East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) – Bragging rights in the Wolverine State
are up for grabs, as Michigan and Michigan State renew their long-standing
rivalry on Saturday afternoon.
Michigan, long the bigger, badder version of the two Big Ten Conference
schools in the state, has put forth a less-than-inspired campaign to this
point, losing more games than it has won (3-4). Coach Brady Hoke has come
under fire for the team’s sub par record, but the Wolverines used a bye last
weekend to revel in their first conference win of the season, an 18-13 triumph
versus Penn State on Oct. 11. That victory came after the club had dropped
back-to-back Big Ten bouts to Minnesota (30-14) and Rutgers (26-24), and three
Michigan State comes in sporting a 6-1 record, and coach Mark Dantonio’s squad
is the No. 8 team in this week’s Associated Press poll. The Spartans, who are
hoping to be included in the inaugural College Football Playoff, have won five
consecutive games since dropping a 46-27 decision at Oregon on Sept. 6.
Included in the run are three straight wins over conference foes, the most
recent being last Saturday’s 56-17 rout of Indiana on the road. MSU is 4-0 at
home this season, and this is the first of two straight the team will play in
East Lansing against traditional Big Ten powers — Ohio State comes to town on
The Paul Bunyan Trophy goes to the winner, and Michigan owns a 68-33-5 lead in
the all-time series. However, the Spartans have won five of the last six
meetings, including a 29-6 decision last season.
Despite possessing a roster chock full of outstanding athletes, Michigan has
had difficulty moving the ball and putting points on the board this season.
The team ranks 12th in the league in scoring (21.7 ppg), and dead last in
total offense (340.0 ypg). The Wolverines are averaging nearly the same number
of yards per game rushing (164.1 ypg) as they do passing (175.9 ypg), with
Derrick Green (471 yards, three TDs) serving as the top ground gainer. De’Veon
Smith has a club-best four rushing scores.
While being somewhat efficient with his passing attempts, quarterback Devin
Gardner (.632) has only thrown for 1,103 yards, and he has more interceptions
(eight) than touchdown tosses (six). Devin Funchess (36 rec., 461 yards, four
TDs) has been the top option down the field, as he has more than twice as many
receptions as his closest teammate.
Michigan leads the league in red zone offense, coming away with points on 16
of its 17 trips there, including 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Wolverines have performed fairly well in yielding 21.4 points
and 301.0 yards per game — the latter figure ranking them fourth in the
conference. They are one of only two teams in the Big Ten to be permitting
fewer than 100 rushing yards per game (93.6), and they’ve allowed a league-low
three TDs on the ground. The effort against the pass (207.4 ypg) has been good
enough to keep the team competitive, although the mere three INTs the team has
come up with (the only turnovers the team has logged) has it tied with
Illinois for the fewest in the league.
Michigan is -13 in turnover margin, which is far and away the worst figure in
the conference. The team is the least penalized unit in the Big Ten however,
being flagged only 23 times in seven games (31.0 ypg).
Jake Ryan is the team’s top tackler with 56, while Joe Bolden is hot on his
heels with 51. Ryan also has a club-best nine TFL, and Jourdan Lewis has two
The Wolverines allowed only 214 total yards to Penn State a couple of weeks
back, including just 54 yards on 35 rushing attempts. They had trouble running
the ball themselves (64 net yards), but Gardner hit 16-of-24 passes for 192
yards with a TD, that going to Funchess who finished with seven grabs for 69
yards. Amara Darboh had four catches for 66 yards. Ryan led the way on defense
with 10 tackles, three of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Michigan
logged five sacks, two of which were credited to Brennen Beyer.
In stark contrast to Michigan’s mediocre effort, Michigan State has dominated
the competition for the most part in putting up a Big Ten-best 47 ppg behind a
balanced attack featuring 260 ypg on the ground and 265.1 ypg through the air.
Tony Lippett (112.3 ypg) is the only player in the league averaging more than
100 receiving yards per outing, and he has caught eight TD passes (also tops
in the conference). Getting him the ball is the job set before quarterback
Connor Cook, a 61 percent passer who has thrown for more than 1,600 yards with
16 TDs and only five INTs.
The MSU run game features the talents of Jeremy Langford, and he has done a
solid job of keeping opposing defenses honest in averaging 5.3 ygc and 94.9
ypg. Langford has found the end zone seven times, and he tallied 109 yards and
three TDs in last week’s rout of Indiana. Nick Hill paced the Spartans with
178 yards on 16 carries, scoring once as well. Cook wound up going 24-of-32
for 332 yards and three TDs, hitting Lippett seven times for 123 yards.
The MSU defense has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball
this season, logging 26 sacks while permitting only four — both of which rank
the team atop the Big Ten. The Spartans permitted a paltry 224 yards last week
to the Hoosiers, including only 11 yards via the pass. They sacked first-time
starting quarterback Zander Diamont four times, and yielded a mere five
completions. They did allow Indiana standout RB Tevin Coleman 132 yards on 15
totes, but made a total of eight stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Dantonio won his 70th game at MSU last week, tying him for second place on the
school’s all-time wins list, and he was quick to praise everyone associated
with the program in helping him reach the milestone.
“As far as the 70th victory, it represents so much to our football team
because it represents longevity, which had not been here since Coach Perles
had come back in the 80s.”
He continued, “From the first guy that made the decision to come to Michigan
State in 2007, that includes the guys decided to stay in 2007 when we came,
and that encompasses the guys who came this year, the last guy that signed.
It’s a group effort, and I appreciate the coaches staying, they’ve all had
opportunities to leave. Our administration, the backing they have given us,
our athletic director, president, board of trustees, and Spartan fans in