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Michigan – Michigan State: Initial impressions of 2016 rivalry game

All Photos: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It won’t be close. It won’t be a fight. It’ll be all-Michigan, all of the time, this Saturday in East Lansing.

If there was ever a sure thing in a rivalry, this would be such a thing. The No. 2-ranked Wolverines (7-0, 4-0) appear close to unstoppable, while the unranked Spartans (2-5, 0-4) appear more vulnerable than ever — especially after losing 28-17 on the road to Maryland this past weekend.

Michigan is good. Michigan State is not.

Easy analysis.

Here’s a little more, though. Something to whet the appetite before really diving headfirst this week into one of the best regional rivalries in the nation.

Michigan has given up 25 points during the past four games, highlighted by a 78-0 win over Rutgers and 41-8 homecoming win — which should have been a shutout — this past weekend over Illinois.


Michigan has perched at its highest level in 10 years, at least. Michigan State has sunken to its lowest level under coach Mark Dantonio. Photo: Andy Shippy

Conversely, Michigan State struggled Saturday night to put up 17 points against a so-so Maryland defense. Michigan put up 21 during the first quarter versus Illinois. Simply said, Michigan State doesn’t stand a chance of running neck-and-neck in a points race with the Wolverines.

Sure, the Spartans scored 40 against Northwestern and 36 versus Notre Dame — but they also lost 30-6 to Wisconsin, a team with a good defense… but not a Michigan-like defense.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown has the Wolverines perched atop the total defense and scoring defense categories. Linebackers Ben Gedeon, a senior, and Mike McCray, a redshirt junior, have amped-up their levels of play. Jabrill Peppers has evolved into one of the most menacing backfield threats.

Dr. Blitz (Brown) has too many weapons.

Bottom line? A depleted offensive line, one that has bounced left tackles, doesn’t appear capable of stopping Michigan’s linebackers. Then there’s the defensive line,which is an entirely different story — and problem — for Spartans coach Mark Dantonio and offensive coordinator Dave Warner.

Devising a scheme to halt the likes of fifth-year senior Chris Wormley, senior Taco Charlton, true freshman Rashan Gary and the rest will be a tall task for a team that lacks protection and consistent quarterback play. As it stands now, quarterback duty seems to be held by redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke, who has taken a beating during his past two starts.

Remember Devin Gardner getting sacked six times during a 29-6 loss in 2013 to Michigan State? Lewerke appears destined for a similar fate — if not far worse — against Michigan.

Note: Joe Graziano is a redshirt freshman… not an experienced player on the best defensive line in the nation. 

Running the ball? Not likely. Not with Michigan’s defense, which gives up 2.68 yards per rush (No. 8 in the nation).

Throwing the ball? Probably not.

Michigan’s secondary is in good hands with senior safety Dymonte Thomas — who joked about not having good hands after grabbing an interception Saturday, his first of the year — All-American candidate Jourdan Lewis at corner and senior corner Channing Stribling on the other side of the No. 2-ranked most-efficient passing defense.

Doom awaits.

Also consider the following stats: UM has the No. 1-ranked scoring offense in the Big Ten (48.7 PPG). Michigan State has the league’s No. 13-ranked scoring offense (20.3 PPG). Simple math suggests that Saturday’s game could easily be a 45-14 run through East Lansing for the Wolverines, who have lost seven of their past nine meetings with the Spartans, who, oddly enough, won the Big Ten one year ago and appeared in the College Football Playoffs.

State has crawled into new territory this season. Fallen. Stumbled. Plummeted. Whatever works for you — they all mean the same thing: This season has been dreadful for the Spartans, who entered the season with the potential to win eight or nine games. That was the common though, anyway.

This year, MSU will be lucky to qualify for a bowl games. The possibility of 4-8 o 3-9 certainly needs to be discussed.

One week ago, Dantonio spoke of being on a “lonely road,” traveling an unfamiliar path. That road will only get lonelier Saturday. Six straight losses seem inevitable for a team that’s clearly lost its edge.

Prediction: Michigan racked up 561 total yards versus Illinois. Maryland threw up 447 yards. Expect something in the range of at least 400 total yards and plenty of rubbing-it-in type of body blows.

Once again a heavyweight, Michigan has more than enough to deliver an easy 30-point victory over its punch-drunk neighbor in East Lansing.

Keep your browser locked to Today’s U this week for thorough analysis, commentary and features focused on Michigan vs. Michigan State.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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