By: Aidan Champion
Michigan versus Michigan State. The meeting means even more this week than in past seasons, as each undefeated team holds a spot in the top 10 in both the AP and Coaches polls.
It would be naïve to assume Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hasn’t had this game circled on the schedule since it came out. MSU coach Mel Tucker led his team into the Big House and defeated Harbaugh in just his second game as head coach almost exactly a year ago from the date of this season’s matchup.
Here are four reasons why Harbaugh will be victorious in this year’s meeting:
Michigan is dominant on the ground
The Wolverines have one of the best backfields in the nation with Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins alternating carries at running back. Together, they’ve helped lead Michigan to a top-five rushing offense in the nation (253.3 rushing yards per game).
When the Wolverines were tasked with facing the No. 1 rushing defense in the country in Wisconsin in Week 5, Michigan accepted the challenge and still proceeded to rush for 112 yards while also finishing with 253 yards in the air.
Should Michigan stick with the game plan that’s led it to a 7-0 start, its backfield could continue to thrive on the ground on Saturday.
Michigan is effective when defending the run as well
It’s rare you see a team succeed at defending the area of the game that it prospers off the most offensively, but the Wolverines certainly do so.
There’s no question that one of the biggest targets Michigan has been scouting in its film room is MSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III. Walker is second in the nation in total rushing yards and is first in rushing yards per game.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, Harbaugh’s crew has a top-25 rushing defense, allowing only 116.6 rushing yards per game.
The Spartans’ play on the ground is integral to their game, as they have 70 more rushing attempts than passing. MSU has shown it can transition to a passing-focused game plan, but in games where its rushing is limited, its entire offensive performance takes a hit as well. This would give the Wolverines a huge edge on Saturday if they can contain the Spartan backfield.
Passing defense is also in Michigan’s favor
Even if MSU has the rely more on its receivers, Michigan stands at No. 20 in passing defense. Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne is surrounded with some very solid weapons in Tre Mosley, Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed.
Nailor and Reed have proven they each can be dominant threats if they are called upon, and Mosley seems to make the right plays at just the right time.
The Wolverines have some very powerful assets in the secondary like Brad Hawkins, Daxton Hill and Vincent Gray, who can cause a lot of trouble for MSU’s passing game. Also, the Spartan O-line hasn’t consistently been the most reliable this season, which could allow Aidan Hutchinson and the rest of the Wolverine D-line to put pressure on Thorne throughout the day.
History is on the Wolverines’ side
Michigan has a perfect record against the Spartans in East Lansing since Harbaugh came into command in 2015.
Whether that statistic implies anything, I honestly know not. What I do know, though, is that for whatever reason in the world of sports, history holds strong credibility, and it often can be the one determiner that breaks the balance of a matchup that is considered to be mostly even.
Written by: Aidan Champion
Aidan is an MSU Journalism Student and Spartan Football writer for: impact89fm.org
Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports