Michigan football: 5 predictions that absolutely will come true for Wolverines vs. MSU
Per the usual, Michigan players and coaches handled rivalry week press conferences with style and grace, saying all the right things and making sure to show respect for Michigan State. They didn’t throw out any guarantees, nor did they deliver any backhanded remarks that would incite a media frenzy.
They all kept it cool and cordial.
But they do know that they’re a heavy favorite — a 3-touchdown favorite, actually.
However, despite the Vegas odds and the Spartans’ embarrassing 38-27 season-opening loss to Rutgers in East Lansing, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson — DE and 1 of 7 team captains — said it was important for the Wolverines not to “underestimate” their in-state foe. Coach Jim Harbaugh played the same tune, acknowledging that anything could happen Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Michigan has won 3 of the past 4 meetings and is on the brink of winning a third consecutive contest vs. the Spartans for the first time since 2002-2007. Coming off an impressive 49-24 win at Minnesota, an 11-win team in 2019, the Wolverines clearly look like the stronger force heading into the 113th installment of this classic Big Ten grudge match.
So, with that said, it’s not too difficult to make some predictions of the bold variety.
1. Oh, Mel. … Tucker will regret stirring the pot
Over the years, there has been a considerable amount of trash-talking leading into this game. We all remember former Spartans coach Mark Dantonio declaring “it’ll never be over” following former Michigan RB Mike Hart’s infamous “little brother” comment. In 2017, Dantonio took to Twitter to re-emphasize that things will, well, “never be over.”
For Dantonio, things are indeed over — he left MSU under shady circumstances early in 2020.
This week, first-year Spartans coach Mel Tucker decided to ruffle Michigan’s feathers and fan the flames of the rivalry by referring to UM as “the school up the road.” Technically, Michigan is “down the road,” if we’re speaking of proper directional/geographical references. The comment came off as a desperate attempt to appease a reeling fan base.
Tucker probably should have just traveled the safe route, expressing respect and saying something like “Michigan is a competitive team and well-coached team and we look forward to playing the game.”
Nah, that would have been too easy.
Now it’s on.
Harbaugh remembers everything. While he may not publicly acknowledge Tucker’s comments, it’s safe to assume that he’ll want to make a statement Saturday — not just because of the rivalry itself, but because of the obvious jab from Tucker.
Michigan might hang 63 points on the Spartans, just to remind Tucker how many miles “up the road” it is from East Lansing.
Look for this one to get out of hand in the first half, likely resulting in a big-old crooked number on the scoreboard for Michigan heading into the break. Harbaugh’s team many not pile up 63 points on the day, but something along the lines of 56-7 or 49-3 seems all but inevitable.
In 2019, Michigan rattled off a 49-10 victory in Ann Arbor, opening the doors for familiar blowouts of yesteryear.
Look for Part 2 this weekend, once again at Harbaugh’s house.
And really, it could be much worse for the Spartans. Wisconsin just announced — in light of QB Graham Mertz’s 2 positive COVID results — that it was “pausing team activities” for 7 days, leading to the first cancellation of a Big Ten game during this already shortened season. Saturday will mark the last chance for several Wolverines to participate in the in-state rivalry, and it could, in theory, be one the final games of the season if other teams decide to follow Wisconsin’s lead in regard to COVID procedures — so UM might be thinking of going out in style.
Score? It could be anywhere in the blowout range. Maybe a 6- or 7-TD margin for Harbaugh, whose team nearly put up 50 on a very good Minnesota squad.
2. Backfield firepower — there will be a 100-yard rusher for UM
Zach Charbonnet’s 70-yard touchdown run during the first half vs. Minnesota was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Michigan’s running game. Hassan Haskins added a 66-yarder, marking the first time Michigan had two 60-plus-yard rushes in one game under Harbaugh.
Plus there is Chris Evans, a senior, and true freshman Blake Corum, who has speed and agility to burn.
In all likelihood, it’ll be either Charbonnet or Haskins to eclipse the century mark Saturday in Ann Arbor. It’s possible to see Charbonnet lead the way with 100-120 or better, and for Haskins to follow with a solid 80 or so — or it could be flipped, with Haskins leading the charge and Charbonnet adding a solid complementary effort.
Regardless, the Spartans will be gashed by a Wolverines RB. That much is a given.
2. Cade gets reps, plus more
Backup QB Cade McNamara was 0-for-3 passing during his mop-up time vs. the Gophers. Because Saturday’s matchup with MSU will be a blowout for UM, the redshirt freshman will likely play at least 1 or 2 series this weekend. He’ll have a comfortable lead and some confidence, creating the perfect scenario for some firsts of his collegiate career.
He’ll get his first completion, that’s almost certain.
He’ll probably also get his first touchdown pass — a long shot to WR Ronnie Bell, for instance, sometime late in the 4th quarter, capping Michigan’s lopsided victory.
4. Sacks galore
Despite being sacked just twice, MSU QB Rocky Lombardi had to run for his life against Rutgers — which was close to nabbing Lombardi in the backfield about 7 or 8 other times. Lombardi threw a pair of INTs while being pressured as well. So, will he try to hold the ball longer and avoid mistakes during a big rivalry game? Will he throw it away sooner? Who knows. But he’ll meet the turf no less than 4 times Saturday, likely at the hands of DE Kwity Paye or Aidan Hutchinson.
Remember the 2013 installment of UM vs. MSU? Wolverines QB Devin Gardner was sacked 6 times, with 3 consecutive sacks coming on a single drive. That was one of the roughest days for any QB in this rivalry. Expect Lombardi’s to be eerily comparable, because Michigan has the front and linebackers/viper to attack without hesitation.
5. Michigan’s D will score
This one will be short and sweet: A Wolverines defender will score a touchdown, and the smart bet is on viper Michael Barrett, whose hit on Gophers QB Tanner Morgan led to DT Donovan Jeter scooping and scoring.
It’s easy to predict these types of things for Barrett. He is one of Michigan’s most athletic and explosive athletes, one who’s been compared to former Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers (by Harbaugh). Whether it’s a pick-6 or fumble recovery for TD, Barrett will see the end zone Saturday vs. the Spartans.