Michigan Football: 3 stats that will determine Paul Bunyan winner

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Syndication: Detroit Free Press /

It’s always a battle when Michigan football and Michigan State play and here are three stat categories that will determine who wins. 

While the rivalry between Michigan football and Michigan State gets overshadowed a bit, it’s as good a rivalry as there is in college football.

The intensity matches Michigan and Ohio State and with the way Michigan State has been more successful the last two decades, it has become even more hotly contested.

Saturday will be the first time Michigan football and Michigan State will be ranked in the top 10 during this game since 1961. So it’s a big deal and we all know the stakes.

There will be a few key categories to watch in terms of who will win and here’s what to watch during the game.

Rush yards

The team that wins the running battle almost always wins this game. Both teams boast elite rushing attacks and much of what they do offensively is predicated on the backs.

Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins for Michigan, as well as Kenneth Walker III for MSU. Michigan’s offensive line has been a strength this season but it’s not 100 percent either.

Michigan State has yet to face a defense as talented as Michigan’s, which is in the top 10 nationally in points and yards allowed.

And whichever defense can contain the run will put its team in a great spot to win.

Turnover margin

Football isn’t rocket science. Teams that protect the ball and take it away generally win. Often, talented players make those things happen, on both sides of the ball.

It’s easier to get takeaways if you have great athletes that can pressure the quarterback or much easier to protect the ball when you’re a deadly accurate quarterback.

Accurate quarterbacks make mistakes too, but you catch my drift. And in this game, turnovers are paramount. Last year, there were no turnovers, and Michigan football lost by three.

This is going to be close once again and the game will likely change on a fumble or interception and the team that wins the turnover battle should win the trophy.

Passer rating

QBR is the new thing when it comes to judging quarterbacks but opponent passer rating is still a really important stat, as is your own passer rating.

College football has a different way of doing it than the NFL and it’s more of a pass efficiency rating. But if your quarterback is better in that stat, you are probably going to win the game.

Last year, Rocky Lombardi posted a 168 compared to Joe Milton’s 112. In 2019, Shea Patterson was at 210.5 compared to 100.8 for Brian Lewerke who threw two interceptions.

Patterson threw four touchdowns and no picks. He also threw for 384 yards and completed 72 percent of his throws. It was one of his finest days as a Michigan football quarterback.

And if you look at the box score Saturday or Sunday, the quarterback with the better passer rating — Payton Thorne or Cade McNamara — will likely be the winning quarterback.

Unless of course, J.J. McCarthy makes a bigger impact than expected. He could but then it would just revert to the team rating. Completion percentage, yards per attempt, and turnovers are all key aspects of it, as well as touchdowns.

The Wolverines have won twice without winning the passer rating battle but are 5-2 when they get the edge in that category. And against Washington, one of the games, the running game was dominant, as was the defense, so it didn’t matter.

Nebraska was the other game and in that one, turnovers made the difference. Fumbles don’t factor into the passer rating and neither do bad sacks and Adrian Martinez had both that night.

Next. 3 Spartans you need to know. dark

Those things are factored into QBR, as are turnovers. It’s a good tool, but passer rating is an easy way to compare two teams during a game, and usually, as with every other category on this list, the winner of that category tends to win the game.