Michigan vs. Michigan State: Wolverines and Spartans special teams could be heroes
The stars have been publicized all week. Everyone knows about Michigan and Michigan State’s top guns.
Saturday in East Lansing won’t be easy for either side. It should be a close game. Could even be a nail-biter and come down to the final possession.
Well, guess what? Both of these top-10 teams — No. 6 UM and No. 8 MSU — also have superbly talented special-teamers to complement their rosters of star running backs and wide receivers, defensive linemen and other positions. Michigan and Michigan State haven’t gotten to 7-0 and ranked in the top 10 by chance — they’re both solid teams.
They both have weaknesses, which have been covered, but they’re both sitting on solid foundations.
So picture this: Close game, and it’s going to come down to someone’s foot/feet.
Who are you taking?
There are cases to be made for both sides. Michigan State has a field goal kicker with a career’s worth of big kicks and one of the best punters in the nation. Michigan also has a steady and reliable field goal kicker and a punter who should be compared with the best in the country.
And what else?
Both teams have return men who can burn up the field in the blink of an eye.
Saturday’s game-winning score could be a field goal or a major return for a TD — or at least one that sets up the game-winning field goal. Or it could be decided by a well-placed punt, making up for what should have happened for the Wolverines in 2015.
Either way, a lot more than just QBs, RBs, WRs and defensive players will have a say in the results of Saturday’s brotherly party in East Lansing.
Let’s take a look at some of those players.
Kicker: Matt Coghlin
Now, Coghlin, a senior, hasn’t been perfect this year, but he’s coming around for MSU. Normally, he’s about 80 percent accurate. This year, he’s hit 10 of 15 — but he’s made 8 of his last 10 attempts. He can boot 52-yarders, but he’s pretty much automatic when it comes to 40-50 yard attempts.
Punter: Bryce Baringer
Also a senior, Baringer has one of the best boots in the game, coming in as the No. 3-ranked punter in Division I through 7 games. Averaging 49.9 yards per punt, he has the ability to pin a team deep in its own territory, flipping the field and giving his defense some room with which to work.
PR: Jayden Reed
You already know the man’s name and what he’s about — so this won’t take long. Reed returned a pair of punts for touchdowns against Nebraska and is the national leader, averaging 23.1 yards per return. Averages don’t always mean everything, which is the case for one of UM’s return men — but Reed has consistently demonstrated the ability to break open and burn rubber.
KR: Jalen Nailor
Reed also returns kicks, but Nailor is listed as the No. 1 KR, so he should be considered as well. Nailor doesn’t have any fancy stats but he’s one of the fastest players in the Big Ten, so he needs to be recognized by Michigan as a threat. Kicking to Nailor — or Reed, for that matter — just isn’t a good idea.
His nickname is “Speedy” for a reason. His 40-yard dash has been clocked at 4.39 seconds.
Kicker: Jake Moody
In a game that will likely be decided by one score, it helps to have a scorer who can score when the scorers aren’t scoring. Moody is the Wolverines’ leading scorer, averaging 10 points per game. He’s put up 70 for Michigan this season and is the No. 11-ranked overall scorer in the country.
Punter: Brad Robbins
Robbins just doesn’t get due credit from the masses. True college football fans know exactly how good the Wolverines’ punter has been during his career. This season, teams have put up 21 return yards on 22 punts. No need to do math, here — that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. It’s basically a player catching the ball and falling forward, at most.
PR: AJ Henning
Henning is the No. 5 punt returner in the Big Ten and No. 16 in the nation, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt. He hasn’t housed one this season, but he’s had a couple that looked very much capable of going the distance. If he gets a block or two, it’s all open field for Michigan’s punt return specialist.
KR: Blake Corum
The No. 16-ranked kick returner in the nation averages 26.6 yards per touch. Like Reed and Nailor of MSU, or any return man, Corum has a set of wheels that could turn Saturday’s rivalry match upside down within seconds (about 9 seconds, assuming it’s a straight shot from around his own 20-yard line).
On top of also being one of the best running backs in the country, Corum has the ability to hurt Michigan State in various ways: Running the ball, catching as a running back (flat/bubble) and off the kickoff. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch in college football.