(Sports Network) - State bragging rights and an all-important Big Ten Conference victory will be on the line this weekend in East Lansing, as the 22nd-ranked Michigan State Spartans host their bitter rivals, the 11th-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Five of Michigan's six games thus far have taken place at home, and the club has clearly taken advantage of that fortuitous schedule. The Wolverines are off to a 6-0 start under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, and all but one of the victories have come by double figures. Last weekend, the club knocked off Northwestern by a 42-24 final on the road, scoring 28 unanswered points to fight back from an early deficit.
"Guys always stay together," said wideout Roy Roundtree, discussing the mood after halftime. "Coach always says, 'Stay together as a team,' and we just went out there with energy. We never let down; we just went out there and played football."
As for Michigan State, it has won four of its five games to date, as the lone loss came against Notre Dame back in mid-September. The most recent victory was tremendously enjoyable for Spartan fans, as the club found a way to beat Ohio State in Columbus by a 10-7 final. Head coach Mark Dantonio has been rewarded for his efforts with a contract extension, as he has brought some much-needed stability to the program.
"This new contract expresses the loyalty that I have to our current student- athletes and their families and sends a clear message to the current and future recruits that I will be their head coach at Michigan State," Dantonio said. "It also lets Spartan Nation know that I deeply appreciate their loyal support and that I'm here for the long haul."
Michigan owns a 67-31-5 series advantage over Michigan State, but the Spartans cruised to a 34-17 victory over the Wolverines last season.
Through six outings, Michigan is generating 38.0 ppg and 457.5 total ypg. The Wolverines have notched 28 offensive touchdowns already, 17 of which have come from a ground attack that accounts for 257 ypg at a clip of 6.3 ypc. The leader of the offense is Denard Robinson, the top dual-threat quarterback in college football for a second consecutive year. Robinson has passed for 1,130 yards and 10 scores while rushing for 720 yards and eight touchdowns. His completion percentage is a bit low (.573) and he has thrown nine interceptions, however, so there is still room for improvement.
As good as the Michigan offense has been, it can be argued that the defense has been even better. The Wolverines are holding foes to 12.5 ppg and 336.5 total ypg, having allowed a mere nine touchdowns to opposing offenses in 24 quarters of football. They have notched more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes allowed (four) and have 11 sacks to date. Kenny Demens leads Michigan with 45 total tackles, and Jordan Kovacs has three sacks.
In the win over Northwestern last weekend, Robinson threw three first-half interceptions, but he continued to fight and finished the game with a pair of passing scores and two rushing touchdowns as well. Michigan compiled 541 total yards in the affair, and Robinson was responsible for 454 of those.
"He made some great throws, he's a tremendous football player," said Hoke of Robinson. "The kid's a competitor and he loves to play, he loves his teammates, and that's what Michigan football is all about."
Give the Michigan defense a ton of credit for pitching a shutout in the second half after yielding three scores in the opening half.
Switching focus to Michigan State, it is generating 28.0 ppg this season while gaining 398.0 total ypg. While those numbers don't rival the output of the Wolverines to this point, the Spartans have taken better care of the football than their counterpart. Kirk Cousins is a solid signal caller who has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 1,197 yards and six TDs against four INTs. B.J. Cunningham is clearly the top option in the passing game, as he has hauled in 38 receptions for 582 yards and two scores. Le'Veon Bell has rushed for six touchdowns, pacing a collection of capable backs.
Clearly, the Spartan offense is outshined by a stellar defensive unit that has permitted only six touchdowns in five outings. Michigan State is dominant against the run, giving up only 64.0 ypg at a clip of 2.2 yards per carry. The Spartans have permitted quarterbacks to complete fewer than half of their passes and have notched seven interceptions to go along with three fumble recoveries. Max Bullough has 33 total tackles to his credit to lead the team.
It has been two weeks since the win over Ohio State, so Michigan State figures to be well rested. In that game against the Buckeyes, the Spartans posted a passable total of 321 total yards, but they got into the end zone just once on a connection between Cousins and Cunningham. The running game clearly struggled, accounting for just 71 yards on 31 attempts.
Give the MSU defense a ton of credit for holding Ohio State to seven points in its own stadium. The Spartans nearly pitched a shutout, as the Buckeyes' lone score came with 10 seconds remaining in the game. Only 178 yards were surrendered in the tilt.
In a game that figures to go down to the wire, give a narrow edge to the Wolverines based solely on the ability of Robinson. He is a far more dynamic player than Cousins.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 24, Michigan State 20