In both teams’ past three games, Michigan State has gained 550 yards on 114 runs, Michigan 612 on 140. Based on those figures, the Spartans can be expected to run 38 times Saturday, the Wolverines 47.
Eighty-five rushing plays.
Settle in for two rams butting heads on the FOX national television broadcast, a typical Big Ten slugfest. In such a tightly contested game, we envision a game-winning field goal at the end. Taking the points covers either side connecting on it.
We’ll tap Michigan’s No. 2, Jake Moody, a senior from Pinckney, Mich., who has a top-20 87.5% success rate this season. He has nailed all 60 of his career PAT attempts, and he’s been drilling 70-yarders in recent practices.
No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (7-0)
These two have met four times with both in the top 10. All were played between 1956 and ’64. The three in Ann Arbor were won by the Spartans, who shut out the Wolverines twice, and the one in East Lansing went to Michigan.
That would bode well for the Wolverines, who own the 56-35-4 lifetime edge, the average score being 21-15 in Michigan’s favor. Moreover, Michigan has won the past two in Spartan Stadium.
That’s just dusty history, though. The stars of this game figure to be Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State’s fabulous tailback who is second in the country in rushing yards, and Blake Corum.
A 5-foot-8, 200-pound freshman from Marshall, Va., Corum is 20th on the national chart with 729 yards. He averages 6.3 yards per dash.
The danger for Michigan State is Corum’s fine backfield complement, Hassan Haskins, a 6-1, 220-pound sophomore from St. Louis who has tallied as many rushing touchdowns, with 10, as Corum. Of course, they’re tied for 10th in the country.
No. 8 Michigan State (7-0)
A 5-10, 205-pound sophomore from Arlington, Texas, Walker was listed third on one preseason depth chart. He has emerged in a big way, though, by having accumulated 997 rushing yards, second to only Sean Tucker (with 1,060) of Syracuse. Walker averages 6.6 per run and has scored nine TDs.
Michigan State has the slightly better rush defense, Michigan shines brighter on third- and fourth-down conversion, red-zone scoring and is more disciplined, penalty-wise.
The Wolverines own the better pass defense, too, which will be key against Michigan State’s redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Thorne.
To further reflect how well these two have played this season, and how they’ve been such mirror images, Michigan is 6-1 against the spread, the Spartans 5-1-1. Both have covered by an average of 9.9 points. THAT is excellence.
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Both being undefeated and sporting top-10 rankings adds luster to this rivalry that hasn’t been witnessed since 1964. However, an even higher toll is on the line since the loser will effectively be tossed from the national playoff picture.
An “elimination mindset,” says Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.
Which will increase the tension, says several professional sports bettors we respect and make the play-calling even more conservative than usual. In such a tight affair, taking the points to cover a key number or two is prudent.