In the midst of a five-game winning streak, first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines get their first crack at the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans in Saturday’s Big Ten matchup at Michigan Stadium.
After losing their season-opener, the Wolverines have ripped off five straight and pummeled their last three opponents 97-0, rising six spots in the latest national rankings. But a victory over head coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans would propel Michigan into another conference stratosphere and put them in line to challenge No. 1 Ohio State for the Big Ten title.
The Spartans have won six of the last seven meetings between the programs, but enter the game as seven-point underdogs, largely due to Michigan’s incredible defensive prowess, but also to their lack of quality wins.
Dantonio’s crew, led by senior quarterback Connor Cook’s 12 touchdown passes, beat then-No. 7 Oregon 31-28 back on Sept. 12 but have since thwarted lesser opponents like Central Michigan, Purdue, and Rutgers by an average of 11 points.
But Cook and the Spartans are still undefeated and in contention for a College Football Playoff berth, and breaking past the Wolverines No. 1 ranked defense should place them back into the nation’s top four of five.
Cook’s joined by freshman running back LJ Scott, who’s gained 418 yards and six touchdowns off 70 rushes, and senior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge ranks second in the Big Ten with 34 receptions for 560 yards and four touchdowns for a Spartans offense averaging 31 points a game.
Considering how well the Wolverines defense has played, the Spartans will be hard pressed to hit their season average. Michigan’s allowing a mere 6.3 points and 181. 3 yards per game, and much of the credit belongs to senior defensive tackle Willie Henry’s team-best 4.0 sacks and senior defensive end Chris Wormley’s seven tackles-for-a-loss up front.
Junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis has manned the Wolverines secondary with eight pass breakups and two interceptions, including one returned 37 yards for a touchdown in last week’s 38-0 blowout over then-No. 13 Northwestern.
But the Wolverines offense hasn’t received as much praise as maybe it should. Junior running back De’Veon Smith leads the rushing attack with 390 yards and four touchdowns, Ty Isaac has chipped in another 200 yards and a touchdown, while senior quarterback Jake Rudock has fought off his early turnover woes for 1,135 yards and five touchdowns.
Rudock tossed five interceptions in the first three games of the season, but he’s since thrown just one in the Wolverines last three games.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN