Revenge. Redemption. Payback. Paul Bunyan. Those are the words that are on the minds of the Wolverines and their fans as THE RIVALRY WEEK is upon us. Those words seem like a very possible reality for Team 133 as the two teams that will square off on Saturday appear to be heading in different directions.
The Spartans (4-3, 1-2 B1G) appear to be crumbling as they suffered a heart-breaking loss to a putrid Iowa team at home on Saturday. Add the fact that the week before they barely squeaked out a victory against Indiana and struggled against EMU a few weeks prior and you have a floundering football team.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines (4-2, 2-0 B1G) put a gigantic maize and blue boot in the behinds of a not-so-great Illinois squad to the tune of a 45-0 massacre after “shocking the world” (or at least Kirk Herbstreit) by embarrassing Purdue on the road the week before. They are hitting their stride and booming with confidence at the right time.
As a result, Michigan opened up the week as a huge 11.5 point favorite for Saturday’s game. The spread has now dropped to 10 which, in my opinion, is still way too high. Wolverine Nation should not buy into this absurd line…mentally or monetarily. Let me explain.
First and foremost, let’s all remember who coaches the Michigan State Spartans. Yes, the man with the biggest maize and blue chip on his shoulder…Mark “The Red A**” Dantonio. He has a complete and utter disdain for Michigan. Hate is definitely not a strong enough word to describe his anti-love for the Wolverines. As a result, he puts quite an emphasis on this game every year and thus has them uber prepared and fired up for this contest…every…single…year. I expect nothing less this year nor should anyone else. Especially after they were embarrassed on Saturday by Iowa at home. He will have the Spartans, angry, determined, and desperate knowing a win against their arch rival is key to salvaging their disappointing season. They will be coming out swinging…count on it.
Second, Michigan State still has a very formidable defense. The group is number one in all major defensive categories in the B1G. It is also a defense that for the past three years has completely shut down Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense.
I am not going to waste my time throwing out the blatant statistics. Anyone who has watched the last few games in the rivalry knows that defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s “Spartan Dawgs” have lined up and punched the Wolverines’ offense in the mouth. It has looked like full grown Pitt Bulls against Shih Tzu puppies. It is THE team that has mapped out the blueprint on how to stop “Shoelace.” Many of the players who effectively stymied his play previously will be taking the field on Saturday. It will be up to Denard and Al Borges to prove they can figure out how to bite back. I truly believe Robinson will be incredibly focused on beating the Spartans in his final try and will play his heart out. We’ll see if he can keep calm and play within himself and not try to do too much.
The Spartans are the inverse of the Wolverines of the Rich Rod Era. While they tout an incredibly stingy defense, their offense is pretty pedestrian (I am being P.C.). They’re pretty bad. No, I am not being a Michigan slappy or a “Walmart Wolverine,” that moniker still holds no water to any intelligent sports fan but I digress, I am calling it like it is.
Anybody who has watched the Spartans in the last few weeks will tell you they are anemic offensively. Once again I am not going to throw out the glaringly supportive statistics, I am simply going with the eyeball test. Their receivers are young and drop a ton of balls, Maxwell is still fairly inexperienced and makes some questionable decisions, their offensive line is banged up, and they live and die with LeVeon Bell. With that said, Maxwell, statistics aside, has shown he has the potential and physical tools to get the job done and Bell is an absolute horse. With a struggling air attack, they will feed Bell the rock constantly and force the Michigan defense to match their physicality and stop it. While the UM defense has dramatically improved in recent weeks, they have yet to step up to the Spartans’ challenge in recent years. It will be up to them to keep that struggling Spartan offense from breaking out and give their own offense as many possessions as possible.
Don’t think I am being a Negative Nancy and thinking the Wolverines will lose the game. Quite the opposite. I fully believe the Wolverines will play inspired football in front of their home crowd and break “The Streak.” They look like the more complete team and are motivated to get the MSU monkey off of their backs. However, I am not buying the huge spread that Vegas is selling, nor am I jumping on the Train of Overconfidence that many fans are currently riding. This is a rivalry game, and in the past, no matter how good or bad the teams have been, it is typically a close, hard-fought game. I expect nothing different here.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy has made a home in East Lansing for four years now. It basically has changed its area code to 517. Its keepers, the Michigan State Spartans, a.k.a. “Spartan Dawgs,” will be rabid, desperate, angry, and foaming at the mouth to ruin Michigan’s chances at a division championship. Dantonio, Narduzzi, and Co. will see to it that MSU gives Team 133 all it can handle on Saturday. Buckle up for another exciting chapter of this civil war because bringing Mr. Bunyan back to the 734 area code will not be easy.