|This story originally published on GoSpartans.net|
EAST LANSING - As #11 Michigan State (4-0, 1-0) takes on the unranked Michigan Wolverines (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday, they prepare for a battle for which they are the favorite, but in reality, the teams are more even that one might think.
There are so many reasons why the Wolverines are 2-2; Running back Mike Hart hasn't played due to a hamstring injury while quarterback Chad Henne and defensive tackle Gabe Watson have both underachieved.
"We just have to play better together and stop making the mistakes. It begins with turnovers and penalties," said Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr.
Despite their slow start, Michigan is coming into East Lansing on a mission to prove that they are still the team that was ranked #4 in the preseason AP top-25. Like the Spartans, Michigan features its own set of weapons, headed by receiver Jason Avant.
MSU's defense vs U-M's offense:
The Spartan defense will be put to the test in the passing game with cornerback Jaren Hayes covering the underachieving Wolverine receiver Steve Breaston. With Avant possibly drawing double coverage in the secondary, the door will be open for Breaston to get key receptions during the game. It will be up to Hayes to prevent that and force the Wolverines to move on the ground.
The status of running back Mike Hart remains in question but he will practice this week. "There's nobody who wants to play more than he does. The truth is we're not going to know here until he gets out there," said Carr.
Quarterback Chad Henne has struggled on offense, with two key mistakes in the last minutes of both their losses. He has been one of the biggest disappointments in the Big Ten to date and that will have to change if the Michigan offense is going to have success. "I don't think I can make this any more clear. I have great confidence in Chad Henne," said Carr.
MSU's offense against U-M's defense
On offense, Michigan State features one of the most potent offenses in the nation (600.8 ypg). The anchor behind center is junior quarterback Drew Stanton, whose solid play has sparked talk of a Heisman candidacy. The Wolverines defense has a tough task in trying to stop or at least slow down running backs Javon Ringer, Jehuu Caulcrick, and Jason Teague. 6-foot-6 receiver Matt Trannon is a tall, playmaking force, but cornerback Grant Mason of Michigan is looking forward to the matchup. "For me, this is a personal rival because I've known him since I was 11 or 12 years old. It will be a lot of fun. I'll figure out a way to do my best to try and help the team and if that's going against Matt, then we'll make some plays and see what happens," said Mason, who might also at times cover other receiving threats like Kyle Brown, Terry Love, and Jerramy Scott. "There's definitely a huge challenge in front of us. That's why our focus is 100 percent on stopping Stanton, stopping this Michigan State offense," said defensive tackle Pat Massey.
But the success of the Michigan State offense starts with their strong offensive line and not with him, said quarterback Drew Stanton. "The reason our offense is able to have great success is because of those five guys," Stanton said.
Senior center Chris Morris anchors the offensive front that gives Stanton tremendous time inside the pocket and also opens up gaping hole for Ringer, Caulcrick and Teague. The offensive line has catapulted the Spartan running game into seventh in the nation (272.2 ypg). One of the biggest factors to Michigan's triple overtime 45-37 win last season was Drew Stanton leaving the game at halftime due to a shoulder injury. The fact that it is bitter rivalry game, it will be crucial for the offensive line to protect Stanton. "We're going to do everything to protect Drew," said Chris Morris.
With all the makings of a high scoring affair, the game will most likely be close, meaning either teams' kicking games could determine the game's outcome. Whether the game comes down to a field goal or not, the battle for field position makes both punters a key factor in this one.
Michigan punter Ross Ryan has four kicks inside the opponent's 20 yard line while Garret Rivas has made six of seven field goals for the season with 44 yards being the longest.
Spartan punter Brandon Fields is coming off a big game last week in Illinois with two kicks inside the 20 yard line, his longest punt is 67 yards. With the Spartan offense usually scoring touchdowns, John Goss has only attempted three field goals on the season, making two with 21 yards being the longest.
Overall, Michigan knows who they are up against and they know they have to step up big against the #11 team in the country. "It's Michigan State, one of our biggest rivals. If you're not up for this game you shouldn't be playing football. You come to Michigan for games like this so we've just got to stay focused and do what we've go to do to win," said Wolverine linebacker David Harris.
One thing is for sure, Michigan State better be prepared for a war on Saturday, because Michigan will be ready to fight more than ever to prove themselves once again.