EAST LANSING — The annual battle on the gridiron between Michigan State and Michigan started way back in 1898 and has featured some of the best college football games in school history. Michigan State will look for its ninth win in the last 11 meetings as they prepare to take on the No. 6/7 Michigan Wolverines Saturday, at noon.
This will be the 66th contest played for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Since the trophy began in 1953, Michigan holds a 36-27-2 advantage over the Spartans. Mark Dantonio is 8-3 against the Wolverines since becoming head coach in 2007. His winning percentage (72.7) is the highest for any Spartan coach against his rival school.
Recently, the Spartans arrived in Happy Valley to play Penn State, with poker chips in their pockets. It was time to bring back a mentality that Mark Dantonio has always had during his time here at Michigan State.
“The chip on the shoulder thing — that’s something thats been apart of this program since before I got here,” said senior captain Khari Willis.
According to Willis, it’s an attitude MSU brought with them all last year but ended up facing a little adversity this year. So it was up to them to find a way to bring it back. His team, specifically the young players will “embrace” this rivalry when they “step on the field.” It’s the right way to experience this game.
The underdog approach to big-time games has served Dantonio and the Spartans well throughout the years — consistently providing the fan base with victories against highly ranked opponents. MSU is 10-5 in its last 15 games against teams ranked in the AP Top 10 and has defeated Michigan 11 times when the Wolverines are in the same position. This includes last year, when Michigan State beat them while they were ranked seventh in the nation.
“Once that ball hit the ground, you saw the emotion that went on and it was very special,” said Joe Bachie when asked about beating Michigan last year.
Each of the Spartan captains have their own views on the rivalry but know the importance of the game for fans, current and former players, and coaches. There’s no doubting how either side feels about one another. This has and always will be a huge rivalry and as Mark Dantonio famously said “It’s not over and it’ll never be over here. It’s just starting.”
However, a lot can change in the past decade. Coach Dantonio says he’s seen a lot of improvements over the last three games as it pertains to sportsmanship on both sides of the ball.
“I think Coach Harbaugh does a great job. I think he’s all about that. I think he tries to play the game like it’s supposed to be played and I think he respects the football game, he respects the game, the general game of football,” said Mark Dantonio. “We do the same at our place and I think it permeates down through the players. I hope that’s the case.”
The Spartans will have to be prepared for a very good and well coached Wolverine team. Offensively, Michigan is ranked 23rd for scoring offense at 38.1 points per contest while listing 9th in scoring defense at 15.4 points allowed.
U-M also leads in the Big Ten in four defensive categories which include total defense, pass defense, pass efficiency, and scoring defense (as mentioned above). They’ve managed to hold six of their seven opponents to its lowest yardage total of the year.
“When you look at them, I think you look at them defensively, a lot of starters back, two linebackers back that start, the entire secondary,” said Mark Dantonio. “Really three out of their top four guys up front. Playing very well on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously a lot of pressure. Leading the nation I think on pass defense, various others things in the Big Ten.”
The most interesting matchup posed during this game will most likely be the MSU run defense vs. the Wolverines rushing offense. The Spartans still rank first in FBS, allowing just 62.3 yards per game (374 yards total) and Michigan has gained more than 170 rushing yards in six straight games. Not to mention the team with the best ground attack has won 43 of the last 48 games.
“Well, you can’t make mistakes on either side of the ball, really. You can’t blow coverage or a gap and also you can’t turn the ball over. I think that’s huge. Traditionally, the team that’s rushed for the most yardage has probably won the game. That’s probably true in most cases, what I said last week in terms of our numbers,” said Mark Dantonio when asked both teams defenses.