The 23/25 ranked Michigan Wolverines will host their in-state rivals from Michigan State on Saturday afternoon at the Big House. The game has been declared a maize out by the University of Michigan and thus every fan that walks through the turnstiles will receive a maize pom pon. The two teams enter the game on very different trajectories. The Wolverines have found their groove behind a stout defense, U-M is ranked 10th nationally in total defense, and a powerful running game, U-M is ranked 17th nationally in rushing offense, that is paced by the explosive Denard Robinson.
The Spartans meanwhile are in a bit of disarray. They edged past Indiana to open the Big Ten season and lost a puzzling game to Iowa at home last week. The Spartans still have a strong defense that ranks 7th in the country in total defense. However, their offense has yet to establish any consistency. They rank 80th in the country in total offense and 102nd in scoring offense.
Michigan State has won the last 4 games in the series and no current Michigan player has ever raised the Paul Bunyan Trophy in triumph. The Spartans have been the most effective team at slowing Denard Robinson the last two seasons. Many will wrongfully claim it has been three seasons. However, during Robinson’s freshman year it was Tate Forcier who quarterbacked the Wolverines at MSU.
Denard Robinson is playing some of his best football right now. Michigan has simplified their offense to maximize his skill set. He has been outstanding running the read-option and hasn’t thrown an interception in either of the last two games. Robinson heads into this game leading the Big Ten in rushing (134 ypg) and total offense (317.50 ypg). He is also averaging 15.96 yards per completion, which ranks second in the FBS.
The reason for Michigan’s resurgence has been their defense which keeps getting better every week. They are led by sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan who is the team leader in total tackles (42), solo tackles (26), TFLs (7.5), sacks (2.5) and pass breakups (3). His fellow linebackers have also been outstanding. Kenny Demens is playing the best football of his career right now and Desmond Morgan is an underrated performer who has a TFL in 5 of his 6 games this year and has recorded at least 5 tackles in all 6 contests (he missed the UMass game due to injury). Ryan and Morgan are such high character individuals that they have been bestowed the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s #47 (Ryan) and Gerald Ford’s #48 (Morgan) for the remainder of their careers.
The defensive line is vastly improved from a week 1 loss to Alabama. The secondary has recovered from the loss of starting cornerback Blake Countess (suffered a season-ending injury against Alabama). Raymon Taylor has taken advantage of the opportunity and been a revelation of sorts opposite senior corner JT Floyd, who like Demens, is playing the best football of his career. In the back end of that defense, Michigan has two very good safeties. Jordan Kovacs will become the 15th player and first defensive back in school history to reach 300 career tackles when he records his first tackle against the Spartans. Thomas Gordon is a ballhawk from his free safety position, he ranks second on the team in tackles, has two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Michigan has said all the right things this week and not offered any bulletin board material to the Spartans. Despite that you know this is a game that they have circled on their calendar. They’re not happy about 4 consecutive losses to the Spartans or the way they were outphysicaled last year in East Lansing.
The last 4 seasons, MSU has had the psychological edge heading into each game. Michigan was on unsteady ground the first 3 years, during the tumultuous RichRod era. Last season, at Spartan Stadium in Kirk Cousins senior year, MSU had all the mojo in their favor. This year, at Michigan Stadium in Denard Robinson’s senior season, has a different feel. Michigan fans are nervously anticipating that the Wolverines will restore order in this rivalry. Michigan State fans, while always hopeful, seem to sense impending doom.