Game Time: 3:30 PM EST | Wolverines vs Spartans coverage
Vegas Odds Say: Sparty -4
Enemy Blog: The Only Colors
Series History: Michigan leads 68-32-5
Weather Forecast: Mid forties and cloudy; chance of rain
Michigan has passed the midseason point, and what have we learned about this team? We know that the offensive line is a work in progress, and is probably an offseason away from being really, really good. We've learned that Devin Gardner is capable of pure brilliance followed by utter horror. The running game has vanished for much of the games to-date, which is just the opposite of what most were expecting. Defensively, Michigan has not played shutdown ball yet, but the secondary, oddly enough, has impressed. Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor and Thomas Gordon have stood out but it's the guys around them who have struggled. Jake Ryan, where art thou?
At the start of the season, I anticipated three losses -- one of them to Penn State, and the other two would come in November. Michigan's first November game is against the Spartans.
There have been player miscues, errors of judgment and coaching mistakes, yes, but Michigan has not peaked yet. That is what must happen on Saturday.
Against Indiana, the offense proved it could compete in a shootout, but against a stronger defense that won't always be the norm. Jeremy Gallon outgained everyone himself and Devin Gardner had the good sense to bail out his offense with his legs instead of unwise pass attempts. The defense stiffened when it absolutely had to, but stopping the long pass and third down conversions continues to be the problem area. In the end, both teams scored a lot of points, and Michigan survived probably the best offense in the Big Ten not named Ohio State.
The Spartans are not Indiana nor are they the Buckeyes. Their defense carried them the first five weeks of the year, and will charge through Michigan's offensive line if they allow it. Their defense also creates turnovers, through both skill and freak occurrences, so Gardner cannot be errant in his throws or careless with the ball. Offensively, Michigan State is baffling. One week they'll struggle for yards and other weeks, against bad defenses mind you, they light up the stat lines. Connor Cook is not nearly at the level of Devin Gardner, and neither is Andrew Maxwell, because who knows which quarterback will strike Mark Dantonio's fancy this week. Quarterback play has never been quite as critical in this rivalry as other skill positions, because two other stats take precedence.
The team that wins this game, at least since the year 2000, is the one who finishes with the most rushing yards. 11 of the last 13 games, the rushing leader won. The Paul Bunyan trophy is won on the ground, and when also factoring in the turnover ratio, Michigan can wave bye-bye to a victory if they lose the ball more than MSU.
Michigan State will be ready. This is their personal Super Bowl, the thing they show recruits when urging them to attend their school. Yes, the trophy is silly-looking, but some pretty amazing and/or ridiculous moments have come from this rivalry. Spartan Bob. Charles Woodson's leaping one-handed interception. Desmond Howard getting tripped in the south end zone as time ran out. Chris Perry carrying the ball 50 times in 2002. Mike Hart. The throw from Henne to Manningham late in the fourth quarter to retake the lead. There are more, and I want to hear them.
It's rare that both teams are ranked coming into this game. This will be the sixth time since 1997, and for Michigan, they can prove they belong in the hunt for their division with a convincing win. All it takes is 60 minutes of complete football, something they have yet to execute this season.