Big Brother? Little Brother? On Saturday, No. 15 Michigan was Better Brother as it crushed Michigan State 44-10. The 44 points the Wolverines scored are the most it has scored in a game against Michigan State since a 45-37 victory in 2004.
It was Michigan State that struck first in this game, taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but that was the end of the fun for the Spartans. Michigan took control from there, outscoring the Spartans 44-3 over the final three quarters. Quarterback Shea Patterson led the way, as he had what was likely his best game in a Wolverines uniform.
Patterson finished with 384 yards passing, which is the fifth-most any Michigan QB has ever thrown for in a single game. He completed 24 of his 33 passes with four touchdowns as well. The biggest benefactor was Ronnie Bell, who caught nine passes for 150 yards. Patterson’s 384 passing yards were 164 more yards than Michigan State’s offense had in the game.
It was a thoroughly dominating performance by the Wolverines, who improve to 8-2 on the season. Michigan State drops to 4-6 and needs to win out to earn bowl eligibility. What can we take away from this game? Let’s have a look below.
1. Michigan’s offense is fine now: When teams make significant changes on offense, there are three likely outcomes. One is that everything goes smoothly and the results are there right from the start. For an example of this, look at how things have gone at LSU this season. The other two outcomes are it being a miserable failure or the team needing more time to adjust and find a rhythm. It was clear early in the season that Michigan would not be in the first result, as the Wolverines offense sputtered out of the gate in games against Army and Wisconsin. Then, after a 52-point outburst against Rutgers, it struggled again against Iowa before showing signs of life in a 42-25 win over Illinois
The turning point, however, was the Penn State game. After struggling for most of the first half in that eventual loss, Michigan’s offense came to life before halftime and carried that momentum into the second half. It lost the game, but since halftime of that Penn State battle, the Michigan offense has scored 141 in the last 14 quarters; that equates to roughly 40.3 points per game. Pair that with a Michigan defense that is now allowing 15.4 points per game in conference play, and we’re suddenly looking at a very dangerous team, which leads me to the next takeaway.
2. Michigan might be the second-best team in the Big Ten: I know Minnesota entered this weekend with a perfect record. I know Penn State beat Michigan earlier this season. I know Wisconsin steamrolled the Wolverines in September. I know, I know, I know, but if the season were to start over right now with the way Michigan is playing, who are you taking against it? The defense has been phenomenal, and the offense has started to click. Hell, Michigan nearly beat Penn State in Beaver Stadium. If not for a dropped touchdown by Ronnie Bell, the Wolverines might win that game in overtime.
The Michigan team we’ve seen over the last 3.5 games is the team most people expected to see coming into the 2019 season. It’s not on the same level as Ohio State, but nobody in the Big Ten is. Few teams in the country are. But right now, this Wolverines squad looks like the second-best team in the conference to me.
3. As Brian Lewerke goes, so goes Michigan State: That hasn’t been a good thing often enough. Now, to be clear, Lewerke isn’t the problem with this Michigan State team. It has numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, and it lost its defensive captain to a PED suspension. Still, it would be nice to have a more consistent quarterback.
Inconsistency has been the hallmark of Lewerke’s tenure with the Spartans. It was even evident on Michigan State’s lone touchdown drive Saturday. Facing a 3rd-and-7, Lewerke had an open receiver. All he had to do was make a good throw, and not only would Michigan State get a first down, but likely 5 yards in addition. Instead, Lewerke made a bad throw, forcing his receiver to stretch so far to make the catch that he lost balance. In doing so, he came up a yard short of the sticks. Michigan State would pick up a first down on the next play and move down the field for a score thanks in large part to a beautiful throw by Lewerke to set up a first-and-goal.
And that’s the frustrating thing about Lewerke. How does he miss the wide-open receiver on third down and then make a gorgeous throw down the seam? How does he skip a pass to his running back in the flat that could have been a nice gain with a good throw? How does he underthrow his target this severely?
You almost get the sense that the more open his target is, the further off-target the throw will be. Again, I don’t mean to say Lewerke is the problem. He’s not. He’d be helped out quite a bit if Michigan State had any semblance of a run game … but the Spartans don’t. Still, offenses are often a reflection of their quarterback, and considering how inconsistent Lewerke is, nobody should be surprised by the inconsistency of Michigan State’s offense overall.
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