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Michigan Needs Steadiest Jake Rudock vs. Michigan State

Photo: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Jake Rudock continues to demonstrate firm control of the offense, a keen understanding of when to go and when not to go, and–perhaps most importantly–he’s found ways to lead the Michigan Wolverines to wins in five of six games.

If the 6’3,” 208-pound senior transfer from Iowa continues his steady levelheaded play, the No. 12-ranked Wolverines (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will have a good shot of knocking off the No. 7-ranked Michigan State Spartans (6-0, 2-0 B1G) this Saturday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Entering Week 7, the same familiar story of the season remains the same for Rudock: He’s reliable, he doesn’t give away games and he’s rarely consumed by the moment.

That type of demeanor will be crucial versus Michigan State–a team that’s beaten up Wolverines quarterbacks for the past three years and has won the past two series meetings 35-11 and 29-6. A calm, cool quarterback is an invaluable asset, especially in a rivalry game.

“Very important–I think we have that,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said during Monday’s press conference. “He’s playing his best football and preparing consistently good each and every week. Doesn’t get rattled. We talked about that. We’ve come to expect that.”

Despite a bicep injury to fifth-year senior safety R.J. Williamson (probable vs. Michigan), a neck injury to freshman cornerback Voyante Copeland (out for year) and serious depth issues, Rudock can’t afford to look past the ailing Spartans’ secondary.

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Jake Rudock has thrown for 1,135 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions this year. He’s still completing 60 percent of his passes, too. Photo: Andy Shippy

Due to past domination, Michigan State’s backfield had earned the nickname of “No Fly Zone.” Shades of the past have stuck around, but things are changing for the worst in East Lansing. This year, it’s “Everything Flies Zone;” the Spartans have the Big Ten’s No. 10-ranked passing defense (242 YPG, 9 TD) and have been uncharacteristically carved up by quarterbacks on an almost weekly basis.

Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush threw for 285 yards and a touchdown during a 30-10 loss to the Spartans. Just this past week, Rutgers’ Chris Laviano threw for 208 yards and three touchdowns during a 31-24 loss.

It’ll be on Rudock to stay sharp and take advantage of the opportunities that evaded Rush and Laviano, who deserve credit for stretching the Spartans to their limit.

That shouldn’t be a problem for Rudock–he’s always paying attention to every detail and surveying ways to improve, said fifth-year senior fullback Joe Kerridge. Truth be told, that’s another ace up the sleeve for Michigan, which hasn’t had a stable pro-styler in the pocket since the days of Chad Henne, who graduated in 2008.

“Jake’s done a great job–he’s a student of the game, for sure,” said Kerridge, who had a 36-yard carry during his team’s 38-0 homecoming victory over Northwestern. “I try to get around him as much as I can. He’ll come up to me in the locker room after a practice, he’ll already have had watched the practice, and come up and give me some pointers or something like that–or critique or something like that.

He’s shown great strides, and it’s great to see a quarterback that loves the game as much as he does.”

Rudock loves to take care of the ball, too. As a matter of fact, the Wolverines have sung the praises of Rudock’s security for weeks. His start was rocky. That much was acknowledged. Three picks at Utah didn’t exactly reflect his previous line of 18 touchdowns and five picks in 2014.

But he’s shed that bug, and it doesn’t look like he’ll get bit by it anytime soon.

And really, five of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year can be attributed to receiver error/miscommunication–or, in the case of the one versus Maryland, the “football gods,” per Harbaugh. That attempt to senior fullback Sione Houma was just pure bad luck, Harbaugh said this past week.

That one interception stands alone as Rudock’s single major mistake in the past 12 quarters–the same length of Michigan’s current shut-out streak (or 18 of 24 quarters played this season).

“Jake, he’s doing a great job,”said junior tight end Jake Butt, who has reeled in a handful of 20-, 30- and even 40-yard receptions from his new quarterback. “He’s going through his reads and his check-downs, standing hard in the pocket. I always say, he just does a great job of staying focused and making sure everyone’s on the same page because we have such long play-calls in the huddle; he just says them clearly, gets all the motions down.

It can be a lot for a guy, and he does a great job of handling all that.”

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

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