Michigan-Michigan St. Preview

Ever since former Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to

Michigan State as the Wolverines’ little brother in 2007, the

Spartans haven’t lost to their in-state rivals.

Coach Mark Dantonio has made it a point to take control of the

rivalry with Michigan, and now Michigan State has a chance to tie a

school record in the series.

The 23rd-ranked Spartans look to win four straight over their

rivals for the first time in nearly 50 years when they host No. 11

Michigan on Saturday.

Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) fell 28-24 in that 2007

meeting but has won the three matchups since, including 34-17 last

season. Michigan had won the previous six meetings before the

Spartans’ winning streak.

Michigan State hasn’t won four straight in the series since

1959-62.

“The things that people hold great value in, and I think that

this game is one of them, I believe in making it important,”

Dantonio said. “From day one when we walked in here, we pointed

towards that. There were others who said that we couldn’t (beat

Michigan). So, we wanted to make a point. I think we’ve made the

point and we’ll go on from there.

“You tend not to forget what’s gone on in these games.”

The matchups also have had more of an impact on the conference

and national landscape in recent years. The winner of Saturday’s

game will be in sole possession of first place in the Legends

Division, and it will mark the first time since 1956-58 both teams

will be ranked in the Top 25 in three straight meetings.

“Obviously the guys know what the history has been,” Michigan

coach Brady Hoke said. “The rivalry is a tremendous rivalry because

of the passion for both schools that people have. The alums, people

within the state, you kind of draw the line that you’re a Spartan

fan or you’re a Wolverine fan and that’s what makes college

football and that’s what makes it so exciting.”

Hoke has helped bring excitement back to Michigan (6-0, 2-0) in

his first season at the helm after three straight disappointing

seasons. The Wolverines can win their first seven games for the

first time since 2006.

Denard Robinson has been a major reason for the turnaround. He

threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns while adding 117 yards and

two scores rushing in a 42-24 win over Northwestern last week.

The Wolverines trailed 24-14 at halftime before outscoring the

Wildcats 28-0 in the second half.

Robinson’s 120.0 yards per game rushing ranks ninth in the FBS

for a Michigan offense which is second in the Big Ten averaging

457.5 total yards.

“Obviously, it all starts with Robinson. That goes without

saying,” Dantonio said. “He can dish it to where he needs to go,

whether it’s wide receivers or running backs.”

Robinson, though, threw three interceptions against

Northwestern, and his nine picks are tied for third in the country.

He also threw three interceptions and rushed for only 86 yards in

last season’s loss to the Spartans.

Robinson had entered that contest averaging 181.0 yards rushing

through the first five games of 2010, and it may not get much

easier for the dynamic quarterback in this meeting.

Michigan State has the top-ranked defense in the nation,

allowing 173.4 yards per game – 64.0 rushing. The Spartans, coming

off a bye week, allowed 178 total yards in a 10-7 victory over Ohio

State on Oct. 1.

They’ve allowed seven points or less four times this season.

“You look at their defense as a whole and I think the whole team

is very well coached, because I have a lot of respect for Mark

Dantonio,” Hoke said. “He’s a defensive coach, and his mindset and

vision of how they are going to play defense; I think they are

athletic. I think they play with good team speed, and they are

going to be a physical presence out on the field.”

The Spartans’ offense, though, struggled at times against Ohio

State. Michigan State committed three turnovers, including two

interceptions by Kirk Cousins, with one coming in the end zone.

His lone touchdown pass went to B.J. Cunningham, who had nine

catches for 154 yards. Cunningham is 11th in the nation with 116.4

yards per game.

Cunningham was held to 40 yards in last season’s meeting, but

Edwin Baker ran for 147 of Michigan State’s 249 yards on the

ground.

The Spartans’ last two wins at home in the series have come in

dramatic fashion. They won 26-20 in overtime Oct. 2, 2009, and

scored on a touchdown pass with no time remaining for a 26-24

victory Nov. 3, 2001. Michigan won the three meetings at Spartan

Stadium in between.