October 9th, 2017
Blue-Green rivalry under the lights;
Lions and Panthers in a cat fight
By KEITH GAVE
The envelope please:
Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 7 Michigan (4-0, 1-0)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
TV/radio: ABC, WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Michigan by 12 1/2
A young Michigan State team is coming off a surprising win last week over visiting Iowa, which had nearly upset Penn State the previous week. It did a lot for the psyche of the Spartans – and probably did a lot to keep their what-have-you-done-for-me-lately from clamoring for coach Mark Dantonio’s scalp.
The Wolverines, meantime, were idle last Saturday. Or, as coach Jim Harbaugh would say, “improving.”
An extra week to prepare doesn’t bode well for the Spartans. Their calling card this season was supposed to be their run game. With Iowa stacking the box, MSU running backs LJ Scott, Gerald Holms and Madre London combined for just 40 yards on 24 carries between them. And oh by the way, Michigan boasts the nation’s top defense, giving up a Football Bowl Subdivision-low 69.3 yards rushing. If they can’t move the ball on the ground, it’s going to be a long game for MSU.
The bye week gave senior quarterback John O’Korn an extra week to prepare. He performed nicely in relieve of injured Wilton Speight, and even found a way to score from the red zone at Purdue. But it’ll be a whole new set of challenges for him as a starter – against a much better defense than he faced in West Lafayette.
O’Korn, a fifth-year senior, will make some mistakes. Michigan State’s secondary, fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense, will force some. The Spartans have allowed just one touchdown pass all season. And O’Korn had his issues with interceptions at Houston, so beware of anointing him as the No. 1 quarterback before Speight has a chance to recover and compete for his job again.
On paper, this looks like a close game, and no matter where these two teams are in their development cycles, their games are fiercely fought with often surprising results. Michigan prevailed last year against a wounded and wilting Spartans’ team, winning 32-23. It was Harbaugh’s first win over Michigan State, but just the third win in 10 tries against Dantonio.
But the games aren’t played on paper. Michigan is coming into the game after four straight lopsided victories. Make it five.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Michigan State 10
Detroit (3-1) vs. Carolina (3-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ford Field, Detroit
TV/radio: FOX; WQON, 100.3-FM
Line: Lions by 2.5
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton looked like his old MVP self in the upset win at New England last week – but he was playing against the league’s worst pass defense. If he can do anything remotely close to that (22-29, 316 yards and a 1`30.8 passer rating), the Lions will be in trouble. But he won’t. Detroit has one of the better secondaries he’ll face all year – and an A-Z (that’s Ziggy Ansah to Anthony Zettel) pass rush that will have him on the run all afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions have to do a better job protecting quarterback Matt Stafford than they did in the gritty win Sunday at Minnesota. Carolina’s defense could pose similar challenges. If the running game continues to develop, watch out; defenses won’t be able to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.
If we’ve learned anything about these Lions so far is that they can beat you in a number of different ways – offense, defense and special teams. They’re one foot away from being 4-0. A close, hard-fought game Sunday could be decided by another foot. It belongs to Matt Prater.
Prediction: Lions 23, Panthers 20