhaps a pick-6 against wunderkind quarterback JJ McCarthy, games like this are meant for the underdogs to strike first. The question is, can MSU build off the opening score?
2. Donovan Edwards stays hot
The last time U-M took the field, it ran. It ran hard. It ran fast. And it ran Penn State into the ground. Two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions faithful boasted of their top-notch run defense that allowed less than 400 total yards on the ground through 5 games.
The Wolverines smiled, took the field and doubled that number in a 41-17 whopping. As a team, Michigan averaged 7.6 yards per attempt and tallied 418 yards off 55 carries. And the leading rusher? Nope, not Heisman hopeful Blake Corum.
Try Donovan Edwards. He’s the x-factor for Saturday’s matchup.
Tucker and the Spartans’ front 7 are prepping for Corum. He’s lightning that can do a bit of everything, including juke and jive in the trenches for hard-pressed gains. As for Edwards, speed is his game. Let him hit the corner and he’s off to the races. And yes, by all facets that’s true.
Currently, Edwards is averaging a near full yard more per carry (7.1 to 6.2) than Corum. And last time out against 1 of the better front 7s in the conference, Edwards registered 4 explosive runs of over 20 yards, including a 67-yard TD that all but iced the game.
The box is going to be loaded to try and contain Corum. Edwards, meanwhile, needs a slight crease for ample gains at the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense.
3. JJ McCarthy goes deep
McCarthy currently leads the FBS in completion rate at 77.1%. Then again, his longest pass of the season came on a 54-yard pass to Cornelius Johnson against Hawaii.
That game ended up being McCarthy’s best performance through the air. He finished with 4 throws over 20 yards downfield, including a 42-yard touchdown pass to Roman Wilson on the opening drive. Where does Hawaii’s secondary rank? Entering Saturday, its 61st nationally.
What about Michigan State? Try 110th. The Spartans have struggled to mirror receivers and are susceptible to double moves. They’ve also been plagued with inadequate open-field tackling, thus allowing 16 TDs in coverage.
Watch every connection ⬇️. pic.twitter.com/04ajq8mdqL
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 11, 2022
McCarthy might not have another opportunity to have this clean of a window to show off the arm. Two of the Wolverines’ next 3 opponents rank top 30 in pass defense. Meanwhile, Ohio State currently ranks No. 3, allowing quarterbacks to average a completion rate of 55.7%.
McCarthy doesn’t need to play hero ball if the run game is working, but Harbaugh should look to be more dynamic downfield if given the opportunity. The Spartans have allowed average receivers to torch them for 6 on the regular this season. If McCarthy needs his “signature moment” Saturday, then in front of a packed Michigan Stadium against a rival that’s won the matchup back-to-back years is a pretty good time.
4. The start of the 3rd quarter will be must-see TV
The Big House is a work of art for trolling. As teams come off the field and enter the tunnel, they must pass each other to enter the locker room.
In years past, we’ve seen fights break out. Last season, Michigan and Ohio State were more than a bit chippy walking back to their respective locker rooms. Emerging for the 2nd half, the 2 schools needed to be held back but weren’t afraid of dropping a few NSFW words and gestures into the camera.
Remember this video before the 3rd quarter?
Chaos in the tunnel between Ohio State & Michigan pic.twitter.com/HedljphBq1
— Josh Pate (@LateKickJosh) November 27, 2021
How about this one from Week 7 when the Nittany Lions were down by 2 at the half?
Some halftime tunnel shenanigans happening. pic.twitter.com/FwxgXdO7jj
— Isaiah Hole (@isaiahhole) October 15, 2022
Who here thinks the Nittany Lions are a better rival than the Spartans? What trophy are they giving out each season? And keep in mind, the skirmishes usually start early in the day. Does anyone else remember when Devin Bush took matters into his own feet and went HAM on Sparty’s logo pregame in 2018?
Expect this to happen again. Please let the cameras be rolling for Twitter to comment more about #TunnelBrawl over what occurs in the 3rd quarter.
5. Blake Corum has a Heisman moment
In movies, there’s always a scene-stealing moment. You know, the part of the show where you go back and rewatch a million times on YouTube because you’re infatuated with the acting or the action sequence?
Corum isn’t going to get his 200-plus rushing yard performance. He likely won’t have a UConn 2.0 where he runs it in 5 times and calls it a day. Heck, Edwards has been playing hot and eating into Corum’s carries, so who says he even gets over his average of 21 carries if the Spartans crowd the box?
But he will get something Saturday: the Heisman voters’ attention with 1 dominant run. That stiff-arm trophy will have a shot of returning to Ann Arbor for the 1st time since 1997.
Penn State entered today ranked 5th in the nation in run defense.
Blake Corum has ran for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns midway through the 3rd quarter 👀pic.twitter.com/X87pZpy6Z7
— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 15, 2022
Maybe it comes on a breakaway run as time expires for the win? Perhaps it shows up at the line of scrimmage in the 3rd quarter when Corum bounces off 3 Spartans and carries another guy 10 yards downfield before bulldozing his way into the end zone for an easy score. Heck, maybe it’s a combination of both?
There’s almost always that “it” play in these games. Remember surrender cobra when “trouble with the snap” occurred? Or how about when Jeff Smoker rushed down to the 1-yard line, thus leading to “Clockgate” in 2001?
When Corum has his moment, perhaps he channels his inner Desmond Howard and hits the pose. Even if he doesn’t, the Heisman world will be put on notice that No. 2 should be the No. 1 option for the hardware if it’s given to a non-quarterback come December.