Michigan and Michigan State have been battling for the bragging rights of the “Great Lake State” since 1898, back when Michigan State was called “Michigan Agricultural College.”
Today, the rivalry is renewed and has even greater meaning than we’ve seen in recent years. Michigan and Michigan State both are competing for a chance to represent their division in December in the Big Ten Championship Game. I’m sure most of you remember the game last year on October 20th, 2012 when Michigan edged out MSU in a battle of the kickers. Just one touchdown was scored the whole game, Andrew Maxwell threw a 2-yard TD to Paul Lang in the 3rd quarter to put the Spartans up 7-6. UM ultimately ended up winning the game 12-10 on a last second field goal by Mr. Brunette Girls himself, Brendan Gibbons.
Today, I don’t think that same game will happen, but I won’t be too surprised if it does. Michigan is one of the top scoring offenses in the country, and they’re be going up against a fierce MSU defense who will be looking to bring out the turnover bug that has bit Michigan this year.
So that being said, something has to give today. MSU ranks number 1 in total defense this year, and they’ve proved that they can cause a raucous for the duration of the game. This has an exciting feel to it, mainly because both teams have something to prove, and are hungry to get the pads on and hit each other all game.
Physicality will be a huge factor in this game, and we’ve seen recently that Michigan’s offensive and defensive lines seem to come and go as they please. However, they’ve shown that when they all start playing together and playing smart, this team could run the ball down your throat. Michigan State will be ready for the Wolverines, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another low-scoring game today.
There are a few things that make me feel a bit uneasy about this game, but none more than which Devin Gardner shows up today. We’ve seen Gardner torch defenses with his arm and legs, but we’ve also seen couches nearly torched because of them as well. He’s made some highlight-reel plays, and he’s also made some costly turnovers, which could be disastrous against a tough defense like MSU.
Secondly, will the defense return to form this week? The addition of Jake Ryan will be one that will be greatly encouraged, while there are a few other things that will have me pausing before crowning Michigan the victor in this game. The secondary, with the exception of Blake Countess and Thomas Gordon as of late, has been something the Wolverines need to improve big time. I don’t think Connor Cook is Peyton Manning by any stretch, but if the Wolverines aren’t careful, he could burn them.
Now enough with the negatives. I do think Michigan has a bunch of bright spots in this game, and I think that they will outweigh the negatives. I said before that Gardner could leave you scratching your head, but he also could score points in a hurry. His legs have been fun to watch, and they are a game changer when given the chance. Also, he has shown that he and WR Jeremy Gallon are almost always on the same page, and that’s been his security blanket all season. If Gallon and Gardner connect early today, it could be a completely one-sided game, mainly because I don’t see MSU being able to last in a shootout in this game.
Furthermore, Devin Funchess is my x-factor today. There is not a player that matches up with the TE/WR on this defense, and that could be huge. We’ve seen what Funchess can do while playing WR, and given his size and speed, he will have a big play today, just when it will be has yet to be determined. Gardner has shown that he can get the ball to Funchess, and usually it goes for a huge gain.
So this game has a lot riding on it; a bid at a Big Ten Championship game, bragging rights, and yes, the Paul Bunyan trophy. If Michigan can establish their run game early, get both Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess going early, it could be all UM. But don’t think it will be an easy one; MSU is the top ranked defense in the country. This rivalry will be taken to new heights today, and is sure to have all the makings for another instant classic.
As always, Go Blue.