Michigan vs Michigan State Preview 2019

Is this the final time Michigan will face Mark Dantonio?

Michigan State's empire under Mark Dantonio is quite possibly one pillar remaining from total collapse. The teams from 2008-2015 that included five 11+ win seasons, three Big Ten Championships, a Rose Bowl win, a College Football Playoff appearance, and a 7-1 record against Michigan now seems like a long-distant memory.

The Spartans have not won a game since September. The latest disaster in their four game losing streak came from choking up a 28-3 lead to Illinois, a comeback that was led by Michigan transfer Brandon Peters. After the game, coach Dantonio did not comfort Spartan fans:
In 2016, the Spartans had the #17 recruiting class in the nation, including nine 247 composite four-stars. These players are seniors now and among the 20 committed, only six remain. Four of them were kicked off the team for sexual assault, eight transferred, and Joe Bachie is suspended for using performance enhancement drugs.

The future doesn't look brighter either. Michigan State's 2017 recruiting class has 17 commits and none of them are in the top 300 on 247. In fact, eight of them are ranked outside the top 1,000 players, with only an "NA" listed. The 2019 recruiting class does have a pair of top 50-ish players, but these numbers quickly drop off a cliff with the next highest player ranking at 424 (along with five more players outside the top 1,000).

A loss to arch-rival Michigan would be their fifth straight and require wins over lowly Maryland and Rutgers just to make bowl eligibility. A blowout loss could put the fanbase in an uproar over the future of Mark Dantonio. A Michigan victory would put Jim Harbaugh at a winning record against at least one of Michigan's rivals and silence some critics for at least, well... two weeks. MSU has looked worse and worse each week. Michigan has been rickety but is still vastly improved compared to the squad they were in September.

Michigan is one win away from wiping away the shadow of the Mark Dantonio era for good.

Michigan State Offense vs Michigan Defense

Michigan Players in the backfield - there will be lots
Last year the Spartans put up less yards than a football field against Michigan and the Spartans' solution to the abysmal offense that ranked 13th in the Big Ten last year on S&P+ was to play musical chairs with the coaching staff. The result is the 12th ranked offense in the Big Ten. Dark horse Heisman candidate Brian Lewerke currently holds the 50th ranked passer rating on ESPN and running back Elijah Collins (#24) has positioned himself as the go-to running back after Connor Heyward and La'Darius Jefferson entered the transfer portal.

QB Brian Lewerke (#14) is listed as "probable" after suffering a probable mild concussion against Illinois that went undiagnosed. Lewerke said that his bell was ringing for a little bit, the first sign of a concussion, but conflicting reports about whether he did or did not go through a concussion protocol and pass are going on from the MSU athletic department.

There's not much that will keep Lewerke alive against the Wolverines, as six (6!!!) MSU offensive linemen are listed as out or questionable for this game. The Spartans will likely be starting a true freshman at Center and backups all along the line. Between Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye, Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson, and Cam McGrone, the Michigan defense will feast.

The Spartans will also be without their top receiver, as Darrell Stewart Jr. is out with a leg injury that he suffered against Penn State in October. Matt Dotson, the second tight end in receiving yards is also out for the season with an achilles injury.

So what weapons do Michigan State actually have? Well, Brian Lewerke has been able to get some sort of production at quarterback, throwing for over 200 yards against four Big Ten teams, including Ohio State. He is also number two on the team in rushing yards with 265, more than Shea Patterson has on the season. But with injuries piling up, Lewerke is having fewer and fewer viable targets to pass to. He will need to rely heavily on Cody White (#7) on Saturday.

The Spartan offense scored two touchdowns in the month of October. Brian Lewerke likely has a mild concussion and for the 2nd year in a row Michigan State will be without their number one receiver in this game. It's tough to see them getting anything at all in this one. Dantonio likes to pull out the tricks for the Michigan game, and he did just that last year when the Wolverines fumbled deep into Spartan territory for their only score of the game. I don't think we see a 94 yard performance since that's just statistically improbable, but it's also difficult to see where the Spartans will get their 100 yards from unless they get lucky on some big plays.

Michigan State Defense vs Michigan Offense

 At the time of the Spartans' bye week, Joe Bachie led the team in solo tackles, total tackles, assisted tackles, sack yards and was tied for 2nd in sacks (also had an interception). He was then suspended for using PEDs. Michigan State will also be without their best defender against Michigan. Bachie helped lead the Spartan defense into a top 5 spot in SP+, a figure that has since fallen to number 11. Still, Michigan State has a talented defense that starts with their defensive line. 

DE Kenny Willekes (#48) leads the team with 5.5 sacks but only 1.5 of these came in Big Ten play (1.5 vs Illinois). Regardless, he is still one of the best defensive ends in the country  and will be playing on Sundays come next year. DTs Raequan Williams (#99) and Mike Panasiuk (#72) should sound familiar from last year. They lead the Spartans with the #16 rushing defense in the country. 

We've seen Dantonio's defense for years, it's a very aggressive defense that likes to double blitz the A-gap a lot. Don't forget that last year's game was tied at 7 well into the 3rd quarter. But with that aggressiveness comes exposure to big plays, which, well:

Despite the #11 SP+ defense, the Spartans have given up no fewer than 28 points against their last five Big Ten opponents. Brandon Peters put up 369 passing yards in their improbable comeback last week (though only rushed for 36 yards). Penn State gained just over 300 yards of offense but cracked 100 rushing yards and threw four touchdown passes. Ohio State... yeah.

Michigan will likely struggle to run the ball a bit in this game. They key to moving the ball will be in the passing game but Michigan has been so up and down in passing efficiency this season. It wouldn't surprise me to see a similar game to last year where it's low scoring going into the 2nd half. Despite Michigan's shortcomings on offense though, they're not at the level of Michigan State's and should this game come down to a field position battle at times, the advantage still goes to Michigan.

Best Case Scenario
Harbaugh is out for vengeance and is able to run the score up. The defense has a very real non-zero chance of holding the Spartans to under 100 yards again. An embarrassing performance puts Mark Dantonio on the hot seat amongst the fanbase. Despite Mark Dantonio's comments after the Mike Hart 'Little Brother' presser, it's over.

Worst Case Scenario
A defensive slugfest keeps this close in the 4th quarter. Think Iowa game part two. Michigan loses this if they turn the ball over in their own territory and are unable to have success on offense otherwise. ESPN gives Michigan State about a 16% chance in this one but I've seen crazier things.

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong

Michigan - 24
Michigan State - 6

Past Highlights


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