Five ranked teams went down in Week 8 of the 2021 college football season, all to unranked opponents. The nine-overtime Big Ten thriller between Illinois and Penn State grabbed the headlines, but Ohio State‘s 54-7 beatdown of Indiana and the closer-than-expected Oklahoma–Kansas game will give the College Football Playoff Committee a lot more to think about.
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Tale of the Tape
Mel Tucker’s first win as Spartans head coach came in this rivalry game a year ago when his Michigan State team secured a 27-24 win despite entering the game as 22-point underdogs. Tucker's counterpart, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, is 3-3 against the Spartans during his tenure.
Expect a lot of running in this one. Through eight weeks, the Spartans rank second in the Big Ten in explosive rushing plays of 10 or more yards with 45, while the Wolverines are a close third with 43. Both teams run the ball on more than 50% of offensive plays, and both teams average more than 5.0 yards per carry.
Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines: PFF rushing stats
|Metric||Michigan State||Michigan Wolverines|
|PFF rushing grade||85.0||92.7|
|EPA per rush||0.033||0.114|
|Yards before contact per attempt||1.9||2.3|
|Yards after contact per attempt||3.9||3.4|
|Yards per attempt||5.8||5.7|
|Explosive rush percentage||18.4%||13.5%|
Matchup to Watch: Michigan State WRs Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor vs. Michigan CBs Vincent Gray and Gemon Green
In a conference with a surplus of talented wide receivers, Michigan State has an explosive duo in Reed and Nailor. Through eight weeks, 24 of Michigan State’s 39 explosive passing plays of 15 plus yards have gone to either Reed or Nailor, as both of them have an average depth of target (aDOT) of over 13 yards downfield.
The cornerback duo of Gray and Green will have the difficult job of containing the pass-catching duo. Hopes will be far from high, too, given that they have combined for just one interception and one pass breakup on the year. Combined, they have allowed 30 catches from 49 targets for 346 yards and two scores, giving up 11.5 yards per reception in the process.
X-Factor: Michigan State edge defender Jacub Panasiuk
Both offensive lines have played well so far, but Michigan State's unit has the edge in terms of team pass-blocking grade (75.4 to 71.0), total pressures allowed (28 to 34) and pressure rate (13.4% to 19.7%).
Star edge defender Jacub Panasiuk will be priority No. 1 for the Wolverines' offensive line in this one, as he leads the Big Ten in total pressures generated (45) and ranks top-five in both pass-rush win rate (22.4%) and pass-rush grade (83.0).
PFF Greenline implies that the spread should be around -3.6, almost a full point of value from the market spread.
Both teams are playing confident football, but Michigan State has proven a little bit more in the passing game. In rivalry games like these, there is going to be value in taking the underdog. Michigan State has an opportunity to win this game outright in front of the home crowd.
Tale of the Tape