QB Shea Patterson – Patterson is the nation’s 26th most-efficient passer, and one of only six among those 26 throwing for less than 200 yards per game. So why such acclaim then? Because he has an outstanding touchdown-to-interception ratio (10:3) and is completing 69.0 percent of his pass attempts.
Over the last three weeks, he’s gotten the job done as a scrambler (12-, 9-, and 8-yard first-down runs at Northwestern), through the air (282 yards and 3 TDs against Maryland) and as a designed runner (90 yards rushing against Wisconsin).
He’s the leader Michigan has needed him to be, and a big reason this offense should not be intimidated in East Lansing.
LB Devin Bush – In the stat book, Bush’s five tackles will register as one of his smaller games, but look beyond the box score and his physicality was critical.
Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook was 3 for 4 for 25 yards before a violent sack from Bush late in the first quarter. After that? He missed his next eight pass attempts and was picked twice.
Bush also stood his ground and delivered more than a few punches to the chin of Badger offensive linemen, greatly diminishing their desire to combo block to the second level as UW’s running backs saw their yards per carry average drop from 6.4 yards to 4.4 yards after halftime.
WR Felton Davis (MSU) – All around him, fellow Spartan wide receivers have gone down with injury, putting even greater onus on Davis. How has he responded? Like a champ, recording both MSU scores against Penn State this past Saturday, including the 25-yard game-winning catch with 19 seconds left on the clock.
Davis’ 31 receptions (seventh), 474 yards (seventh) and four touchdowns (fifth) are not among the conference’s best totals this year but one could argue there is not a single wide receiver in the league more important to his team than Davis.
DE Chase Winovich – Where have you gone Chase? After putting up 10.5 tackles for loss in Michigan’s first five games, Winovich hasn’t had a stop behind the line of scrimmage in the past two. Maryland avoided him, leading Winovich to challenge the Badgers publicly to come after him. The fifth-year senior finished with four tackles and a QB knockdown (a split-second from a sack) but after making little major impact the past few weeks, he needs to be all over that stat sheet Saturday.
DE Kenny Willekes (MSU) – Spartan fans could legitimately argue we should flip-flop the two ends as Willekes ranks among the nation’s top pass rushers with five sacks on the season. He has nine total tackles for loss, including one in each game. However, his sack totals are somewhat inflated by the fact that MSU opponents have thrown the ball 252 times (the seventh most in the country) while Michigan foes have thrown it just 176 times.
Still, there is no reason to diminish the 6-4, 260-pound end. He’s a beast. Plain and simple, and combines with defensive tackle Raequan Williams, and brothers Mike and Jacub Panasiuk up front to spearhead the nation’s best rush defense.
QB Brian Lewerke (MSU) – By ESPN.com QBR rankings, Lewerke rates as the 72nd best quarterback in the country, and in the Big Ten, he is No. 10 in pass efficiency. There is good reason for that.
The junior has one of the worst touchdown-to-interception ratios in the country, with seven picks and just eight scores. He’s completing only 60.0 percent of his passes (74 QBs nationally are better), and his 7.1 yards per attempt also drops him into the mid-70s nationally.
Yet, this is still an incredibly talented signal-caller that has shown up big in key moments, completing 5 of 7 attempts for 76 yards and a 25-yard game-winning TD at Penn State in the final minute last weekend.
RB Karan Higdon – Higdon’s five straight 100-yard games are the most since Mike Hart had seven in a row in 2007.
The senior ball carrier has hit that mark in a variety of different ways:
• With big plays against Western Michigan (43- and 67-yard runs) and Nebraska (44- and 46-yard runs)
• By toting the rock as much as Michigan needed in a tough game at Northwestern (a career-high 30 carries)
• With relentless consistency against Maryland (11 of 25 rushes were four yards or more but none greater than 18)
• By turning it up in the second half against Wisconsin (94 of his 105 yards came after halftime)
For Michigan to beat MSU, Higdon probably has to go over 100 yards again, setting the tone for a rushing attack that is trying to prove it is the Big Ten’s best.
LB Joe Bacchie (MSU) – Perhaps the hallmark of Mark Dantonio defenses has been a consistently dominant middle linebacker. The 6-2, 238-pound junior has recorded 10 or more tackles in seven of 19 career starts.
Bacchie is coming off a subpar performance at Penn State – his four tackles are well below his season average of 7.8 and he was primarily to blame for one of Miles Sanders’ long runs (48 and 78 yards) – but he’s the kind of player that thrives on this rivalry, and he will be a central figure to any success Michigan State’s defense has this weekend.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones – It seems like eons ago since Peoples-Jones caught three touchdowns against SMU, having just one score on seven total receptions in the past four games. Sophomore classmate Nico Collins has been more of the go-to target with 13 grabs, including deep balls of 36 and 51 yards.
However, DPJ is still considered the ‘play-maker’ of the position group – his 34-yard TD versus Maryland two weeks ago was off a broken play – and touching the ball as a runner (three carries this year for 37 yards) and as a punt returner (with gains of 13, 17, 26 and 60 yards the past four weeks), he is poised to make a significant contribution.
TE Zach Gentry – The last time Gentry only caught one ball in a game he responded with four catches for 95 yards, moving the chains on all four grabs, with a long of 32 yards. He has, in fact, picked up a first down on 15 of his 21 catches this year, and is just one game removed from career highs in receptions (seven) and yards (112) in Week 6 against Maryland.
The 6-8, 262-pounder hasn’t been featured much in the red zone, with just two end-zone targets (one for a TD, the other an incomplete pass), but with points potentially difficult to come by and no one on MSU that can match up physically, look for Gentry to have a chance to make a difference Saturday.