Michigan State Football vs. Michigan: Q&A with the Wolverine Digest

It's the 113th meeting between Michigan State and Michigan. Can the Spartans walk out of Ann Arbor with a victory?
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East Lansing, MI – Michigan State football is coming off a 38-27 week one loss to Rutgers and is looking to redeem themselves against their rival. 

The Wolverines have won the previous two matchups by a combined score of 65-17. 

Now, the two schools kickoff for the 113th time, and both will be looking to leave Ann Arbor with a hard-fought victory.  

This week, Spartan Nation brought in Michigan beat writer Eric Rutter from the Wolverine Digest to preview the contest. 

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

McLain Moberg: The Wolverines compiled 481 total yards (225 passing, 256 rushing), never turned the ball over, and nearly dropped 50 points in a road win against Minnesota. Talk to me about Michigan's offense, and new starting quarterback Joe Milton in particular.

Eric Rutter: Michigan finally saw what "Speed in space" looks like in OC Josh Gattis' offense. Michigan had seven different ball carriers and eight different receivers on the night, and the leading runner was Milton himself with eight carries. The Wolverines clearly spread the football around (and had success doing so) against Minnesota, and that trait will likely continue over the next several weeks as U-M works to find its most dependable skill position players. Milton played within himself in his first career start and was not asked to take any risky shots downfield, and the rushing game provided Michigan's starting QB with the ability to simply manage the U-M offense in Week 1.

MM: Michigan's offensive line played well, allowing one sack and two pressures the whole game. It made way for three different running backs, plus Milton, to score on the ground while averaging 8.3 yards per carry. Tell me about who the Spartans front four will be facing on Saturday.

ER: Jalen Mayfield is the team's returning right tackle, and he is the most talented blocker up front at this point. Mayfield momentarily opted out of the 2020 season because he was being mock drafted in the first couple rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, but his decision to return to Michigan certainly helps bolster the offensive line with four other new starters. However, Michigan only allowed one sack and pressure on the night, so the other linemen held their own as well. Andrew Vastardis played particularly well at center. Ryan Hayes, the starting left tackle, hemmed up his side of the line, and the team's guard combination of Chuck Filiaga and Andrew Stueber are big men that posted clean sheets as well.

Photo Credit: Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

MM: Among the wide receivers, who has impressed you so far?

ER: In terms of WRs, Ronnie Bell showed why he was Michigan's leading receiver a year ago, and he's the most dependable pass-catcher on the roster right now. Giles Jackson broke free several times but had issues with drops in Week 1. A.J. Henning is another speedster who can make plays with the football in his hands, and Erick All stepped up in a big situation with starting TE Nick Eubanks unavailable in the season opener.

MM: Michigan exploded offensively, but how did the defense look as a whole?

ER: The defensive line created pressure all night long, and Tanner Morgan was never able to find his comfort zone as a result. DE Kwity Paye logged three TFLs and two sacks on the night to go along with eight quarterback pressures, which was second-most in the entire country last week. His partner on the opposite side, Aidan Hutchinson, was also impressive, though he had to fight through a lot of should-be holding calls. Michael Barrett had the strongest performance from the linebackers, but it was a bit of a give and take. Michigan took away the pass from Minnesota, which allowed Gophers running back Mohammed Ibrahim to rush for well over 100 yards. The U-M secondary is still a work in progress, and Dax Hill's health will be pivotal to how the team looks on the back end this weekend.

The Spartans put the Wolverines in their place on Saturday.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

MM: Throughout the years, the bad blood between these two schools hasn't been lost on anyone; do you think the rivalry itself is enough to fuel both sides? Or will an empty Michigan Stadium affect the level of intensity either side typically plays with?

ER: I don't see a large drop off in terms of intensity. Both of these teams know how much this rivalry means to not only their own locker room but former players and fans across the state. Fullback Ben Mason mentioned during media availability this week that he will be fired up regardless of how many fans can or cannot attend. Given the back and forth nature of the rivalry over the past decade, I fully expect both teams to come prepared for a battle.

MM: Michigan is currently a 24-point favorite (most places). Do you think they will cover? Why?

ER: Before the opening line was released, I predicted that the spread would be at least 20 points. I don't see Michigan holding back, and an excuse to keep the first-stringers in the game late (if it is a blowout) would be the importance of live game reps for a mostly new offense. Michigan's defense had a few breakdowns in the back end, so I expect MSU to put up some points, but I don't think the Spartans can hang with Michigan's high powered offense, and I think U-M covers the spread. 

MM: Prediction Time: Final Score? Who wins? Why?

ER: Michigan 48, Michigan State 10. The game might feel closer than this score at times, but I expect Michigan to dominate from start to finish. If the Wolverines can avoid turnovers, this game has the potential to get out of hand in the second half. The Wolverines have a lot of talent on offense, and only a fraction of the playbook has been opened up, so if Milton gets on a roll again, then U-M has a chance to break 50 points en route to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten.

Photo Credit: Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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