Michigan versus Michigan State. “Big brother” versus “little brother.” Team 133 versus the SpartanDawgs. However you want to put it, this is the biggest game of the year. While the Spartans might be favored in their first seven contests, they probably won’t be in this game. Whatever the records are, no matter whether the Legends Division title is on the line, this is, and will always be, a very important game to Mark Dantonio and Michigan State.
8. Michigan State @ Michigan, Oct. 20, TBA
The Spartans have played for the Big Ten Championship three of the last four seasons, winning the title in 2010. The title was shared that year with Ohio State and Wisconsin, with the Badgers representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. Last season, the Spartans fell short in the Inaugural Big Ten Championship game to Wisconsin, and watched Michigan get an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl in which the Wolverines beat Virginia Tech. There was much controversy about Michigan getting the BCS bid, but it is what it is. Michigan State had their chance and they lost. Michigan had a great season and deserved to play in a BCS game. Nevertheless, the next step for the Spartans is to get to the Rose Bowl.
Michigan, having lost to the Spartans the last four years, finished the 2011 season with an 11-2 record under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. The Ohio State game may be more important to Michigan, but the fact of the matter is that Michigan has to beat the Spartans, or finish with a better division record, to play for a Big Ten title. From U of M’s perspective, a fifth straight loss to Sparty cannot happen.
So on one side, we have the Spartans coming up short of a BCS bid two years in a row, and on the other we have the Wolverines trying to shut their “little brother” up and push their way back into national prominence.
Much like the last two seasons, both teams will likely be at the top of the Big Ten (Legends Division) standings when they meet in Week 8.
With that being said, let’s break down the 105th meeting between the two teams.
We’ll start with comparing the Spartan offense (5 returning starters) versus the Wolverine defense (8 returning starters).
The Spartans return seven offensive linemen from last year’s Legends Division Championship team that started at some point throughout their career. That should be plenty of experience and depth to win the battles up front against the lone returning defensive linemen for the Wolverines, senior Craig Roh. Combine that with junior running back Le’Veon Bell, and the Spartans should be able to pick up those three or four yards a play that Dantonio loves to establish each game.
The rest of the Spartans’ offensive players are young, talented guys with minimal game experience. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has been in the system for three years now and will have a plethora of inexperienced wide receivers to throw to as well as an extremely talented tight end in junior Dion Sims. The Spartans cannot rely on the passing game during the contest against the Wolverines, especially since the Wolverines return all three linebackers and all four defensive backs from last year.
Now, let’s look at the battle between the Spartan defense (8 returning starters) and Wolverine offense (6 returning starters).
Michigan State’s defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and his crew ended any hopes of Denard Robinson winning the Heisman these past two years. Robinson will be the most talented player on the field, but the Spartans have done a phenomenal job of containing him and not letting him break away for a big play.
In last year’s match-up, Robinson was held to 42 rushing yards (compared to his season average of 90 rushing yards per game) on 18 attempts with one touchdown, and was sacked four times. Robinson was 9 of 24 passing for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
In 2010, Robinson rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and passed for 215 yards and a touchdown (17-for-29) along with three interceptions.
It also must be noted that Robinson never broke away for a big play in those two games; his longest run was 16 yards. Robinson may be able to run around a lot of defenses in the country, but not this Spartan defense. These Spartans are disciplined, fundamentally sound, and hungry. But who knows, maybe Robinson will shock everyone in the passing game this year.
The Wolverines will still have a strong running game with junior Fitzgerald Toussaint returning as the primary tailback. Also, with three returning offensive linemen, Toussaint could have a great season on the ground. On that note, we may see more of the I-formation from the Wolverines, with junior Stephen Hopkins as the fullback, but that plays right into the hands of the Spartans’ rushing defense.
With the graduation of Junior Hemingway, Kelvin Grady, and Kevin Koger, the Wolverines will count on senior Roy Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon as their top two wide receivers.
With tons of experience in the defensive backfield for the Spartans I expect to see a lot of man-to-man coverage, leaving room for Narduzzi to blitz the corners or safeties.
So there you have it.
I believe that the Spartans have a slight advantage over Michigan this year. I also believed that the Spartans were outmatched in last year’s win over Wisconsin during the regular season at Spartan Stadium. However, in that game, Michigan State somehow converted a safety, blocked a field goal, recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown, scored a touchdown on a fourth down, scored on a double reverse, and threw a hail mary pass to win the game. Crazy things happen in football, especially in a rivalry game like this.
So what do you think? Answer the poll and feel free to leave a comment with positive or negative feedback.
Stay tuned for the fourth and final part of this Michigan State football preseason segment, which will cover the rest of the regular season as well as postseason play for the Spartans.
Other Preseason Michigan State Football Articles:
Video uploaded by bigwali on Nov. 5, 2007.