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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Michigan at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Paul Bunyan Trophy is on the line, as are bragging rights in the state of Michigan for the next year. The Michigan State Spartans (3-4) travel to Ann Arbor to take on the undefeated and No. 4-ranked Michigan Wolverines (7-0) under the lights at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. The game is set to kick off at 7:44 p.m. Eastern Time and will be broadcast on ABC.

Unsurprisingly, Michigan State heads to the “Big House” as a huge underdog. Michigan is the overwhelming 23-point favorite, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook.

But, MSU has been here before. The Spartans have won 10 of the last 14 games in the series, including two in a row, and have often been the underdog against the Wolverines. The players and coaches are used to it and are prepared for it. Mel Tucker is the only Michigan State head coach to start 2-0 against Michigan.

However, Michigan is sick of losing to Michigan State and is looking to show the Spartans “no mercy” this weekend in an effort to bring back the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

Both teams should be well-rested and perhaps healthier after coming off of a bye week. While anything can happen in this rivalry, this year feels different. It’s Michigan’s game to lose. The Wolverines have more talent and advantages just about everywhere. However, that hasn’t always mattered when these two programs get together.

Below is a preview of the heated intrastate rivalry matchup.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2022 Record — 3-4 (1-3 in Big Ten)

2022 Offense (per game averages) — 348.96 total yards, 242.86 passing yards, 106.1 rushing yards

2022 Defense (per game averages) — 422.3 total yards allowed, 269 passing yards allowed, 153.3 rushing yards allowed

2022 Cumulative Points Scored: 189 (27.0 ppg)

2022 Cumulative Points Allowed: 190 (27.14 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 52nd

2022 Record — 7-0 (4-0 in Big Ten)

2022 Offense (per game averages) — 473.56 total yards, 231.86 passing yards, 241.7 rushing yards

2022 Defense (per game averages) — 250.04 yards allowed, 164.14 passing yards allowed, 85.9 rushing yards allowed

2022 Cumulative Points Scored: 299 (42.71 ppg)

2022 Cumulative Points Allowed: 85 (12.14 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: fourth

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan leads 71-38-5
Current streak: Michigan State has won the past two games
Last Michigan State win: Oct. 30, 2021 (37-33)
Last Michigan win: Nov. 16, 2019 (44-10)
Michigan State all-time record: 724-476-44 (.600)
Michigan all-time record: 983-352-36 (.730)

Uniform Watch:

Michigan State:

Michigan State will go with a slick all-white look: white jerseys, white pants and white helmets. The white helmets feature a green outline of the Spartan head logo on each side. The uniform is essentially a reverse of the all-green look the Spartans went with against Michigan in East Lansing in 2021.

A closer look:


Michigan will go with the all blue look: blue tops, blue pants and and the winged helmets. The players will also wear maize accessories.

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 28, double overtime (Week Seven before bye week)

In a game Michigan State had to have, the Spartans outlasted the Wisconsin Badgers in double overtime. The win ended a four-game losing streak for MSU.

The Badgers would strike first on the scoreboard. Wisconsin drove 63 yards on its opening possession, which was eventually capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from running back Braelon Allen. UW took the 7-0 lead.

After driving down to Wisconsin’s 1-yard-line on Michigan State’s next possession, Wisconsin held on the goal line and the Spartans turned it over on downs. Two plays later, however, Michigan State linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. This led to a 12-yard touchdown run for running back Jalen Berger, and MSU tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter.

The second quarter was mostly uneventful outside of another score from Wisconsin’s Allen early in the period. The teams went into halftime with Wisconsin leading 14-7.

The Spartans then tied things up at 14 late in the third quarter, as running back Elijah Collins plunged into the end zone from one yard out.

Things got intense in the fourth quarter. Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne connected with wide receiver Keon Coleman for a 27-yard touchdown with 7:46 remaining in regulation. MSU took a 21-14 advantage.

However, Wisconsin responded on its next possession, as Mertz hit wide receiver Keontez Lewis for a three-yard touchdown. The game was even at 21-all with 2:09 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Michigan State had its chance to end things in regulation, but some questionable play-calling and decision-making from the coaching staff derailed that hope, and the game went into overtime.

MSU went on offense first in the initial overtime period, and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson called a trick play in which wide receiver Jayden Reed threw a touchdown pass to Coleman. That put the Spartans up 28-21. However, Wisconsin answered when Mertz found wideout Chimere Dike for a 25-yard score. The game was tied again.

In double overtime, Wisconsin got the ball first. However, Windmon forced Allen to fumble on the first play. The ball was recovered by MSU defensive tackle Dashaun Mallory.

Thorne would then end things, as he hit Reed for a 27-yard, game-winning touchdown. Michigan State earned the 34-28 win.

For more on the victory over Wisconsin, please read our full game recap, check out the postgame quotes from Mel Tucker and the players or take a visit to our Film Room.

Michigan 41, Penn State 17 (Week Seven before bye week)

In a battle of top-10 programs, Michigan asserted its dominance over Penn State.

Things were close early. The first quarter ended in a 6-0 lead lead for Michigan, as kicker Jake moody knocked through a pair of field goals for the Wolverines.

The second quarter saw a lot more scoring. Michigan running back Blake Corum scored the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard run, and the Wolverines went up 13-0 with 8:42 left before halftime.

Penn State answered, though, as quarterback Sean Clifford ripped off a 62-yard run down to Michigan’s 4-yard-line on the ensuing possession. A few plays later, running back Kaytron Allen punched it into the end zone for the Nittany Lions, cutting Michigan’s lead to 13-7.

Then, Penn State’s defense made a play, as Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy was intercepted by PSU linebacker Curtis Jacobs, who took the ball 47 yards to the house. The Nittany Lions took a 14-13 lead.

Michigan added another field goal from Moody before the break, and went to halftime up 16-13.

Penn State actually tacked on a field goal before Michigan’s next score, taking a brief 17-16 lead. Then, the second half was all Wolverines. Michigan outscored Penn State 25-3 in the final two quarters.

Running back Donovan Edwards set the tone on a 67-yard rushing score, and followed by a two-point conversion, the Wolverines regained the lead at 24-17.

Later in the third quarter, Corum dashed 61 yards to the end zone to put Michigan up 31-17. In the fourth quarter, Moody added another field goal and Edwards scored one more. UM defeated PSU by a final score of 41-17.

Key Matchups

J.J. McCarthy/Michigan wide receivers versus Michigan State secondary: While Michigan’s strength is with its running game, McCarthy poses an interesting challenge for a secondary that has struggled to stop the pass. Michigan State had its best passing defense performance last time out against Wisconsin, holding Graham Mertz to just 131 passing yards. However, McCarthy is a much more talented quarterback than Mertz, and he is also dangerous with his feet. McCarthy thrives in the short and intermediate passing game. His deep ball is still a big question mark, however. MSU will need to take away the middle of the field on shorter and intermediate routes and challenge McCarthy to beat the Spartans deep outside of the numbers. Michigan averages a pedestrian 231.9 passing yards per game, good for just 75th in the country. Meanwhile, MSU has a hard time defending the pass (269 passing yards allowed per game, 110th in the FBS). The Spartans cannot allow McCarthy, Roman Wilson, Luke Schoonmaker and others to get going in the air attack.

Blake Corum/Donovan Edwards/Michigan offensive line vs. Michigan State defensive front: The ground game is Michigan’s bread and butter. The offensive line will maul any and every opponent and open holes for the talented running backs. Corum and Edwards run hard and are prone to hitting “home runs.” The Wolverines have the No. 8-ranked rushing attack in the nation, averaging 241.7 yards per game. Meanwhile, Michigan State is allowing 153.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 79th in the country. While the Spartans haven’t been bad at stopping the run, it hasn’t been MSU’s calling card either. Last season Michigan entered the contest with a powerful ground game as well with Corum and Hassan Haskins, but Michigan State held the Wolverines to just 146 combined rushing yards. MSU may not be able to completely bottle up UM this time around, but if the Spartans can contain Corum and Edwards, and hold the Wolverines under their season average on the ground, it will go a long way toward a victory.

Payton Thorne/Jayden Reed/Keon Coleman vs. Michigan secondary: Michigan has some good cornerbacks in DJ Turner and Gemon Green to match up with Michigan State’s stars at wide receivers, Reed and Coleman. Michigan enters this game allowing just 164.1 passing yards per game, which ranks in the top-five nationally. Thorne and the Michigan State passing attack are averaging 242.9 yards per game (66th nationally). If Michigan State has any shot at pulling the upset, Thorne is going to have to play one of his best games of the season, while Reed, Coleman, Tre Mosley, Daniel Barker and other pass-catchers will need to make plays. It is also paramount that Thorne takes care of the ball and does not turn it over.

Game Info

Time: Saturday, Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time (kickoff scheduled for 7:44 p.m.)
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Weather expectations: Clear skies, temperatures around 52 degrees at kickoff, winds blowing east/southeast at three to four miles per hour
DraftKings Line: Michigan State +23


Truth be told, there are not a lot of paths to victory for Michigan State in this game. However, being an underdog on paper has never deterred the Spartans in this series. Still, after being defeated by MSU for the past two seasons, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan players are hungry for a victory against the Spartans, and have more overall talent on the roster.

Michigan State has played well in Ann Arbor as of late, winning three of the past four and five of seven overall there. I see MSU hanging close for a quite a while in this game. But, I am just not sure that MSU has the horsepower to beat this team. Michigan ranks in the top-six nationally in both scoring offense (42.7 points per game) and scoring defense (12.14 points per game allowed). Meanwhile, Michigan State ranks 73rd in points per game allowed (27.14) and 77th in points per game scored (27.0). That looks like a recipe for disaster for MSU.

The odds are not in Michigan State’s favor. One thing that is for certain is Michigan State always gets up for this game, and plays with a chip on its shoulder. Meanwhile, it seems that Michigan might actually be putting an emphasis on the rivalry this time around, and will be prepared.

With all of that said, it’s hard to make a prediction in this series — weird things happen in rivalry games of this magnitude — but at the end of the day, only one team will be bringing home the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

For more information on the Michigan Wolverines, please read our “Get to Know the Opponent” article, our “5 Questions with Maize n Brew” conversation and our “Opponent Review” piece.


Which school takes home the Paul Bunyan Trophy?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Michigan State
    (41 votes)
  • 68%
    (88 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now

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