Preview: Michigan State Spartans



#17 Michigan State
#18 Michigan
Game Stuff
When: October 9, 2010
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 3:30 PM EST
TV: ABC Regional/ESPN2 National (Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, Quint Kessenich)
Local Radio: FM 104.3 WOMC (UM), AM 1050 WTKA (UM), AM 760 WJR (MSU)
Line: Michigan -5
Over/Under: 65
Last Meeting: 2009, MSU 26, #22 UM 20 OT
Series Record: UM Leads 67-30-5
Michigan Record: 5-0 (1-0)
Last Game: Win @ Indiana 42-35
MSU Record: 5-0 (1-0)
Last Game: Win vs Wisconsin 34-24

Sparty Stuff
Location: East Lansing, MI
Enrollment: 47,278 future pizza delivery workers
Conference: Big Ten
Nickname: Little Brother
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
OC: Don Treadwell (Interim HC)
DC: Pat Narduzzi
2009 Record: 6-7 (4-4)

A Little History
The battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is upon us! Actually, does anyone really care about the actual trophy? First of all, it's huge. Secondly, Paul Bunyan has absolutely nothing to do with the state of Michigan. According to Wikipedia, the name of the trophy was inspired by Michigan's history as a major lumber-producing state. Sure...because when I think of Michigan, I think lumber.

Even though it's commonly referred to as the Paul Bunyan Trophy, it's actual name is Paul Bunyan–Governor of Michigan Trophy...doesn't that just roll right off the tongue?

The 2010 edition of this heated rivalry is surely not without it's hype...and for good reason. Michigan and MSU both come into this game undefeated and ranked in the AP/coaches top 25 polls, UM ranked #18, MSU ranked #17. The last time both MSU and UM were ranked in this game was 2003, with #11 UM beating #9 MSU, 27-20 in East Lansing. There have been a total of 5 contests with both teams being ranked, (2003, 1999, 1997, 1989 and 1979) UM holding a 4-1 edge in those games.

Oddly enough, all 5 of those games between a ranked UM and MSU have taken place in East Lansing. This will the first time both teams have been ranked playing in Ann Arbor.

If you're reading this, then you're either clearly a motivated UM fan, someone who hates UM a ton, or just a curious passer-by who has waaaay to much time on their hands. But if you're here, you probably recognize the importance of this game. Before the season started, this game loomed large on schedule for multiple reasons. First, it's Sparty. Second, we've lost to them the last two years. Third, Rich Rodriguez's job is probably safe, but a loss to Sparty for a 3rd year in a row would send the Rich Rod haters through the roof. Fourth, like we said before, both teams are ranked for only the 6th time ever.

So we got that going for us.

Just as a fun stat of the week...would it shock you to know that Jonas Mouton and Jordan Kovacs lead the Big Ten in tackles with 47 and 46 respectfully? Cam Gordon is 5th and JT Floyd is 8th. Not a good sign when 3 of those guys are defensive backs, and the other one spends 75% of his time in pass coverage.

Just sayin'

Stats Comparison (through 10-2-10)

   Michigan       Sparty    Advantage
Rushing Offense Avg/Yds324.4220.2MICH
Passing Offense Avg/Yds240.6240.4MICH
Total Offense Avg/Yds565460.6MICH
Scoring Offense41.436.2MICH
Rushing Defense Avg/Yds125.8101.2Sparty
Pass Efficiency Defense129.47110.68Sparty
Total Defense Avg/Yds433.6328.6Sparty
Scoring Defense25.418.6Sparty
Net Punting Avg/Yds3438.05Sparty
Punt Returns Avg/Yds5.417.25Sparty
Kickoff Returns Avg/Yds18.7221.31Sparty
Turnover Margin.8.4MICH
Pass Defense Avg/Yds307.8227.4Sparty
Passing Efficiency181.29166.09MICH
Sacks Avg/Gm1.41MICH
Tackles For Loss Avg/Gm64.2MICH
Sacks Allowed Avg/Gm.22.2MICH

More Game Stuff and Etc
ESPN Capsule preview:
A battle of unlikely unbeatens takes place in the Big House when Michigan State visits Michigan. Mark Dantonio is expected to coach from the press box after suffering a heart attack Sept. 18. The Spartans, who have not started 6-0 since 1999, are looking to beat the Wolverines three straight times for the first time since 1965 to '67. Michigan QB Denard Robinson looks to continue his stats roll, as he is 95 rushing yards from 1,000 this season and 87 from 2,000 total yards.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg provides some nice insight into this game:

BTN catches Denard long enough to point a camera at him and ask him some questions:

MSU's Greg Jones on Denard:

Hype video? Hype Video:

I gotta say, there are a lot of experts out there lining up to be the first, or second, to tell you that not only is Denard going to be stonewalled by all Big Ten defenses, and eventually injured, but Michigan defense is so bad, Denard won't be enough to keep Michigan in the win column for much longer.

I don't get it. I will concede that our defense is not good, but we weren't good last year either, and we only lost by 6 in OT...and then by two the following week at Iowa. The fact that we didn't play well defensively against Indiana doesn't bother me all that much. Why?

Ben Chappell is maybe one of the best, if not THE best passing QB we're going to face all season. He's got a rocket arm, and his receivers are pretty decent too. Don't believe me? Watch them play tOSU this week. He won't put up the numbers he did against us, but he'll still have a decent game. Indiana is not that bad of a team. I'll take a road win against them any way I can get it.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if Michigan wasn't at least kind of looking past Indiana last week. At least we played like we were.

Sparty Offense
Michigan State offers up one of the Big Ten's most average QBs in Kirk Cousins. The 6-3, 202-pound junior has a very good arm and has been putting up some relatively decent numbers, averaging 264 passing yards per game. He has 1132 yards, his completion percentage is 67%, and he has 9 TDs with 4 INTs. But after looking at the stats, the bulk of Cousins' best numbers were against FCS Northern Colorado in week 4.

Compare that to Chappell's 12 TDs, 1 INT, 1370 yards, 71% and 342 yards per game, and I'll take Cousins any day.

Trying to catch the ball will be Mark Dell, Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham. Those 3 make up the vast majority of the pass catching threat on this offense. All 3 average between 3-4 catches per game, and roughly 45-50 yards per game. Cunningham leads Sparty with 3 touchdown grabs this year. None of these guys are even in the top 10 in the conference in yards/game. Indiana has 3 in the top 10.

MSU is ranked 6th in the conference in passing, and 4th in rushing. That rushing attack is led by Edwin Baker (75 carries for 536 yards, 5 TDs) and Le'Veon Bell (64 carries, 471 yards, 7 TDs). Both backs are averaging over 7 yards per carry so far this season.

Now granted, MSU has played Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, Northern Colorado and Wisconsin. Aside from the 3.8 yards per average against the Badgers, I'm not impressed with the rest of the defenses they put up good numbers against. MSU has 12 rushing TDs this season, but none of them came last week against Wisconsin.

Honestly, MSU's offense doesn't scare me that much. At least not as much as Indiana's pass offense did. I think Michigan State's offense is just mediocre. And let's not forget, they're going to be playing essentially their first away game of the season in a very hostile and loud stadium. The Big House is going to be rocking on Saturday. It will likely be the largest crowd ever to watch a football game, surpassing the UConn game record crowd. Sparty will have to deal with crowd noise for the first time this year. Mark my words, that will be a factor in this game...especially with an interim coach on the sidelines and Dantonio up in the box.

Sparty Defense
I was going to go into a statistical analysis of Sparty's D, breaking down personnel matchups, but what's the point? This game will be won or lost based on how well Sparty can stop, or contain Denard Robinson. It's that simple. Denard's numbers are just INSANE. He has chewed up defenses like no one else this season. And oddly enough, it's against the seemingly better defenses that he has his best games...Notre Dame and Indiana...both on the road.

If Sparty goes on rushing lockdown, Denard shows run to get the safeties to bite, pulls up and hits Roundtree streaking down the hash-marks for a 60-yard touchdown.

If Sparty goes into blanket 8-man zone coverage, Denard tucks the ball and plays dodge-em with MSU's linebackers and DBs. Our O-line and receivers are good enough to keep everyone blocked long enough to for a blue blur to fly by with it's shoelaces flapping in the wind.

If I sound over-confident, it's only because every time I expect this human highlight show to come to an end, he shows everyone again that he can not be matter what the defense does. He has too much talent, and he has too much talent around him to keep defenses distracted. Every man on this offense has bought into this system, and it shows.

Sparty's defense is going to have to bring it's A-game this weekend. And even then, it will probably won't be enough.

Final Thoughts
This game is full of great story-lines. MSU's inferiority complex, the "Little Brother" comment that Dantonio will never get over, Dantonio being up in the pressbox and not on the sideline. Rich Rodriguez's job being on the line. The in-state recruiting war. And that's just the off-the-field stuff.

Nevermind that Denard Robinson will be the focus of the college football weekend with this game being played on ABC at 3:30.

One thing that I am worried about, and this hopefully is just me being paranoid. But I am worried that some Sparty defenders will be looking to intentionally hurt Denard. Again, I hope I'm being paranoid, but Sparty football players are thugs, and I wouldn't put it past them.

There, I just had to get that out of the way.

Ultimately, this game is going to live up to the hype that it has generated. The weather is going to be beautiful and thus not a distraction. After the 1st quarter, things will settle down...and if Sparty isn't down by 3 scores, then this will likely be a rather close game going into the 2nd half. And that's where the game will be won or lost. Halftime adjustments by both defenses are going to spur second half success for one team. I don't think there is an adjustment that can be made to stop Denard. And so the ultimate equalizer is going to be whether or not Denard stays healthy.

If Tate is called upon to come into this game, things could get interesting if we have a tie game or 1 score lead. Tate has the experience and ability to win this game, and that's the luxury of having a backup like him. We can not discount how nice it is that Forcier is waiting on the sidelines if something happens to Shoelace.

I won't go into a final score prediction, I'm not that bold. But I will say some serious points are going to be scored by both teams...and a shootout definitely favors Michigan. It's going to be a great Maize & Blue day. Live it up. If you're going to the game...get up and get loud! And Go Blue!

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