Preview: Michigan State at Michigan, 2022 Season

 The Michigan State Spartans will face off with the Michigan Wolverines on October 29th for the Paul Bunyan trophy in Ann Arbor, MI. This serves as my preview for the match up.

Courtesy photo/Michigan State University

Film Review

2022 Penn State vs Michigan - LINK

2022 Wisconsin vs Michigan State - LINK

2021 Michigan vs Michigan State - Part 1 and Part 2

All Michigan - LINK


Where It Stands

On Michigan State Health:

MSU has had a case of the injury bug this year, which as everyone knows, is an excuse for every woe for the fanbase suffering from it, and "next man up" for every rival going against it. In the case of MSU, they lost for significant time maybe the most important players at each level of the defense: Slade, Snow, and Henderson. While their loss doesn't serve as an excuse for just how bad the defense was in that stretch, no doubt their return serves to boost their defense going forward (for all but Snow).

Slade was back last week, but limited, I expect he'll be mostly good to go, and DT depth is pretty solid anyway. While Henderson himself is a better run defender than pass defender for a safety, he is very critical for leadership and communicating calls for the defense. Wisconsin isn't the stiffest passing test, but MSU was notably better last week. Snow won't be back. While it's questionable he's the best LB, I do think he was critical for LB coverage, where MSU has continued to struggle. Brule was back last week, and while I wouldn't say he's great in coverage, he's an improvement from what was being put out there.

On the Spartans Defense

Working forward-back. I've really liked what I've seen from Harmon this year, think he's actually be MSU's best DT. Barrow continues to flash, showing glimpses of All-B1G caliber, but is inconsistent. Hansen and Mallory both solid for depth. DE has been less stellar. Windmon showed flashes early, but doesn't have a lot of size and is probably a better blitzer than pure rusher. Everyone else lacks consistency outside Pietrowski, who has been (and may still be) hurt.

Brule has probably been an improvement for MSU LB, but otherwise Haladay looks similar to last years (positives and negatives). Depth there has been a weakness.

The backend seemed to fall apart without Henderson. Obviously they had issues last year too, but guys like Grose seemed to struggle much more with an increased load, and looked better as soon as Henderson could shoulder some of it again. I think CB is slightly improved, but too little overall. As they've shown weaknesses, I've felt other receiving groups have stepped up due to confidence as well. Will be interested to see what they did vs UW from a coverage standpoint.

On the Wolverines Offense

They are going against a UM OL that seems to be finding it's stride now, especially on the ground. Michigan runs a ton of schemes, and probably has draftable prospects at 4/5 positions right now. Better run blocking than pass blocking, but adequate pass blocking.

QB has been much more consistent than I anticipated, though still makes a couple poor decisions a game when under pressure. But overall has controlled the game, and hasn't been asked to shoulder too much. The deep ball has missed so far, but I don't know if that extrapolates.

Corum is among the best RBs in the country. Shifty in small areas, sees the field well. Think a little loss of top end speed with bigger size, he can convert to power well, but it's felt like it needs to be intentional (i.e. he loses his power at times based on how he cuts). Edwards provides depth, but is a clear step down as a runner (but provides a significant match up issue in the pass game).

TEs have been great this year, despite missing All. They don't have a standout, but Schoon is an all around threat with good hands that can find voids, and the rest have shown ability to be plus in the run game (depth chart goes deep).

WR group is diverse, and has guys for each role. But it is missing a *star* that does it all. Look for how they use formations and routes to get favorable match ups and utilize each strength.

On the Michigan State Offense

On O for MSU. OL remains inconsistent. I don't think they are bad, per se, but they just don't open up a lot and remain pretty mediocre in pass protection. Last year, the MO was basically "got into assignments". I think that's mostly true this year too.

At QB, Thorne is probably the most up-and-down QB outside Petras in the B1G. Shows flashes where he looks like an NFL-caliber QB. Shows moments where you wonder what the hell is going on. Feet can be inconsistent, especially when he starts holding the ball and gets pressure

I think they're mostly fine at RB. Berger has looked better than I anticipated, Broussard less so. Collins has stepped up a bit as a hard runner. Again, behind a better OL, I think this RB group is fine at worst. They just aren't creating a lot on their own.

I anticipate they've struggled to get TEs involved based largely on the run game issues. But both Barker (NFL prospect) and Carr (NFL potential) are good TEs. Hunt is a bit more balanced, but doesn't have the upside. That's an area they could focus vs UM, especially because TE blocking from any of the three is not a particular strength.

At WR, Reed is obviously great. I think they have solid depth, with Coleman actually showing more improvement than I anticipated. He's got a lot of basketball player in his game. Enough depth here to at least have a rotation.

On the Michigan Defense

For Michigan, I think they've been good up front, but remain a bit inconsistent at times. Lots of depth at DT, show flashes of greatness, but have some lapses from time to time when down numbers in the box.They have been desperately trying to find organic edge rush, anticipate coming out the bye they are going to ramp up those players. That part has been inconsistent outside Morris. But they have a lot of guys that can play snaps if they need to save reps for their better rushers.

 LB has been inconsistent, as they've been down a starting LB all year. Barrett has stepped up and is solid, but has limitations. Colson has some great traits, but still working on instincts/reads. They can be hit in coverage. Both great blitzers though.

DB I would say has been good so far. I'm not sure I've seen a one year transition from O to D as good as Sainristil, who is potentially all conference. Green has been the better CB, but Turner has more big play potential.  Safeties go three deep. They use them in a lot of ways, so a lot on their shoulders. Feels like tackling has been a little rougher this year, but they are shouldering a lot more in terms of playing at LB level and doing some other things too.

On Special Teams

MSU has one of the best punters in the nation (stats say best), UM is Top 5. Michigan has one of the best kickers in the country, MSU has had a wild ride (but hey, college kickers, anything can happen). Michigan has been great on special teams the last few years. B1G Football!

What I Expect

For the Wolverines Offense vs Michigan State Defense

For UM Offense, I think a lot of people want them to come out airing it out. I'm not sure I'm there, honestly. While the backend has undoubtedly been the major issue for MSU, the run D hasn't been great either, despite being solid at DT. I would expect Michigan to end around 55-45 run/pass on first down. My guess is UM will be able to lean on that front and force MSU to play a style of defense that is geared to stop the run, which will open up better match ups on the back end. As noted by @statsofwar, while MSU has struggled at passing defense, they have also struggled in run D, particularly because offenses are running less against them (because of the pass D issues) except in obvious pass situations.

This is a balanced approach, it's not run dominant, but it is still primary run to set up the offense, with occasional early down reliefs to keep the defense honest. For UM, while a pass heavy approach is probably best chance for pulling away early and blowing out opponent, I think it also lends best chance for major swings in the game, which would ultimately make it the chance that gives MSU a better chance to come away with the win.

If I'm MSU, I try not to buy into it. I believe that with healthy DTs and return of Henderson, I can do enough to slow down the run. Some DCs believe "stop what the O does best." I don't think MSU has the horses on backend or front where committing that much resource makes sense.

For the Spartans Offense vs the Michigan Defense

For MSU on O, I'd expect Thorne's legs to be a little more active in this game. 11P run option, 12P pass plays. We saw a few new wrinkles to some of MSU's zone plays last year, expect that again (including more reads). In the pass game, expect Reed and TEs to try to work over the middle and match ups, and then plenty of your Jay Johnson standard Go routes and back shoulder throws to try to win 1v1 matchups.

If you're UM, I think you try to stay 2-high more of the day (this is generally against their nature this year, so we'll see), force MSU to try to win it on the ground where they just haven't been consistent enough. Then, when you get in pass situations, get into your 2-high SIM pressures and Fire Zones and speed up Thorne.


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