69F Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
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.