College Football on Sling: Michigan Seeks Revenge on Michigan State, Washington Looks to Stay Undefeated Against Utah

Oct 29, 2016 by Sling Staff

#2 Michigan (7-0) vs. Michigan State (2-5)
Noon ET Saturday on ESPN

A year ago the Michigan Wolverines lost this annual showdown against their in-state rival when they muffed a punt attempt, allowing the Michigan State Spartans to run it back 38 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game for a 27-23 victory. With the Wolverines undefeated and in the playoff hunt this year, such a loss could be a coach killer. You can be sure Jim Harbaugh is even more intensely focused than usual.

The Wolverines crushed the Fighting Illini 41-8 last week to stay perfect and climb up to the second spot in the ranking, thanks also to Ohio State’s stunning 24-21 loss to Penn State. The 33-point victory over Illinois was actually comparatively modest, given that Michigan’s average margin of victory had been 39.7, as head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to tap the breaks once his team had built a 34-0 halftime lead, giving quarterback a well deserved breather for the fourth quarter. On defense the Wolverines stopped Illinois’ running game, holding them to just 77 yards, well below their average of 190. Illinois’ lone TD came only after MIchigan blew a fake punt, giving them the ball on the 43 yard line.

A year removed from a 12-2 season which ended with the Spartans ranked 6th in the nation, Michigan State has fallen on hard times. Their most recent loss, 28-17 against Maryland, left them undefeated in the Big Ten. Maryland got a big boost when Spartan Riley Bullough got called for targeting and was ejected with 4:39 to play in the first, the final two penalties costing his team 30 yards and sustaining what would turn out to be Maryland’s longest touchdown drive of the season. The Spartans took a big hit with starting QB Connor Cook and leading receiver Aaron Burbridge entering the draft, leaving big holes in the offense. Not surprisingly, the upheaval at quarterback has been rough, with Tyler O’Connor winning the job at the start of the season, only to start losing snaps to Brian Lewerke, who’s been even less effective. O’Connor has completed 61% of his passes with 11 TDs and 6 interceptions, while Lewerke has hit on just 53% for 1 TD and 1 INT. And it’s not just the offense: Michigan State’s D is giving up 8 more points a game over last year. No matter what happens Saturday, the Spartans will need to retool this offseason, but a win against the Wolverines would take away a lot of the sting.

#4 Washington (7-0) vs. #17 Utah (7-1)
3:30pm ET Saturday on FS1

A week after tying a Pac-12 record against Oregon with 8 TDs in a game – 6 passing, 2 rushing – Jake Browning suffered a huge letdown against Oregon State, connecting on just 14 of 28 for 291 yards and 3 touchdowns, while rushing for another, leading the Washington Huskies to 41-17 victory. That’s what constitutes a big letdown for this Heisman candidate. Huskies running back Myles Gaskin is quietly having a nice season in Browning’s shadow, having rushed for 727 yards and 6 TDs on 116 carries, and the Huskie D continues to stifle opponents, holding foes to just 318.6 yards per game, 15th-best in the land, thanks in part to forcing 2.7 turnovers per game, the second-best rate in the country.

The Utah Utes, led by quarterback Troy Williams, come at you with a balanced attack, averaging 218.6 yards in the air, and 214.4 on the ground. But when it’s time to get into the end zone, the Utes put their heads down and charge, scoring 18 TDs on the ground, against just 7 receiving. But it’s their defense that makes them competitive, as they allow just 21.6 points per game, by being tough on the run, just 119.3 yards per game, while being third in the nation with 15 interceptions, and the most total turnovers with 22. Jake Browning has only thrown 2 interceptions all season, it seems unlikely the Utes will get to him twice in a game.

Thursday October 27

#25 Virginia Tech (5-2) vs. Pittsburgh (5-2)
7pm ET on ESPN

Friday October 28

#22 Navy (5-1) vs. South Florida (6-2)
7pm ET on ESPN2

Saturday October 29

#10 West Virginia (6-0) vs. Oklahoma State (5-2)
Noon ET on FOX

#2 Michigan (7-0) vs. Michigan State (2-5)
Noon ET on ESPN

#24 Penn State (5-2) vs. Purdue (3-4)
Noon ET on ABC/ESPN2

#5 Louisville (6-1) vs. Virginia (2-5)
Noon ET on ABC/ESPN2

Northwestern (4-3) vs. #6 Ohio State (6-1)
3:30pm ET on ESPN

#4 Washington (7-0) vs. #17 Utah (7-1)
3:30pm ET on FS1

#8 Baylor (6-0) vs. Texas (3-4)
3:30pm ET on ABC

Kansas (1-6) vs. #16 Oklahoma (5-2)
7pm ET on FS1

#7 Nebraska (7-0) vs. #11 Wisconsin (5-2)
7pm ET on ESPN

#15 Auburn (5-2) vs. Ole Miss (3-4)
7:15pm ET on SEC Network

#18 Tennessee (5-2) vs. South Carolina (3-4)
7:15pm ET on ESPN2

New Mexico State (2-5) vs. #9 Texas A&M (6-1)
7:30pm on ESPNU

#3 Clemson (7-0) vs. #12 Florida State (5-2)
8pm ET on ABC

ESPN and ESPN2 are available to Sling Orange subscribers;
ESPN3, ESPNU, and SEC Network are available to Sling Orange subscribers with Sports Extra;
FS1 is available to Sling Blue subscribers.

All stats courtesy ESPN and Sports Reference CFB.

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