The wait is over.
The Jim Harbaugh versus Mark Dantonio clash is finally here. It's Michigan State week and with that brings a huge challenge for the Wolverines. Win and change the landscape of your season. Lose and your in-state rival has done it again.
Here's our preview of Saturday's big game.
Last meeting: Michigan State beat Michigan 35-11 in East Lansing.
What a win means for Michigan: Everything. It literally means everything. If Michigan has any hopes of competing for a Big Ten championship, this is a game it must win. It also helps beating an in-state rival that has gotten the best of you over the last few seasons. However, this game has more than bragging rights on the line. For the first time in a very long time, this game has more riding on it than just a trophy and in-state bragging rights, it has playoff implications added in. Win and you ruin the Spartans perfect season and continue the quest. Most importantly, and this being something that won't be talked about publicly, a win lifts the black cloud partially that has been hanging over the head of the program. Needless to say, this would be a big win for the Wolverines if they would be able to pull it off.
What a win means for Michigan State: A win for Michigan State means everything as well. A chance to devastate Michigan's chances of achieving postseason hopes? The Spartans would gladly oblige. For a program that has had its fair share of injuries this season, it would be huge for them to come away with a victory in Michigan Stadium. In the grand scheme of things, the Michigan game would be a stepping stone to what the program really wants to do this season and that's earn a playoff birth. If style points are necessary, this win would certainly rack them up. Michigan State has owned the rivalry as of late and a victory once again this weekend shows how great of a coach Mark Dantonio is.
Player to watch: You almost have to go with Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, right? He's arguably the best quarterback Michigan might face all season, he's good. Currently for the 2015 season, Cook sits at over 1300 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. If the Spartans are unable to get the running game established against the Wolverines' defensive line, then they will obviously have to rely on Cook and his receivers to get them out of trouble. This is something the Spartans have done this season and Cook has done a great job taking care of the football and limiting his mistakes. It's very possible that Cook's arm, and whether he is able to carve up a talented Michigan secondary, will be the deciding factor in the game.
What they're saying: MSU head coach Mark Dantonio (All quotes used from MSUSpartans.com):
On going up against Harbaugh for the first time: "I think these games are played one at a time. I got tremendous amount of respect for Coach Harbaugh, what he's accomplished in his career, and what he's accomplishing now, but these games are played one at a time. All I can tell you is every play –severy single play of every single game means something; it has its own life, I guess is what I would try and say, and as long as you keep it in that perspective, you've got a chance to win that one particular play.
To go beyond that or think beyond that or before that really serves no purpose right now for me. We've hung our hat on things, we're going to always try and do the best of our ability in everything that we do. This will be no exception."
On being considered underdogs: "No, I don't. I think you're only underdogs if you think you're underdogs, first of all, so it's what you think about things; it's not what, quite frankly, you write about things. It's what you think.
I will say Michigan is playing outstanding football right now, and we need to play better at certain points and times, but we are undefeated, we've found a way to win football games; that's the bottom line. And every game – again, every game is different as we move forward, and we're going to be excited to go down, and looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.
In regard to, I guess, injuries and things of that nature, you always have a plan; if so and so goes down, there is always a plan in place.
That's why you work your 2s, that's why you recruit other players, those type of things. So, I've said it all along, when things happen like this or like that, it should make your football team stronger in the long run, and that's what we are always looking toward. Do we gain something from a loss? Yeah, we do, same thing. Whether it's a player – losing a player or losing a football game, you have to gain something, and you have to also gain from winning. We just deal with it. There is nothing you can do at certain times. You just deal with it."
On Michigan's running game: "Yeah, it's old school, if you want to say that, or like I tend to say, things go in cycles, and you always see things cycled back through, and then it becomes very, very prominent. They give the ball to the fullback sometimes, they're moving their tight end around in all different types of formations, two tight end formations, they've used four different tight ends, they've used four or five different running backs, I believe, two different fullbacks.
They get an assortment of wide receivers in there, so they're doing a lot of good things, and they're difficult to prepare for, so they have their own dimension that is difficult to prepare for, and I think they're playing – they're playing good football, so it will be a challenge."
On Jake Rudock: "rying to think. You know, we did not play Iowa last year, so we've got to go back to '13 on that, but I would say that, you know, he's comfortable in the offense that he's in right now. He's getting -- obviously early on maybe not so much, but they're asking him to do things -- he's a fifth year senior, so when you're a fifth year senior you're played a lot of football, I think you can adapt to a different system.
So the learning curve is not so great as when you are a freshman and learning things for the first time. You've been coached at a college level, so you're adapting, and that learning curve is much smaller, and it's more accelerated, and you can see him doing that. I think he throws -- he's thrown the ball out there, shooting it out there on quick choke routes and things of that nature, so I think he's been productive."
On whether Michigan and Michigan State can be good at the same time: "Well, families do that all the time in Michigan, so I guess we can do it. But I think -- you know, all I can tell you is this is one game of the week, one game of the year. It's a very meaningful game, but you still have to win your other football games to be successful. So I think both teams can have good football teams, if that's what you're asking. It's been done before, and both teams have gone to, you know, big bowls in the past, at the same time, and things of that nature so, yeah, it can happen. We can co-exist."