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Game Preview: Michigan Wolverines vs. Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State v Michigan

Kickoff in the state of Michigan’s biggest rivalry game is less than 24 hours away, and I can’t wait. The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines visit East Lansing to take on No. 24 Michigan Spartans for a Saturday kickoff at noon. The Paul Bunyan Trophy is on the line.

Mark Dantonio has thoroughly dominated the University of Michigan during his tenure at Michigan State University, and he does his best work when playing against schools ranked in the top-10 (no matter which school it is). Keep that in mind.

Let’s go ahead preview the rivalry game.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2018 Record — 4-2 (2-1 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis)— 394.5 total yards, 271.5 passing yards, 123 rushing yards,

Defense (per game basis)— 348.7 yards allowed, 286.3 passing yards allowed, 62.3 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 26.7
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 22.3

Current S&P+ Ranking: 33rd

2018 Record — 6-1 (4-0 Big Ten)

Offense (per game basis) — 424 total yards, 207 passing yards, 217 rushing yards

Defense (per game basis)— 238 yards allowed, 129.1 passing yards allowed, 108.9 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (per game basis): 38.1
Cumulative Points Allowed (per game basis): 15.4

Current S&P+ Ranking: 4th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan leads 69-36-5
Last Michigan State Win: Oct. 7, 2017 (14-10)
Last Michigan Win: Oct. 29, 2016 (32-23)
Michigan State all-time record: 698-455-44
Michigan all-time record: 949-340-36

Disclaimer: Don’t let the inflated numbers from the pre World War I era mislead you. This has been a very competitive rivalry for a long time now. Since Michigan State entered the Big Ten in 1950, Michigan has just a slight advantage, leading 36-30-2. Since 1990, the series is 15-13 in favor of the Wolverines. And, of course, Michigan State has won eight of the last 10.

Previous Game Results (Quick Hits Recap)

Michigan State 21, Penn State 17
Oh baby, what a win! Coming off of a loss to Northwestern, and two touchdown underdogs on the road, the Spartans stunned the Nittany Lions for the second year in a row. Mark Dantonio and Dave Warner silenced the doubters (for at least one week) with good play-calling, and reached into their bag of tricks for several gadget plays. The defense played lights out (other than allowing a couple big runs), and Brian Lewerke hooked up with Felton Davis III for a game-winning touchdown with 0:19 left on the clock. Mark Dantonio once again took down a top-10 team, and his team gained a ton of confidence heading into Michigan week.

Now, MSU turns its complete focus to that school from Ann Arbor. Let’s keep Paul in his rightful home:

Michigan 38, Wisconsin 13

Michigan exposed the Wisconsin Badgers for what they really are, and this Wolverines group is supremely confident right now. Michigan dominated this game in every facet, gaining 161 more yards than Wisconsin, rushing for 320 yards and winning the turnover battle. The Wolverines also held the Badgers to just 100 passing yards. U of M has now extended its winning to streak to six, following a Week 1 defeat against Notre Dame. With offensive line and quarterback play this season, this may be the toughest Michigan team Dantonio will see since 2007. We’ll see.

Yeah, this defense is damn good. But so was last year’s unit.

Key Matchups

Michigan running game vs. Michigan State front seven: As it often is in this series, this year’s contest will likely be physical and won in the trenches. Michigan State has the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation, while Michigan’s rushing attack is very strong, ranking No. 28 in the country. More often than not in this series, the team that has more rushing yards wins. MSU did give up a few big gains to Penn State’s Miles Sanders, so there are some things that needed to be shored up this week, but it remains the toughest unit in college football to run on. Keeping Michigan contained in the ground game is absolutely key.

Michigan State’s offensive line vs. Michigan pass rush: Michigan State has dealt with injuries along the offensive line all year, which has contributed to poor play all year long. Last week was the first time this unit found some consistency, but this week is the toughest test so far for the MSU O-line. Michigan has recorded 20 sacks so far this season, and have had 11 different players record a sack. Whether or not Rashan Gary plays is going to affect the Michigan pass rush, as he commands so much attention, but Michigan has plenty of other talented pass rushers on its defense.

Brian Lewerke vs. Michigan secondary: Brian Lewerke has to protect the ball better than he has so far this season. His seven interceptions are tied for the most in the Big Ten and his decision-making this season has been questionable at times. Michigan is No. 1 in the nation in passing yards allowed, though they haven’t seen a quarterback of Brian Lewerke’s caliber, besides maybe Clayton Thorson. Michigan also has some grabby players in the secondary (looking at you, Lavert Hill), so Felton Davis and company may be able to draw some penalties in the passing game. Either way, it’s a tough test for Lewerke and his play is crucial.

Game Info

Time: Noon EST
TV Channel: Fox
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Weather expectations: 47 degrees, mostly cloudy with a slight chance of rain. Strong winds blowing west-northwest at 17-20 miles per hour.
Line: Michigan -7.5


With eight wins in 10 tries, I think it’s time Michigan State fans stop treating beating Michigan as the equivalent to winning the Super Bowl, and instead, expect to win. That said, this year is hard to judge. A seemingly much improved Michigan team, whose problem in this series has been poor quarterback and offensive line play has seemed to remedy those issues. However, I am personally not sold on Shea Patterson, and I think this will be his biggest test since the Notre Dame game. Michigan has also struggled on the road, and against ranked opponents under Jim Harbaugh. On the side of the toke, we have no idea which Spartans team is going to show up. Will it be last week’s version, or the disappointing version from the previous team? Consistency has escaped this team.

If history has told us anything, though, Mark Dantonio is going to have his guys up and ready to rock. Even though Michigan State is a depleted group right now due to injuries, every player who gets an opportunity to play knows what this game means. We can also expect a close game, as the three meetings against Harbaugh have a total score 65-64 in favor of Michigan. This is a huge game for Harbaugh, though, his struggles against his rivals and against tough opponents have been well documented. It’s time to put up or shut up for both squads. Go Green!

For more on Regular Michigan, check out Matt Hoeppner’s “Get to know the opponent” piece, or McLain Moberg’s “The Only Questions” article.

Moment of truth time. Which school walks away victorious?


Who wins the Paul Bunyan Trophy this season?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Michigah State
    (173 votes)
  • 59%
    (255 votes)
428 votes total Vote Now