Michigan Football (4-2, 2-0) will host Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday afternoon at the Big House. Kick off is scheduled for 3:30 and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network. The Wolverines enter the contest riding some positive momentum after thoroughly dominating Purdue and Illinois to open the Big Ten campaign. Meanwhile, the Spartans are a bit discombobulated after edging past Indiana to open conference play and losing at home to Iowa last week.
Michigan State has won the last 4 games in the series and they have not been bashful about their unprecedented success in the rivalry. ”We’re laying in the weeds,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN in August, when asked about Michigan’s recruiting success under Brady Hoke. “We’ve beat Michigan the last four years. So where’s the threat?” It’s that kind of gibberish that has endeared Dantonio to MSU fans.
The Spartans strength is their defense which ranks 7th nationally in total defense and 8th in rushing defense. Despite the efforts of Le’Veon Bell, who ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing, the MSU offense has labored through the season. They do have some playmakers in tight end Dion Sims along with receivers Bennie Fowler and Aaron Burbridge. However, Andrew Maxwell has yet to find a rhythm at QB and this week won’t offer him much in the way of safe harbor against Michigan’s defense.
Last year, Brady Hoke’s first as head coach against MSU, the Spartans knocked off U-M. Hoke assumed responsibility for the loss. ”Obviously at Michigan State, I think I did a poor job of preparing a football team,” he said. “I told the kids, ‘that one’s on me.’ I’ve got to learn from that with how we approach each game, go into each game. Hopefully, I’ve done that. I just think when we went into that environment, I don’t think we were quite ready like we needed to be from a focus standpoint, to an intensity of how you need to play in that rivalry on every play.”
Obviously Hoke wasn’t the sole reason Michigan lost that game, but he made a valiant effort to take the hit for his players. They know that and it is one of the many reasons they love their head coach.
After a frustrating non-conference slate, Michigan has found their groove. They have tweaked the offense to maximize the skill set of Denard Robinson which has resulted in more mind boggling stats for the senior QB. The real story has been the defense. Michigan now ranks 10th nationally in total defense and 3rd in pass defense. The ringleader is sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan, who is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, has been flying around the field making big plays in bunches. “What he has that I think most of our guys have,” Hoke said. “He’s got pretty good instinct. Also, he’s pretty relentless to the football.”
The Wolverines also have two tremendous team captains in Robinson and Jordan Kovacs. They both said all the right things about this game when asked on Monday. “It’s a rivalry game,” Kovacs explained. “You want to win every one. So I don’t think this one is any more significant than last year’s or next year’s game. You can throw the records out and throw the past history away — it’s about Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.”
“Every game should be personal,” Robinson said. “You should want to win every time you step onto the field. That’s how I look at it. It’s a championship game and we want to win it.” Robinson leads the Big Ten and ranks 4th in the country in rushing with 134 yards per game.
This is a critical game for Michigan on many levels. A win would further solidify U-M atop the Legends Division, it would restore order in a rivalry that has run amok the last 4 years and it is important to continue to hold serve at home. Michigan hasn’t lost a home game in the Brady Hoke era. An added bonus is that it would be Michigan Football’s 900th victory, making the Wolverines the first to reach that plateau.
Prediction: So far this season I am 5-1 predicting the outcome of Michigan Football games. Before the season started, I was pretty confident Michigan would win this game. Now, 6 games into the season, I am even more confident they will win. In fact, the only way I see them losing this game is if they implode like they did at Notre Dame. Even then, on the road with 6 turnovers, they were in the game until the final minute before losing 13-6. Brady Hoke and his staff will have the Wolverines thoroughly prepared and laser-focused. Michigan wins 38-13