The battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy continues in East Lansing this Saturday, as the Spartans and Wolverines kickoff for their 116th all time meeting. This historically bitter inter-state rivalry is renewed for another showdown, as Michigan visits Spartan Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Spartans, who blew an 18 point blown lead against Rutgers late in the 4th quarter last week, losing 27-24, are now on a 4 game losing skid. Heading into this game, Michigan State may need a miracle to avoid a 5th straight loss as they take on the red hot 7-0 No. 2 Michigan Wolverines.
Following Michigan's dominant win last week against Indiana 52-7, the Wolverines are yet again a three touchdown favorite against Michigan State. There is no question that Michigan is a top tier college football team, as they come into this matchup ranked number two in the nation. Though, the Spartans have been underdogs before in this rivalry, and haven't been afraid to spoil Michigan’s season.
A year ago, Michigan State's lackluster performance in Ann Arbor disappointed the Sparty faithful, as Michigan steamrolled the Spartans 29-7. Familiar faces return to the rivalry for Michigan State, like linebacker Cal Haladay, running back Jalen Berger and wide receiver Tre Mosley. Michigan State's interim head coach Harlon Barnett says that the experience that MSU carries into this game is important.
“They know what it is, they know what it's about,” Barnett said, “And they understand the importance of this game here at Michigan State. We're focused on this year and just playing the game of 11-on-11 on the football field, because that's all that matters.”
Michigan's passing game, led by quarterback JJ McCarthy, is one of the best in the nation. McCarthy has put up a 78.2% completion, along with 1,512 passing yards and a 14 to 3 touchdown interception ratio. Though, offensively, it’s Michigan's run game that really gets the job done. Running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards have combined for 743 yards rushing with 13 combined touchdowns. Though, with all these eye opening stats that Michigan presents, Barnett doesn’t seem phased.
"Now we’re just in attack mode, just keep attacking,” Barnett said. “We need to start playing better, and now it's about finishing. So that's our next step. We got to finish, and we are looking forward to doing that this weekend.”
The Spartan defense hopes to hold this star studded offense to limited numbers on Saturday. Michigan State's defense allows 24 points per game and 334 yards per game, which is 35th best in the nation. Since the start of conference play, the defense has shown improvements through the air, containing quarterbacks to an average of 188 passing yards. The Spartans hope to continue this trend versus McCarthy.
With Michigan’s defense only holding opponents to around six points per game, redshirt freshman Katin Houser looks to continue improvement on his young career, making his second consecutive start at quarterback this week after putting up respectable numbers against Rutgers for his first start. Houser had a completion percentage of 62.1, threw for 133 yards and had a combined three touchdowns with one on the ground.
“He's a college football player, he understands what he was signing up for when he signed the scholarship,” Barnett said. “This is one of the reasons why he chose to come to Michigan State is to play in games like this. He's used to big time atmospheres and high expectations, so expect him to have a great game.”
Michigan State also hopes to implement the run game this week with Nathan Carter and Jalen Berger. The hard running pair haven’t found the end zone since week two against Richmond, and hope to end their scoring drought Saturday night.
Last year, the rivalry ended bitterly for both sides as a fight between the teams broke out following the game. This year, in regards to chippy play and fighting, Barnett hopes to limit that, and keep everything legal on and off the field.
“We're moving forward past that," Barnett said. “We get a chance to go out there, play hard, and get after them. That’s the beauty of 11 on 11 football.”
The bout will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and premiere on NBC this Saturday. This will be MSU’s second to last game at Spartan Stadium this year, as they take on the Cornhuskers of Nebraska a week after traveling to Minnesota for a road matchup against the Golden Golphers.
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