Wolverines say they're ready for physical Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)
Not that this matchup is ever lacking in anticipation, but when the 24th-ranked Spartans host the 23rd-ranked Wolverines on Saturday, it will be only their second November meeting in the last 10 years. Now, all the talk about sibling rivalry, messages in the sky and which team the officials should keep an eye on can finally subside - for 60 minutes, at least.
''Always a big game here,'' Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ''I think in this state, I've said it many, many times, I think you grow up either green or you grow up blue. Not too many people are any different than that in Michigan.''
With a win this weekend, Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) will have a solid chance to win the Legends Division and reach the Big Ten title game for the second time in three years. Michigan (6-1, 2-1) can improve its own outlook with a victory - and of course, there are bragging rights to consider.
On Nov. 3, 2007, Michigan beat the Spartans 28-24, and Wolverines running back Mike Hart referred to the Spartans as a little brother. That became a bit of a rallying cry for Michigan State fans as the Spartans won the next four meetings, a streak that ended with Michigan's 12-10 victory in Ann Arbor in October 2012.
On a football Saturday this September, a skywriter hired by Michigan wrote ''GO BLUE'' in the sky, and the message could be seen from Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Michigan claimed the message was high enough in the sky that it could be seen for miles, and the school wasn't targeting the rival Spartans.
''What can you say?'' Dantonio replied when asked about that this week. ''Why do you want to get me started?''
There is still an element of respect between the schools. Michigan State announced this week it plans to give an honorary degree to Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman - after Michigan had announced plans to give an honorary degree to Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon.
Don't expect those warm feelings to carry over to the field, though. Here are five things to watch in the 106th meeting between Michigan State and Michigan:
PHYSICAL SPARTANS: Michigan State is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, but the Wolverines have vowed not to back down.
Although Michigan won last season's game, the Wolverines still recall their 28-14 loss in East Lansing in 2011. Michigan State had 13 penalties for 124 yards in that game, but shut down Michigan for the most part.
''There are a lot of us who played in that game,'' Michigan tackle Michael Schofield said. ''We try to remind the young guys what happened. We talk about it all the time.''
Both sides may have been trying to work the refs a bit in the week leading up to this year's game.
''That game in 2011 was a tough football game, a lot of emotion, and sometimes things spun out of control maybe a little bit, as well. But I think it was a great football game,'' Dantonio said. ''We're going to play tough, we're going to play within the rules, and the refs have to control the football game. That's very important because it goes on both ends.''
QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Michigan's Devin Gardner has completed 61 percent of his passes, throwing for 13 touchdowns and running for nine. He's also thrown 10 interceptions, so the Spartans will try to force him into costly mistakes.
Connor Cook has thrown for 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions for Michigan State, but he hasn't shown the ability to move the Spartans down the field consistently against top competition. Michigan probably needs the quarterback position to be a significant advantage.
CONTAINING GALLON: Michigan State excels at stopping the run, but that won't matter if the Wolverines are able to find receiver Jeremy Gallon for big plays down the field.
The 5-foot-8 Gallon has 45 catches for 831 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. In a win over Indiana on Oct. 19, Gallon had a day to remember: 14 catches for 369 yards and two TDs.
SHUFFLING LINEMEN: The Wolverines are expected to start a young combination on the interior of their offensive line, with freshman Kyle Bosch making his first start at left guard next to redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow at center and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right guard.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Michigan State punter Mike Sadler has been terrific this year, and Dantonio isn't afraid to call for a fake in a big spot.
Brendan Gibbons won last year's meeting for Michigan with a 38-yard field goal in the final seconds.