After knocking off Iowa in their Big Ten opener last week, Michigan State will head just 64 miles down the road to Ann Arbor, where they’ll battle in-state rival, No. 7 Michigan.
Michigan is coming off of a bye week after defeating Purdue the previous week, 28-10. Despite getting drubbed by Notre Dame, MSU bounced back last week, beating Iowa 17-10 after limiting the Hawkeye ground game to just 19 yards.
It’s now been 10 years since former Michigan tailback Mike Hart pulled at the emotional strings of coach Mark Dantonio and about all of Spartan Nation with his “Little Brother” jab after coming from behind to beat the Spartans 28-24 in 2007. Since Hart’s comments, Dantonio and co. have dominated the Wolverines, going 7-2 in their last nine meetings. Saturday marks the rivalry’s 110th meeting, and the third in the Dantonio-Harbaugh era, each having a win against the other.
“I looked, and I think you have a tendency to keep track of numbers on things like this ,” Dantonio said. “This will be the 17th time playing against the people down the road there; so [you]tend to measure that.”
This will be the first time in the rivalry that the game will kick off under the lights, with the two doing battle in front of 110,000 fans in the Big House. The last time these rivals met in Ann Arbor, the game failed to disappoint as MSU won on the final play in one of the more incredible endings to a game you’ll see in all of sports.
The Wolverines took the 2016 meeting, when the second-ranked team in the country came into Spartan Stadium, and despite struggling to put away the rough 3-9 Spartans, came out victorious 32-23. Michigan brought back the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor where it currently resides.
With College Football Playoff aspirations on their minds, Michigan knows their margin of error for a slip-up is minimal. A loss to their in-state rival, who’s right on their heels in the Big Ten East standings, would not be ideal considering they still have two road tests at Penn State and at Wisconsin, before hosting Ohio State in their season finale.
Michigan will be without quarterback Wilton Speight due to an injury two weeks ago. This is a Michigan offense yet to find a pulse this season with Speight under center this season, and frankly, it’s been missing since last season’s game with Iowa. O’Korn may give this offense the spark they’ve been desperately searching for.
This Michigan offensive line, especially at center, right guard and right tackle, is very young and inexperienced. Currently ranked 119th in the nation in sacks allowed, the Wolverines have surrendered an average of three per game. The Spartan defensive line’s ability to rush the quarterback will play a huge role in this game. The MSU defense is coming off a notable performance in which they had three sacks against Iowa, adding to their previous total of six sacks through their first three games.
MSU’s offensive line, who is also very young, will have their hands full with arguably the best front seven in all of college football. The Wolverines rank first in total defense and are in the top five nationally in several other defensive stats. Michigan may have the best interior defensive lineman in the nation in Maurice Hurst and one of the better defensive ends in sophomore Rashan Gary. Defensive end Chase Winovich and linebacker Devin Bush have been playing lights out as of late, ranking second and seventh in the nation with five and four and a half sacks, respectively.
The Spartan run game will need its biggest showing yet as they will face the No. 1-ranked rushing defense, with the Wolverines giving up only 69 yards per game on the ground. per game. MSU will need as much balance offensively as they can get with a solid, consistent ground attack along with, and big production from players like Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart and Trishton Jackson through the air.
This game will ride on the Spartans’ offensive line and their ability to hold up against this dynamic Michigan front seven. If MSU can find ways to give quarterback Brian Lewerke the slightest bit of time, he’s going to have his chances to test a young and inexperienced Wolverines secondary. Being clean with the football and being able to make big plays when his number is called will be key for Lewerke and this offense if they want to move the ball effectively.
Heading into this rivalry, all previous meeting and records are irrelevant.
While most people pegged Michigan as a potential team to win the Big Ten and make the CFP, a loss doesn’t eliminate them from contention. They’ll still have their matchups in Happy Valley and Madison, and then close their season hosting Ohio State for a chance to get to the Big Ten championship game.
For Michigan State, a loss here does nothing more than sting them even deeper with a second straight loss at the hands of their in-state rival. If the Spartans were to win this game, they quickly can change their national perception as a team, having already matched their win total from last year’s 3-9 season. A win here would put the Spartans in the driver’s seat in the division with winnable games ahead before they have to face the Big Ten favorite Penn State four weeks from now at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State-Michigan is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. on ABC under the lights at Michigan Stadium. You can follow @WDBM_Sports on twitter for up-to-date stats, info, weather updates, and anything else you may need for this weekend of college football.