By the Numbers: Game 8 @ Michigan State


Michigan handled their business by avoiding the classic trap game coming out of the bye week.  The Wolverines dominated statistically en route to a 33-7 victory.

NEXT UP: vs. Michigan State: 21st, 1.0

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 3.5, Michigan Win Probability 58%
There was a mild flare up online when the line for this game settled at Michigan (-4.5).  For yet another week, the Vegas spread is very close to the SP+ projection.  Through 7 games in 2021, Bill Connelly’s model is 5-2 against the opening spread in Michigan games.

Michigan Offense (18th) vs. Michigan State Defense (12th) 

When Michigan has the ball, this game will feel like the prototypical U-M vs MSU rivalry game.  The Wolverines are going to run the ball inside and out, and the Spartans are well aware of this.  For large portions of the contest I am sure this will be a gritty battle in the trenches.  I have very little doubt that Josh Gattis will basically say “here we come, try to stop us” as a base strategy.  Despite all that, the game may largely be decided on the handful of plays that Michigan State sells out to stop the Wolverine running game, and Josh Gattis dials up his counterattack.  Cade McNamara must be efficient and seize those opportunities for big chunk plays down the field.  

Michigan Defense (9th) vs. Michigan State Offense (53rd)

Michigan State’s offense has proven to be explosive in 2021.  Kenneth Walker has been electric running the ball.  Payton Thorne connects consistently with Jayden Reed and Jaylen Nailor on the outside.  Those two WRs have combined for 11 touchdown receptions through 7 games.  However, both Nebraska and Indiana were able to effectively bottle up this Spartan offense.  Michigan State managed to gain just 254 total yards in Week 4 versus the Cornhuskers.  The Hoosiers’ defense fared even better, holding MSU to only 241 total yards just before the Spartans took their week off.  The challenge for Mike MacDonald will be keeping all of the Spartan playmakers inside and in front of his defenders.  If the Wolverines’ DBs don’t get beat over the top, and can avoid giving away conversions via penalty, I trust Michigan’s edge defenders to keep Walker contained inside.

PREDICTION:  The 2021 battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is the most anticipated chapter of the game in my lifetime.  Both teams are undefeated heading into the game for the first time since 1999, when first appeared on dial up internet.  In many ways, these teams are very similar.  As is usually the case, Saturday’s victor will be decided by which players step up in key moments and can deliver big time plays.  All things considered, I believe Michigan will wear down the Spartans and take control of this game in the 2nd half.  Prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster as Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are trading haymakers (figuratively of course) with Mel Tucker’s Spartans.
Michigan 31 Michigan State 21 (same as preseason)


  • SP+ Overall: 7th (↑1), 19.6
  • SP+ Offense: 22nd 18th (↓4), 34.9
  • SP+ Defense: 8th (↑1), 15.9
  • SP+ Special Teams: 3rd (↓1), 0.6

AP Poll: 6th (same), 1,270

Coaches’ Poll: 6th (same), 1,313

CFP Rank: N/A

U-M Resume after Game 7

Michigan vs Michigan State Football — Looking Back – 1981

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

The second installment in this year’s series looking back at the Michigan-Michigan State football rivalry takes us to 1981. Early in the third quarter, Morten Anderson had given Michigan State a four-point lead, and Michigan subsequently coughed up the football for the third time. As the sun started to dip toward the upper reaches of Spartan Stadium, things weren’t looking good for the Wolverines.

Then, with Michigan State driving, Jerry Burgei stepped up to save the day. Don’t bother trying a google search; you won’t find much. Burgei was a little-known defensive back during his time in Ann Arbor, but on Oct. 10, 1981, he made the most of his opportunity, intercepting a Brian Clark pass at the Michigan 17-yard line to thwart a Spartan drive. With that, Michigan finally got its ground game going consistently, as Butch Woolfolk started to grind up 10-15 yards a carry, and Lawrence Ricks eventually punched the ball over the goal line to give Michigan the lead for good. Aware that Anderson was a kicking weapon for MSU, Michigan elected to go for two points, with wide receiver Anthony Carter taking a handoff and tossing an easy scoring pass to quarterback Steve Smith, who was completely alone in the end zone.

In all, Burgei’s interception ignited a 22-point Michigan rally, as the Wolverines topped the Spartans, 38-20. The win was Michigan’s third consecutive victory in the rivalry, and the Wolverines eventually finished 9-3, punctuated by a 33-14 win over UCLA under the artificial sky of the Astrodome in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.

Thanks to youtube poster WolverineHistorian for the footage of the game. As always, we own nothing, and this video and blog post are presented strictly for the enjoyment of readers.

Michigan vs Michigan State Football — Looking Back – 2012

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

The first chapter in this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us back to 2012. The previous season had been wonderful for Michigan, as the maize & blue had firmly reestablished their birthright of national football relevance. But there had been one snag. Brady Hoke’s first team found a way to lose to Michigan State.

As 2012 rolled around, Hoke was reminded of that fact, almost hourly. The flash and dash of the Rich Rodriguez-inspired zone read spread option offense hadn’t worked against Michigan State; neither had UM quarterback Denard Robinson been able to summon up his customary magic. None of the new age stuff worked against the Spartans, but that was just what Hoke was built for. He realized immediately that the Michigan-Michigan State game had always been about smashmouth football, and on Oct. 20, 2012, Hoke reintroduced the Wolverines to a Schembechler tradition: Michigan played old-fashioned, rock ‘em, sock ‘em football, punctuated by an aggressive, bone-crunching defense.

Sure enough, the game proceeded in classic Big Ten fashion, as a low-scoring, field position-oriented struggle, with Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and MSU defensive end Will Gholston waging a battle for the ages. The teams traded the lead a few teams in the fourth quarter, and on the final drive, Robinson scrambled and connected with receiver Drew Dileo for a critical 20-yard gain that set up Brendan Gibbons for a 38-yard field goal that brought the Paul Bunyan trophy back to the Michigan locker room.

Thanks to youtube poster parkinggod and the Big Ten Network for the attached highlight film. As always, we own nothing and this film and blog post are used strictly for the enjoyment of our readers.

2021 Michigan Football — Playbook — The Sack — What Could Have Been

Let’s break down the play where Cade McNamara was sacked at the 10:29 mark of the 1st quarter resulting in a 10 yard loss for Michigan.

It was a big play for Northwestern, but it could have been a huge play for the Wolverines.


Here is the pre-snap look as the teams line up. Michigan has the three receivers to the wide side of the field– I’ve mentioned before I love when the Gattis brings three or four receivers out like this. It give the offense many options and causes the defense problems as we’ll see here. Northwestern as their wide side defenders 5-10 yards off of the Michigan receivers.

This is what Cade McNamara sees as the Michigan offense lines up. The Wolverines are attacking the wide side of the Northwestern defense. It’s 2nd down and 7 yards to go, and Gattis has a pass play dialed up.

Cade McNamara’s pre-snap look at the defensive alignment


Post snap the receivers streak down the left side of the field, creating a bubble for Blake Corum who swings out of the backfield. At this point Northwestern has a problem; Michigan has overloaded the left side of the formation 4 to 3. The receivers are creating space for Blake Corum to potentially catch the ball and turn up field.

Blake Corum has a lots of room to work with as the Michigan receivers head downfield

And what about the middle? AJ Henning is streaking open behind the Northwestern linebackers who have stepped up to pressure McNamara.

And wait there’s more:

AJ Henning is by himself but Cade McNamara doesn’t have the time

Things are looking up…but Northwestern makes a play.


Northwestern #16 Brandon Joseph sprints at the snap of the ball and runs unimpeded to sack #12 Cade McNamara.

#66 Chuck Filiaga doesn’t see the speeding Joseph who exploits a huge split in the Michigan formation.

This is a great example of the fickle finger of football fate.

Michigan had a great play dialed up but Filiaga, a solid offensive lineman, fails to pick up the blitzing Northwestern defender. What could have a been a big play for Michigan instead results in a big play for their opponent.