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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Well, one week flew by and it’s nearly time for the second week of Big Ten football. The Michigan State Spartans look to rebound from an embarrassing loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, but have a tall task ahead with the rival Michigan Wolverines coming up next for a Halloween showdown.

It’s goes without saying how much this game means to the Michigan State program, and although they won’t admit it, to the Michigan players and coaches, too. The Paul Bunyan Trophy is on the line.

This game doesn’t look promising for the Spartans on paper, but as we are well aware, anything can happen in this rivalry, and as we have learned by now, strange things happen in 2020.

Here is your game preview:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2020 Record — 0-1 (0-1 in Big Ten)

Offense — 369 total yards, 319 passing yards, 50 rushing yards

Defense — 276 total yards allowed, 170 passing yards allowed, 106 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 27 (27 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 38 (38 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: 60th

2020 Record — 1-0 (1-0 in Big Ten)

Offense — 481 total yards, 225 passing yards, 256 rushing yards

Defense — 326 yards allowed, 197 passing yards allowed, 129 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored (2019): 49 (49 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed (2019): 24 (24 ppg)

Current S&P+ Ranking: Ninth

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan leads 71-36-5
Current streak: Michigan has won two games in a row
Last Michigan State Win: Oct. 7, 2017 (14-10)
Last Michigan Win: Nov. 16, 2019 (44-10)
Michigan State all-time record: 708-466-44 (.599)
Michigan all-time record: 963-346-36 (.729)

Previous Game Results

Rutgers 38, Michigan State 27

Was there a game last week? I seem to have forgotten. Oh, right, Mel Tucker’s coaching debut did not go as planned as Michigan State turned the ball over seven times (and another two times on downs) and lost to Rutgers for the first time since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten Conference. We’ve done enough recapping of that game throughout the week, no more need to harp on it, but turnovers, penalties poor offensive line play and miscommunications were the reasons the Spartans lost this game, and no bigger reason than the giveaways. Give Rutgers credit for coming out with more energy and out-executing MSU, too, but that one felt way more like MSU beat themselves than Rutgers dominating. Anyway, that debacle is now behind us.

Michigan State put an obvious focus on ball security in practice this week.

Michigan 49, Minnesota 24

Michigan traveled to Minneapolis and dominated a solid — albeit shorthanded — Minnesota Golden Gophers team. Quarterback Joe Milton was solid in his debut, completing 15 of 22 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown through the air, as well as eight carries for 52 rushing yards and an additional score on the ground. The running game was also strong, averaging over eight yards per carry. The defense was menacing with five sacks and two takeaways. I’m not sure how much we should take away from a one-week performance, but Michigan definitely looked the part last Saturday, and on paper, looks like a much better team than Michigan State.

Key Matchups

Michigan State offensive line versus Michigan defensive line: The battle in the trenches may be the single biggest matchup in the game. Michigan State had a poor performance in both pass protection and in the run game against Rutgers last week. That doesn’t bode well for the Spartans, as the Wolverines likely bring a more fierce pass rush and better defensive line overall. If the Michigan State offensive line can’t protect quarterback Rocky Lombardi and can’t win at the line of scrimmage in the running game, then MSU is in for a long day. Mel Tucker talks about being able to “run the ball on our terms,” and Michigan State’s best chance to win will be controlling the clock and holding onto the football.

Joe Milton versus Michigan State secondary: Michigan State played a lot of nickel package on defense last week with two linebackers and five defensive backs. The secondary will have a tough assignment this week with players like wide receiver Ronnie Bell lining up against them, and with Milton running the offense. The defensive backfield can’t allow Milton get into a rhythm — the pass rush will also be important here as putting pressure on Milton and sacking him could rattle the young signal caller — or else it could be a tough game. Outside of the first drive last week, and some tackling issues, the secondary played fairly well — the defense just constantly had to defend a short field.

Mel Tucker versus Jim Harbaugh: I had a Tucker versus Greg Schiano matchup in here last week, too, and quite frankly Schiano out-coached Tucker and his team was able to execute better. I am giving Tucker another shot this week, as he goes up against the more seasoned Jim Harbaugh. There were some questionable calls by Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson last week, especially on fourth down, and with some personnel decisions. The staff has to come into this game with a better game plan and — while it of course comes down to the players on the field (and holding onto the damn football) — set the team up in the best position to win. It sounds simple, but Tucker can’t let Harbaugh get the better of him. Hopefully lessons were learned from last week and the proper adjustments were made.

Game Info

Time: Noon (Eastern)
TV Channel: FOX
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Weather expectations: Sunny, with high of 42 degrees at kickoff and warming up a few degrees throughout the game, winds blowing south at 11-12 miles per hour
Line: Michigan -25


Again, I maintain anything can happen in this game, especially in the quite possibly the most bizarre year in human history — and the game is being played on Halloween no less. However, I just have a hard time seeing the Spartans being competitive in this game, let alone winning outright. The talent gap is too wide, the MSU coaching staff is still brand new and figuring some things out, and I feel like Michigan’s defensive line is going to dominate Michigan State’s offensive line. Hopefully the turnovers will be cleaned up, but it will take a perfect game for the Spartans to upset the Wolverines and bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing.

What Spartans fans really want to see out of this game from Michigan State is improvement from last week’s sloppy affair. I want to see more fight. I want to see some promise and a foundation for the future. I’m not as worried about winning this game, as I know the odds of that happening are incredibly low.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much left to say — this one can get really ugly, fast, if the Spartans aren’t prepared and don’t come to play. I wouldn’t trust the Wolverines to cover that 25-point spread, as the Spartans have been historically strong against the spread in this series, but I predict a 17-20 point victory for Michigan, and yes, it pains me to say that.

For more on Michigan, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece, and read over our Q&A column with Maize n Brew.

I think we already know the answer, but as mentioned, anything can happen in this rivalry, and anything can happen in 2020, apparently — who do you see winning this game? Does Michigan State stand a chance? Vote in our poll below and let us know in the comments section.


Who wins the rivalry game?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Michigan State
    (36 votes)
  • 76%
    (118 votes)
154 votes total Vote Now