No. 6 Michigan is 7-0. No. 7 Michigan State is 7-0. ESPN Gameday, Fox Big Noon Kickoff and Barstool Sports will all be in East Lansing for the game on Saturday. The two programs haven't met as top-ten teams since the 1960s. The two teams have never met as undefeated teams this deep into the season.
Saturday's game between the Wolverines and Spartans in East Lansing has turned into one of the marquee matchups of the entire college football season and literally everyone will know about it if they don't already. With both of the preeminent pregame shows in town, everyone across the country will see exactly what the game means. Because of that, there were a few extra media members inside of Schembechler Hall today as Jim Harbaugh got the week rolling with his press conference.
"Now we're in a situation — huge game. In some ways [the 'one game at a time' approach] is similar, but in some ways it definitely gets turned up a notch."
There's no doubt about it.
This game always means more than a regular Big Ten game and I'm glad Jim Harbaugh acknowledged that. This year, however, with the undefeated records, the top-ten rankings and the overall narrative surrounding Harbaugh and his record against MSU, Mel Tucker and top-15 teams on the road, it's absolutely massive. Harbaugh knows it, acknowledged it and addressed it — publicly. I think that bodes well for the rest of the week of preparation.
"[Payton Thorne] is very good scrambling. He's averaging about 8 yards per run."
This is a very small, very specific quote and stat, but I think it's noteworthy that Harbaugh had it at the ready. We've already watched Noah Vedral from Rutgers and Adrian Martinez from Nebraska have some success running the ball against Michigan, so I'm sure Harbaugh and the defense are well aware of Thorne's abilities.
In a matchup like this inside Spartan Stadium, timely runs, big-play scrambles or quarterback rushing touchdowns can be huge momentum boosts. Thorne hasn't put up eye-popping rushing numbers this season but he's capable and you know MSU will pull out all the stops to beat U-M. If Thorne running the ball works, we'll see it often.
"It's an elimination mindset, a playoff mindset at this point. Win this game, it'll help your chances."
The last part of the quote is obvious, but I'm not sure I've ever really heard Jim Harbaugh talk about winning the conference or making the playoff or winning a national championship with five games left on the schedule and a huge matchup looming.
I personally love that he did. With the team being undefeated and No. 6 in the nation, these goals need to be talked about and talked about often. They're realistic at this point and can be used as major motivation. The team is obviously together, driven and focused, but hearing words like "Big Ten title" and "national championship" on a regular basis can be great for morale.
"[Josh Gattis] has been creative and not predictable. I think he has a good feel for calling the game on third down and in all the situations — third down, fourth down and red zone. Consistently good."
I just don't agree with most of this statement. I think Gattis has been rather predictable and not very creative at all. Part of that is because Michigan is really good at running the ball, so it's pretty easy to figure out what they're going to try to do in most situations. Then in some situations, especially near the goal line, Michigan has gotten too cute a few times and squandered some opportunities. Overall through seven games, the offensive approach has worked well enough to win every game.
The Wolverines have certainly had some success, especially in the run game, which has resulted in 253.3 rushing yards per game and 37.7 points per contest. Those marks are No. 5 and No. 15 in the country, respectively. So far, that's turned into seven wins and zero losses. It's really hard to complain about those results. However, the passing game has been pretty bad and continues to be a question mark as U-M prepares for its biggest game of the season. The Wolverines are sitting at No. 104 in the country with just 189.6 passing yards per game and have thrown just seven touchdown passes.
Michigan is also scoring touchdowns on just 60.61% of its trips into the red zone, which puts them at No. 67 in the country. When it comes to scoring in general though, they're at No. 23 because they've converted on 10 field goals. What that means to me, is that play calling in the red zone has been subpar. Michigan is inside the top 25 in both third-down and fourth-down conversions, so those numbers are respectable.
Top to bottom, Michigan's offensive approach, scheme and play calling have been good, not great. The Wolverines have won every game they've played, but they've only played three teams with a winning record — Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, who is now 4-3 after beating Purdue this past weekend.
After this weekend, none of the comments about Gattis will matter, even if the offense isn't humming along in East Lansing on Saturday. Michigan is either going to be 8-0, with a ton of momentum and support pouring in from all corners of the country, or 7-1 with a whole new list of problems to deal with.