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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

It’s Hate Week. Michigan State Spartans versus Michigan Wolverines. The programs are not fond of each other to say the least, and generally you can throw records and past performances out the window when it comes to this game. However, this year feels kind of different given the current state of MSU football. Still, nothing is guaranteed on Saturday afternoon with the Paul Bunyan Trophy on the line.

There’s really not much that needs to be said — this is one of the best rivalries in college sports. Let’s get to it:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2019 Record — 4-5 (2-4 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 365.9 total yards, 235.0 passing yards, 130.9 rushing yards

Defense (per game average) — 323.0 total yards allowed, 214.89 passing yards allowed, 108.1 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 208 (23.11 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 212 (23.56 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 35th

2019 Record — 7-2 (4-2 Big Ten)

Offense (per game average) — 389.9 total yards, 219.22 passing yards, 170.7 rushing yards

Defense (per game average)— 266.2 yards allowed, 153.56 passing yards allowed, 112.7 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 286 (31.78 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 154 (17.11 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 15th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan leads 70-36-5
Current streak: Michigan with one win
Last Michigan State Win: Oct. 7, 2017 (14-10)
Last Michigan Win: Oct. 20, 2018 (21-7)
Michigan State all-time record: 705-464-44 (.599)
Michigan all-time record: 960-344-36 (.730)

Previous Game Results

Illinois 37, Michigan State 34

Wait, was there a game last week?

Oh yeah. Michigan State blew a 25-point lead (and a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter) and allowed Illinois to complete its biggest comeback in program history. That’s it. That’s the story. No reason to go into detail.

Let’s call it what it is: pathetic.

But it’s on to the next one, and in a disappointing season, this is Michigan State’s most important game:

Michigan 38, Maryland 7

Michigan actually had a bye week last week, but prior to that, absolutely blasted Maryland. The Wolverines jumped out to a 35-0 lead before the Terps finally got on the board at the end of the fourth quarter. U of M opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown from Giles Jackson. The team really didn’t do anything too impressive offensively, but it was an efficient outing. Shea Patterson completed 13 of 22 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Hassan Haskins, Tru Wilson and Zach Charbonnet combined for 138 rushing yards and three scores. Michigan held Maryland to just 233 total yards, while recording four sacks and forcing one turnover.

Let’s try to keep it classy in this heated rivalry, y’all:

Key Matchups

Zach Charbonnet/Michigan offensive line versus MSU front seven: Charbonnet leads the Wolverines with 559 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. He is also averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Without Joe Bachie manning the middle, MSU must put emphasis on shutting down Michigan’s rushing game and forcing Shea Patterson to beat them in the passing game. If the Spartans can make U of M one-dimensional, then chances of winning will improve exponentially. If not, Michigan can ride Charbonnet, Haskins and Wilson to an easy victory. Michigan State has still been very stout against the run this season, ranking 16th in the NCAA at 107.4 yards per game. Meanwhile, Michigan’s rushing offense comes in at No. 57 nationally.

Winning the turnover battle: What has been the common denominator in each of Michigan State’s five losses this season? It has lost the turnover battle in each one. In the four wins? The Spartans have won the turnover battle. It’s not rocket science to make the correlation between turnover margin and wins. Michigan State enters the contest at minus-two on the season, while Michigan comes in at plus-one. If MSU wants to have any chance at all at stealing a victory in Ann Arbor, this is the way to do get that done. Plain and simple.

Brian Lewerke versus Michigan passing defense: Leweke is in a rough stretch right now, throwing six picks and just two touchdown passes in his last four games. Unsurprisingly, these have been losses for MSU. His play on Saturday is of the utmost importance. He is going to need a lot of help from Elijah Collins and a depleted receiving group, but as the quarterback, the success of the offense is going to lie on Lewerke’s shoulder. He helped lead the Spartans to victory in the Big House in 2017. Let’s see if he can do it again against the nation’s fifth-best passing defense.

Game Info

Time: Noon (EST)
TV Channel: Fox
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Weather expectations: It’s going to be a cold one — partly cloudy, 27 degrees at kickoff, with a high of 31 degrees for the day. Winds blowing east/northeast at eight miles per hour. Line: Michigan -13.5


Injuries and attrition are once again going to be a major issue for Michigan State’s depleted depth chart. With Joe Bachie suspended, Noah Harvey played very well last week. Can he keep it up? We’ll see. Still, losing Bachie is a major blow. The team is expected to be without leading wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. for another week, and the offensive line continues to be a revolving door. On top of all of this, plus the many other injuries the team has been dealing with all season, junior tight end Matt Dotson tore his Achilles and is done for the season. The good news is that Josiah Scott, who exited early from the Illinois game, is expected to start on Saturday. Still, though, you have to imagine all of this going to take a toll.

Of course, MSU has won two in a row in the Big house and Mark Dantonio has had plenty of success in Ann Arbor, winning four out of five times there (loss coming in 2012 by a score of 12-10). Dantonio is 8-4 overall in his career against Michigan. The road team has also won the past four games in the series. But this a depleted MSU football team right now. Michigan has far and away the superior roster, just like it did last year. That doesn’t always mean much in this rivalry, but given MSU’s on-field performance in the past several weeks, it’s hard to see the Spartans walking away victorious in this one. I do think it will be competitive throughout, though. I am not buying this “it’s going to be a blowout” talk.

With all of that said, I think MSU will have a hard time moving the ball on this stout Michigan defense. Michigan ranks third in the Big Ten in both total defense and passing defense, behind only Ohio State and Wisconsin in both categories. However, I also don’t see the mediocre Michigan offense having much success against MSU either, but then again I didn’t think Illinois would score 37 points on the Spartan defense last week.

Everybody has an opinion on this game. Most of them are that MSU doesn’t stand much of a chance. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but all of the talk will be over in less than 24 hours and we will see what happens on the field.

For more on Michigan, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

How are we feeling?


The Paul Bunyan Trophy will...

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Stay in Ann Arbor
    (101 votes)
  • 23%
    Come home to East Lansing
    (31 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now