Who: No. 21 Michigan Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) at No. 22 Michigan State Spartans (7-1, 4-0)
What: Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy
When: Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Where: Spartan Stadium
Fun Fact: Saturday will mark the 106th meeting between Michigan and Michigan State. The Wolverines own a record of 68-32-5 over the Spartans.
Matchup to Watch For: Michigan State’s defensive line vs. Michigan’s offensive line
Michigan State is entering Saturday’s game with the top-ranked defense in the nation, and a large part of that is due to sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end has been a nightmare for o-lines and quarterbacks all season, as he has three defensive touchdowns — two fumble recoveries and an interception return — which is the most by any defensive player in the nation this season. He leads the Spartans with four sacks — tied for sixth in the Big Ten — and 15 quarterback hurries, and is tied with linebacker Denicos Allen for the most tackles for loss on the team with eight.
Tyler Hoover and Marcus Rush are two other MSU defensive linemen who rank in the top 20 in the Big Ten in sacks, as Hoover has three-and-a-half sacks and Rush has three.
The Wolverines have had issues all season with their young, inexperienced offensive line, and have been playing musical chairs for the past few weeks; shuffling guys in and out.
Michigan has named freshman guard Kyle Bosch as a starter vs. Michigan State, and while he’s shown some promise since making his college debut a few weeks ago, the youngster from St. Charles, Ill., hasn’t lined up across from a defensive line like MSU’s.
The Wolverines’ must find ways to protect quarterback Devin Gardner — even if they keep running backs back to block — if they want any chance at retaining the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Simple, but true.
X-Factor: MSU QB Connor Cook
Cook will be starting his first ever Michigan-Michigan State game on Saturday, and if it’s anything like his previous big start — Sept. 21 at Notre Dame — then the Spartans are in trouble.
The sophomore QB has had eye-popping games for the Spartans: 15 of 16 for 208 yards and three touchdown vs. Illinois, 15 of 22 for 202 yards and four touchdowns vs. Youngstown State, and 25 of 44 for 277 yards, two touchdowns and an interception vs. Iowa; but he’s also had head-scratching, bench-worthy performances: 13 of 25 for 107 yards vs. Purdue, and 16 of 32 for 135 yards and a touchdown vs. Notre Dame — which he did get benched on the final drive.
Which Cook is going to show up on Saturday? That’s the big question.
If he can make the easy throws and reads — which he has done for the most part over the past month, but sometimes struggles with — then the Spartans should win big, but if he’s showing poor footwork and missing throws — also a reoccurring theme — then they could be playing catch up, and that’s not something this MSU offense is built for.
Prediction: MSU 34, U of M 17
While Michigan has a very explosive offense, and an underrated defense, the Michigan State Spartans are the perfect team to counter the Wolverines’ strengths.
MSU’s nationally-ranked defense is full of guys with a natural instinct for the ball, and they cause a lot of turnovers. Michigan’s offense is full of athletic speedsters, but they have a tendency to turn the ball over, a lot — especially Gardner.
If the Spartans’ offense can maintain long drives — rank first in the Big Ten in time of possession — and have minimal mistakes, they should win this game comfortably. It’s up to the MSU offense to keep the Michigan offense off the field so that they don’t have many opportunities for big plays, and so the defense can rest.