One of the greatest in-state rivalries in college football will be renewed this weekend when Michigan travels to Michigan State to play for the 107th time in this storied series. As is the weekly custom, TBHR got a chance to ask Blake Baumgartner of SB Nation’s The Only Colors about this year’s team in East Lansing and what we can expect to see on Saturday.
1. This is typically considered to be one of those throw-out-the-records rivalries, and Mark Dantonio is a terrific coach who keeps his guys focused. But given Michigan State’s success, and the fact that Michigan is only 3-4, do you think there’s any chance the Spartans are less than 100% focused for this game?
That’s the one thing Dantonio has harped on when it comes to this team: its ability to stay focused, even after the second-half letdown in the loss at Oregon and the fourth-quarter troubles in the victories over Nebraska and Purdue. Dantonio, stemming from his days as a Nick Saban and Bobby Williams assistant from 1995-2000, knows what this rivalry means to Michigan State. His 5-2 record against the Wolverines obviously is a marked improvement from his two predecessors, Williams and John L. Smith. No matter the Spartans’ record in a given year when this game rolls around, whether in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, the Michigan game will always be the most important game on the schedule, with laser-sharp focus all but required and expected. Michigan fans may have Mike Hart to thank for that.
2. Michigan State stormed all over Indiana in the fourth quarter last weekend, which at least temporarily buried the talk of how the Spartans don’t finish. I think it’s something still worth mentioning, though. What gave Michigan State so much trouble in the fourth quarter against Oregon, Nebraska and Purdue?
I think Marcus Mariota had a lot to do with Oregon turning a 27-18 third-quarter deficit into an eventual 46-27 victory for the Ducks back on Sept. 6. Dantonio admitted that the 19-0 fourth-quarter performance Nebraska put up was his fault to a degree, as he told Dave Warner to run heavily in the fourth quarter as a way to burn clock. Certainly a case of playing not to lose and letting the foot off the gas. In my opinion, Dantonio aided to the Purdue close call himself with the fake punt while deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter, along with the fact that Connor Cook has an ability to throw the occasional bonehead interception, which he did while going in for a score and up 21 points at Purdue and last Saturday in the first half at Indiana.
3. Michigan’s secondary hasn’t found a consistent stride this season. Do you see a receiver like Tony Lippett really exploiting that? Will Michigan State make it a point to attack through the air?
Lippett is one of, if not the best, receivers in the conference, so it’s getting to the point where you expect him to have a big week every week. Cook is going to have to avoid locking in on Lippett all the time. He may be able to get away with that yet again against Michigan, but Ohio State may very well make him pay for doing it too much on Nov. 8. Guys like Macgarrett Kings, Jr., Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery and Josiah Price need to become more active in the passing game should the Spartans want to make good on their College Football Playoff aspirations. But it’s Cook who may be holding the key to that.
4. Michigan’s offense hasn’t threatened an opponent all season (other than Appalachian State). Michigan State’s defense obviously isn’t what it was a season ago, but they’re still working with a solid unit. If you’re Michigan, where do you look to find success?
I know Michigan’s best running back is out, but Wyoming, Purdue and Indiana have shown that Pat Narduzzi’s defense can be gashed in the run game at times. It’s something that they will need to get better at and fast, along with plugging the holes and communication issues in the secondary that plagued the Spartans at Oregon. Trey Waynes has done a commendable job in replacing Darqueze Dennard in the lineup, so Devin Gardner could possibly throw to the opposite side. But I think the Wolverines’ best chance of moving the ball would be by running it, which could prove difficult with an offensive line having its own problems blocking consistently for Gardner and Shane Morris.
5. Your prediction for the game.
Michigan State 38, Michigan 13