I cannot believe this, for either team.
Against all odds, both Michigan and Michigan St. have survived through the first 7 weeks, and will face off on Halloween weekend in East Lansing.
Both ranked in the Top 10.
This is the first time since 1964 that both teams have faced each other as Top 10 teams.
Let's take a quick look at what got them here.
After Mark Dantonio left the program in shambles, State scrambled to hire the next CEO of the Football program. Chaos ensued, and Mel Tucker from Colorado landed the gig.
The bar was the lowest it had been in East Lansing in years, and somehow, the program has done a full 180 in the span of 2 years.
Sure, last year was a covid season so I don't put too much emphasis on it. However, covid season or not, a win over the hated Wolverines still counts in everyone's books.
This year, Tucker's Spartans are 7-0 thanks to Wake Forest transfer, Kenneth Walker III, out-running everyone in sight.
Walker has 997 yds. and 9 TD's so far this year, averaging 5 yds. per carry.
Quarterback Payton Thorne has also exceeded expectations, throwing for 1,701 yds., 15 TD's and 4 interceptions. Not too bad for a Sophomore from the suburbs of Chicago.
The Spartans have also seen big improvements in the trenches, something I've heard State fans say they've needed since I moved here in 2017.
The only concern for the Spartans right now, is they had a bit of a scare in Bloomington, Indiana. A game which we saw Walker rush for 84 yds. on 23 attempts. Did the Hoosiers figure out the perfect game plan to stop the dynamic rusher?
It'll take a big effort from Michigan's defense to stop the Spartan's offense next weekend.
Cade Or JJ?
Yea, I get it. I set myself up to talk about the defense stopping the Spartans, but that's exactly my point.
This defense does not shut teams down. Letting up 4 second half touchdowns to Nebraska more than proved that.
Michigan will bend, and will most likely break a few times. They have an excellent pass rush, and one of the best safeties in College Football in Dax Hill.
But in order for Michigan to win, they need to put up points.
The Wolverines came out flat in the first half against Northwestern, leading 10-7 after only coming away with a field goal on 2 back-to-back trips to the redzone.
Don't get me wrong, Michigan's run game has been stellar. But it's clear that good teams won't let you win by running them over. You're going to have to create chunk plays through the air, and Quarterback Cade McNamara has struggled all season finding that deep connection.
It seemed like Michigan was taking unnecessary shots down field in the first half like it was practice for next weekend against Michigan St.
Jim Harbaugh confessed that he thought they forced those deep shots early, but McNamara disagreed with that assessment.
All season long, McNamara has been exactly as advertised; a game manager.
He's going to play fundamentally sound football, and won't force the ball into dangerous situations.
He ended the day 20-27 through the air for 129 yds.
No touchdowns. No dazzling throws. No deep threat.
That will get the job done against the hopeless Wildcats (don't worry, Pat Fitzgerald will have this team on track next year) but will it work against good opponents?
Harbaugh has taken a 2 QB approach this season, throwing 5-star Freshman, JJ McCarthy, under center for a couple reps throughout the game.
I think it's great the kid gets experience, but it's infuriating to see him come in for 2 plays at most at a time. If you're going to put him in, let him finish drives!
Neither of these QB's can find a rhythm this way, and that won't fly next weekend.
Look, both teams have taken care of their business thus far, so it's ok to admit both teams are good. I'm just happy to see the State of Michigan have an important Rivalry Week!
There's a lot riding on next Saturday's game.
For Harbaugh, the Paul Bunyan trophy returns to Ann Arbor and some job security.
For Tucker, the trophy and possibly an upcoming call from So Cal or the Bayou...
Happy Rivalry Week!
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