Rapid Reaction: Michigan methodically wears down Michigan State to reach 8-0
Michigan seemingly can’t be rattled, especially at home.
Tested by an upset-minded Big Ten East foe for a second straight game at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines methodically wore down Michigan State under the lights Saturday night for a 29-7 victory.
No. 4 Michigan (8-0, 5-0) couldn’t shake its rival until well into the second half, but the foundation of the victory was laid with a pounding, slow-and-steady attack. Like a conservative investor taking advantage of compound interest, Michigan takes advantage of compound yardage. Small but solid gains early in games lead to big dividends later on.
The Wolverines entered the game as 23-point favorites, despite losses to the Spartans the past 2 seasons. Jim Harbaugh finally got his first win over Mel Tucker in the series. But it didn’t come easily.
Like Penn State, which led the Wolverines briefly in the third quarter 2 weeks ago, Michigan State (3-5, 1-4) battled and hung around. Unlike the Nittany Lions, the Spartans found some rhythm rather than relying on sporadic big plays. In fact, failure to make some key big plays kept the visitors from really giving the hosts a scare.
Michigan’s defense made 2 4th-down stops to end Spartans’ drives in the first half, one of them that had reached the UM 5-yard line.
Also like in the Penn State game, Michigan settled for field goals on all but 1 first-half scoring drive. Jake Moody hit from 22 and 25 yards, drives that will probably need to end in touchdowns a month from now at Ohio State. The Wolverines settled for 3 more FGs before scoring their 2nd TD in the fourth quarter.
But for now, Michigan remains on collision course with the Buckeyes, both teams 8-0 and sure to remain in the top 5 when the next polls come out.
Like against Penn State, Michigan dominated with its ground game, led by Blake Corum, and got solid enough play from first-year starting quarterback JJ McCarthy.
Corum boosted his Heisman Trophy campaign with 177 rushing yards and 2 TDs, 1 rushing and 1 receiving. He carried 33 times, staying in the game in the final minutes to close out the victory.
McCarthy did enough with his arm and his legs to keep the chains moving, though he did have a season-high 10 incompletions by late in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State imploded in the second half, much as Penn State did against the Wolverines. A bunch of 3-and-outs sealed the Spartans’ fate, and a bad snap on a punt set up the knockout blow, a 4-yard TD run by Corum.
But after settling for field goals 5 times, the Wolverines will have things to work on in the coming weeks.
In addition to stalling out in the red zone on offense, Michigan has to be concerned about its pass defense.
Receiver Keon Coleman’s monster first half, 4 catches for 104 yards, should give Harbaugh and Michigan fans pause. If Payton Thorne and the 6-4, 215-pound Coleman can carve up the UM secondary like that, what might CJ Stroud and his corps of stud receivers do on Nov. 26?
One strategy certainly will be keep-away. UM held the ball for 17:28 of the first half. Corum pounded away for 76 yards on 13 carries, and McCarthy ran 5 times for 35 yards, several of them key scampers for 1st downs.
Corum ran on the first 3 plays after halftime to go over 100 yards, as Michigan remained patient and comfortable despite a mere 13-7 lead. Later in the opening second-half drive, tight end Luke Schoonmaker made his 5th catch of the night, a 13-yard play that turned a 1st-and-20 into a manageable situation. Corum powered for a first down a couple plays later, moving his team into field goal range.
Michigan State’s defense again stiffened, and Moody’s 3rd field goal made the score 16-7.
But Michigan’s defense answered, getting a pair of third-quarter 3-and-outs by blanketing Coleman with double-coverage and clogging running lanes. Coleman was held to 1 catch in the final 30 minutes.
After the first 3-and-out, Corum and McCarthy went back to work, leading a 9-play, 54-yard FG drive that took 4:35 off the clock. Michigan’s lead, 19-7, still remained far from comfortable, but the possession disparity stood at 27:48-13:14 at that point and grew to more than 2-to-1 entering the fourth quarter. Corum was at 137 rushing yards and Schoonmaker at 70 receiving. McCarthy was 14-of-21 for 162 yards and a first-half TD to Corum on a shuffle pass.
Early in the 4th quarter, Moody hit a career-long 54-yard field goal, his 5th of the game. Michigan led 22-7.
Michigan State, on the other hand, has just 1 FG all year.
The Wolverines certainly started slowly despite moving the ball reasonably well.
Michigan fumbled the ball away on its first possession and settled for a field goal on its second, but even then the drumbeat was established. The Wolverines were already pounding away. Corum turned a 1st-and-15 into a 1st down with 3 straight runs. McCarthy followed an incompletion on his first attempt with 5 straight connections.
Meanwhile, the Spartans killed their opening drive with 3 penalties that turned a 2nd-and-5 into a 4th-and-24. After forcing the early turnover, MSU was stopped on 4th-and-inches. Though originally called a first down, Elijah Collins’ run was ruled short of the line to gain, correctly, on replay.
Up next for Michigan
The Wolverines head to New Jersey to face Rutgers after dark; it’ll be their 2nd straight 7:30 p.m. ET start. The Scarlets Knights (4-4, 1-4) will be coming off a 31-0 loss at Minnesota. Michigan should be favored by 3-4 touchdowns.
Up next for Michigan State
The Spartans will face another tough defense at No. 17 Illinois (7-1, 4-1). The B1G West-leading Illini dominated Nebraska 26-9 on Saturday in Lincoln.