In the Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, first given to the winner of the game in 1953, the #6 Michigan Wolverines (7-0) led by Jim Harbaugh go to East Lansing to face their long time in-state rival the #8 Michigan State Spartans led by second-year Head Coach Mel Tucker. It’s the first time since 1964 the two Michigan schools will be playing each other with each ranked in the AP Top 10. The Wolverines are coming off a dominating 33-7 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats at Michigan Stadium, limiting the Wildcats to 233 of total yards. The Spartans (7-0) are coming off a bye. In their last game a 20-15 victory over Indiana on the road, the Spartans held the Hoosiers to six points in the second half.
This game will have huge implications in the race for the Big Ten East crown, but also a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Michigan Vs. Michigan State Betting Odds
They are led by Junior quarterback Cade McNamara, whose been regarded as a “game-manager,” throwing for 1,115 yards, five touchdowns and with a quarterback rating of 137.1. The most important part of McNamara’s game is not turning the football over, throwing only one interception in seven games this season. He hasn’t been challenged a lot this season but did deliver in the week 6 game at Nebraska leading the team on the tying and game-winning drive(s): resulting in kicker Jake Moody’s two field goals from 31 and 39 yards respectively. The physical Michigan State defense will challenge McNamara to make a big play. Prized recruit, J.J. McCarthy is a young quarterback with a tremendous upside but lacks experience. He can make big-time plays with his arm and legs. An example of his arm strength was the 56-yard “dime” he threw to Daylen Baldwin at Wisconsin for a touchdown. He could be the star quarterback Michigan has been desperately searching for since Harbaugh arrived in December of 2014.
The running attack is averaging 253.3 yards per game, fifth in the FBS. The ground game is led by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The sophomore Corum leads the team and is the second leading rusher in the Big Ten with 729 rushing yards: averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Haskins in seven games has rushed for 602 yards: averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. The duo has scored an incredible 20 rushing touchdowns combined in 2021: each with 10.
This type of offense is the style Jim Harbaugh likes to play; a ball-controlled offense with a dominant running game and a quarterback that doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers. This group has similarities to Harbaugh teams at Stanford minus the superstar quarterback in Andrew Luck.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines are yielding 14.3 points per game, second in the FBS. This season Michigan has cut down allowing big plays to their opponents, something that had plagued the Wolverines in previous seasons. Aidan Hutchinson has been the defensive star for Michigan. On the season he has 6.5 tackles for loss, 27 total tackles (17 solo), one forced fumble (he recovered the fumble) and tied for the team lead in sacks with five. Junior linebacker David Ojabo has been a revelation for the Wolverines this campaign. After playing in one game last season, Ojabo has played in all seven games this season accumulating 17 total tackles, five tackles for loss and tying Hutchinson for the team lead in sacks with five.
Michigan State Odds
The Spartans have already won seven games overall this season; the first time they have done so since 2017. Mel Tucker has done a good job in helping the Spartans rise in the Big Ten standings through the transfer portal and a strong running game.
Michigan State’s ground attack is averaging 200.4 yards per game in 2021 compared to averaging 91.7 yards per game in seven games in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened season). The Spartan rushing attack is led by Wake Forest transfer, Kenneth Walker III. The former Demon Deacon is second in the FBS with 997 rushing yards and is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season. He’s also scored nine touchdowns in the 2021 campaign. According to PFF, Walker III leads the country with 733 rushing yards after contact and causing 62 missed tackles, a truly incredible stat. Without a Heisman Trophy runaway candidate, the Michigan State running back’s odd to win the award is currently at +1600.
Michigan State is averaging 451.7 yards of total offense and scoring 34.3 points per game in 2021.
After starting one game for Spartans last season, Sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne has played well for the Spartans in 2021. He has thrown for 1,701 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 61.2 completion percentage. Thorne’s former high school teammate and Western Michigan transfer Jayden Reed leads the Spartans and is the fourth leading receiver in the Big Ten with 27 receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns. He’s tied for the team lead in reception with Jalen Nailor with 27. The junior Nailor has 512 yards receiving and leads the Spartans with six touchdown receptions. Last season in Michigan State’s win over Michigan, Nailor averaged 34 yards a reception; he’s a dangerous weapon the Wolverines can’t allow to get in the open field.
Michigan State’s defense is allowing 18.7 points per game, which is 19th in the FBS. Additionally, they are yielding 121 rushing yards per game to its opponents.
Defensive End Jacub Panasiuk leads the Big Ten in sacks with 5.5. In his last season’s win at Michigan, Panasiuk had a tackle for loss and three solo tackles. Defensive End Jeff Pietkowski is also causing havoc in opposing team’s backfields. Pietrowski has 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and 20 total tackles in seven games this season.
Pick & Prediction
Rushing yards could be a premium for each team as both the Wolverines and Spartans are stout against the run.
This game could come to down to the quarterbacks making a big play in the passing game. Visions of Shea Patterson throwing the 79-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in 2018 dance in my head, could McNamara replicate that throw by Patterson?
I don’t see a Sparty Party happening on Saturday in East Lansing. The Wolverines come away with the road victory 24-17 and covering the four-point spread.