Michigan State Football vs. Michigan Game Preview

It's rivalry week, and Spartan Nation is here to preview the 113th matchup between MSU & Michigan.
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East Lansing – Mel Tucker's honeymoon as the 25th head football coach in Michigan State history was short-lived.

It didn't take long for fans to become frustrated through social media when MSU began turning the ball over and went down to Rutgers early.

And it only got worse once the clock hit zero.

The performance can't be avoided – the seven turnovers, a non-existent run game, poor offensive line play, and some questionable fourth-down calls.

It felt like the end of an era.

But like Tucker said after the game, "This is the beginning, this is not the end."

It's true.

Yes, the opening-game was dreadful, but nothing that happened can solidify his legacy in the first year of a six-year contract.

Though Mark Dantonio may not have left Tucker with much, he gave him the blueprint for going about his business vs. Michigan.

How Michigan State looks against the Wolverines will do a lot for Tucker's relationship with Spartan fans.

Regardless of if some people wish to admit it, the matchup vs. Michigan means more than any other game on the schedule.

It did when Dantonio arrived, and it does now, especially in the middle of a rebuilding situation. If Tucker embraces the rivalry how his predecessor did, he'll be back in the good graces of Spartan Nation.

The Basics

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The Numbers 

  • 2019 Record: 9-4 (6-3 B1G)
  • 2020 Record: 1-0 (Conference-Only Schedule) 

Last Five Games

  • Oct. 24, 2020 – Minnesota, W 49-24
  • Jan. 1, 2019 – Alabama, L 16-35
  • Nov. 30, 2019 – Ohio State, L 27-56
  • No. 23, 2019 – Indiana, W 39-14
  • Nov. 16, 2019 – MSU, W 44-10

Jim Harbaugh enters his sixth season as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. 

He looks to continue his good fortune at home this weekend against MSU. 

In five seasons, the Wolverines have compiled a 30-5 record at the Big House (17-5 mark in Big Ten matchups). 

Under Harbaugh's tutelage, Michigan came back to national relevance, winning 10-games three times and appearing in multiple bowl games; however, he is still searching for his first opportunity to compete for a Big Ten Championship. 

Last year, the Wolverines finished 9-4 (6-3 B1G), losing to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State on their way to the Citrus Bowl, where they fell to Alabama, 16-35. 

Wolverines To Know

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  • QB Joe Milton (6'5", 243, Junior): 15-for-22, 225 passing yards, two touchdowns (one on the ground), 52 rushing yards.
  • RB Hassan Haskins (6'1", 220, Junior): Six carries, 82 rushing yards, two touchdowns.
  • DE Kwity Paye (6'4", 272, Senior): Four tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss.
  • DE Aidan Hutchinson (6'6", 269, Junior): Six tackles (five solo, one assist).

Facing Minnesota on the road, Michigan exploded offensively, finishing with nearly 500 yards and 49-points. 

The Wolverines successfully spread the football around, a trend I assume will continue throughout the season. 

Junior quarterback Joe Milton wasn't asked to do too much in his first career start, and Michigan's ability to run the ball 31 times for 256 yards and five touchdowns took the pressure off its new man under center. 

Not to mention, the protection Milton received was phenomenal. 

The Wolverine offensive line allowed one sack and pressure all night. 

"The pass protection and the run-blocking was outstanding ... but as a group, Andrew Stueber was outstanding, graded out," Jim Harbaugh told reporters earlier this week. "Chuck Filiaga, Ryan Hayes had an excellent game, and I think they played good together."

So, the Spartans are tasked with something the Gophers couldn't do – finding ways to make Milton uncomfortable. 

Defensively, Michigan returned five starters, three in the trenches including DE Kwity Paye, DE Aiden Hutchinson, and DT Carlo Kemp. 

Those three players registered a combined 158 tackles, 27.5 for a loss, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, seven quarterback hurries, and six pass break-ups in 2019.  

However, Mohammed Ibrahim, the Gopher starting running back, carried the ball 26 times for 140 yards and two scores.

Michigan State's ground game was nearly non-existent vs. Rutgers, but it might be a point of attack if the Wolverines take away the pass like they did last week.

 How the Spartans Match Up

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Mel Tucker knows this rivalry all too well. 

He was a graduate assistant here with Nick Saban in 1997-98, but neither team walked away with a victory. 

Tucker helped coach Ohio State from 2001-2004, beating Michigan three-out-of-four times.

"When you have these rivalry games, it's just different; there's just no way around it," said Tucker. 

It is different, and that's okay because, in college football, rivalries tend to bring the highest level of intensity and competition fans see all season long.

For one week in the state of Michigan, it's not about anything other than being able to hold your head high for another year. 

It's about the simplest of things. 

Bragging rights. 

The Paul Bunyan Trophy. 

Satisfaction. 

No one other than Saban has beaten Michigan in their first try as head coach of the Spartans, but Mel Tucker is looking to add his name to the shortlist. 

Michigan State needs to clean up just about everything from its week one loss to Rutgers; that much is obvious. 

They are 24.5-point underdogs with nothing to lose. 

When Mark Dantonio arrived in 2007, he didn't win a conference title, compete for a national championship, or win the Rose Bowl. 

In year one, he lost close games to Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan. 

Yet, Dantonio let everyone know the game circled on the calendar each year revolved around the Wolverines. 

"This game has a way of defining you," Dantonio said after beating Michigan in 2009. 

How will it define Mel Tucker?

Key Stats

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  • All-time record: Michigan leads, 71-36-5
  • Trophy series: Michigan leads, 38-27-2
  • Current win streak: Michigan has won two in a row for the first time since 2006-07
  • The team with the most rushing yards won 45 of the last 50 matchups.
  • In the last two games combined, Michigan held the Spartans to 69 yards on the ground.

Prediction

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The 113th meeting between these two rivals will look and feel close throughout the first half; however, I fully expect Michigan to turn on the afterburners following halftime and pull away. 

The Spartans will clean up the turnovers and efficiently move the ball, but I don't suspect it will be enough to defeat a very talented Michigan team.

Michigan 41 MSU 24