The Paul Bunyan Trophy, which has called East Lansing its rightful home for eight of the past ten seasons, is once again up for grabs. Mark Dantonio and his program are quite familiar with and fond of this trophy.
In fact, Dantonio has downright dominated the series against (regular) Michigan. Just how dominant has he been? Let’s take a look at his numbers against the school from Ann Arbor and see how he has fared.
Mark Dantonio took the reins of the Michigan State program in November 2006, with his first season of competition beginning in 2007. Since taking over as head coach for the Spartans, Dantonio has won eight of the 11 contests against Michigan. His eight wins are the most of any active coach in the Big Ten (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has six), as well as the entire country, against Michigan. Dantonio is 2-1 against current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. He also has the best winning percentage (.727) of any coach in Michigan State history against U of M.
Even looking at Dantonio’s three losses, each of them came in a down/rebuilding year for Michigan State: 2016 (3-9 season), 2012 (7-6) and 2007 (7-6). Of course, 2007 was Dantonio’s first season as a head coach, 2012 was the Andrew Maxwell experiment and 2016 was an all around disaster. I am not making excuses, as Michigan won fair and square in these seasons, but the Wolverines have not been able to beat the good Spartan teams in this time frame, while MSU has often beaten the good Michigan teams. In fact, Michigan has been ranked in the top-25 in six of its eight defeats.
Record vs. the points spread: 11-0
Perhaps equally as impressive as his win-loss record, or even more so depending on who you ask, Dantonio’s clubs are 11-0 against the spread when facing Michigan. The Wolverines are currently a 7.5-point favorite on the road against MSU for this year’s matchup. This bodes well for the Spartans, as it is clear that, at the very least, MSU will make this a close and competitive game. If you are betting this game, take the points for easy money.
Cumulative points per game scored/points per game allowed:
Points per game: 25.9
Michigan state has scored 285 total points in 11 games against Michigan under Dantonio’s tutelage. The most MSU has scored against the Wolverines during Coach D’s tenure is 35, which happened twice in 2008 and 2013. The lowest was 10 in 2012 (12-10 loss).
Points allowed per game: 17.6
The Spartans have allowed just 194 total points in the 11 games from 2007 through 2017. The lowest amount of points that MSU has allowed was six in 2013, and the Spartans have held the Wolverines to 14 points or less five times (including five of the the past seven matchups) during that aforementioned time span. The most the Spartans have allowed was 32 in 2016.
Michigan State: 390.36 average, 4,294 total yards
Michigan: 280.63 average, 3,087 total
If my math is correct here, the Spartans have out-gained the Wolverines by 1,207 yards, and on average, out-gain their biggest rival by about 109.7 yards per contest with Dantonio at the helm. Wow!
Michigan State: 215.54 average, 2,371 total
Michigan: 190.81 average, 2,099 total,
On average, Mark Dantonio-coached Michigan State teams hold Michigan under 200 yards passing per game, and have allowed the Wolverines to throw for more than 200 yards in less than half of the games (five) in the past 11 years. MSU averages nearly 25 more yards passing per game that its counterpart. This game is really won on the ground, though. See below.
Michigan State: 174.8 average, 1,923 total
Michigan: 89.81 yard average, 988 total
Michigan State has thoroughly dominated Michigan on the ground during the Dantonio era, nearly doubling the Wolverines’ rushing total. Of course, Michigan has some major outliers working against them, including -48 yards on 29 carries in 2013 (I still can’t stop laughing about this) and 28 yards on 28 carries in 2009. MSU has held U of M under 100 yards rushing in six of the 11 meetings, and the team with more rushing yards is 8-3.
Turnovers and Penalties:
Michigan State: 1.27 per game, 14 total
Michigan: 2.09 per game, 23 total
No surprises here. Michigan is turning the ball over more than two times per game, which has obviously contributed to the eight losses. MSU has done a much better job protecting the ball, and that has been key. Michigan State is 6-0 when winning the turnover battle (there are four games where the turnover margin was even and one game where Michigan won the turnover battle, but still lost). Oddly enough, the turnover margin was even in all three of MSU’s losses.
Michigan State: 7.81 average, 86 total
Michigan: 4.90 average, 54 total
Michigan State has easily been the more penalized team, averaging nearly eight per game in these physical and chippy contests. So, no Michigan fans, you cannot blame MSU’s string of success on the referees. You could say that Michigan has been the more disciplined team, but luckily, this hasn’t hurt the Spartans. Still, you would like to see MSU decrease the penalties, especially unnecessary ones.
So, assuming my math is correct throughout this piece (feel free to fact check me, but be aware this research is very time-consuming), the keys to this year’s game are simple, but effective: win the rushing battle, protect the ball and be disciplined/limit the penalties. Michigan State needs to actually win the turnover battle, not draw even. Again, the insane amount of penalties haven’t really hurt Michigan State yet, but the team should obviously still look to avoid those.
At the very least, we are going to see a close, hard-fought game throughout in 2018. Dantonio always gets his players up for this game, and playing at home, the energy should be raucous. The chip on the shoulder mentality will always be prominent under Coach D.
Mark Dantonio said he wanted to “make this a rivalry again.” He has not only accomplished that, but he has absolutely owned Michigan in the process. Just remember, Michigan faithful, “pride comes before the fall.”