A year ago, Michigan took home a bruising, 12-10 win over their in-state rival Michigan State in front of more than 100,000 fans in the Big House. It was the Wolverines’ first victory over the Spartans since 2007, and their 68th since the two programs first met in 1898.
Heading into their highly anticipated Week 10 showdown, MSU sits atop the Big Ten Legends division with a 7-1 overall mark and a perfect 4-0 conference record. Michigan is just behind them at 6-1, and 2-1 in the Big Ten.
Can Michigan State continue to shed its reputation for being Michigan’s proverbial little brother? Or will coach Brady Hoke’s squad motor out of East Lansing tied atop the Legends division standings?
This game’s final score may come down to whether or not Michigan State’s spectacular defense can slow down Michigan’s high-powered offense. The Spartans are giving up only 12.3 points per game, good for No. 3 in the entire nation (behind only Alabama and Louisville). On the other sideline, the Wolverines’ average 42.4 points per game, eighth best in the country.
Immovable object, meet unstoppable force.
Except there’s one small issue with that unstoppable force: quarterback Devin Gardner. The elite talent opened the year with Heisman hopes, but has tossed a whopping 10 interceptions through the Wolverines’ first seven games. Will the Spartans capitalize on the mistake-prone quarterback?
That may be up to a trio of seniors in linebacker Jairus Jones and defensive backs Isaiah Lewis and Darqueze Dennard. They all boast two interceptions on the year. However, Jones suffered a meniscus injury against Notre Dame and has missed the last four games. If he plays, coach Mark Dantonio will have another weapon in his front seven that can also drop back into back coverage.
As for Lewis and Dennard, one or both will be tasked with trying to contain 5-foot-8, 184-pound dynamo, Jeremy Gallon. Gallon may be small, but he’s been putting up mind-boggling numbers as a senior. His 831 receiving yards includes a record-setting 369-yard effort against Indiana on Oct. 19.
If the defense stumbles, can MSU’s offense, who only recently found its rhythm, put up enough points to keep up with Michigan’s high-powered unit?
Andrew Maxwell opened the year as the team’s starter at quarterback after a shaky 2012 season, but his poor play has since given way to Connor Cook. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound sophomore threw four touchdown passes in his first start, though that was against Youngstown State.
Cook struggled in the team’s 17-13 loss to Notre Dame, but has steadily improved since. He now looks capable to lead his Spartans on a march to the Big Ten Title Game. Cook’s most recent outing, on the road at Illinois, was easily his best of the year. He burned the Illini, completing 15-of-16 passes for 208 yards three scores. Can he do the same against a Wolverines team that has given up massive yardage totals to the likes of Akron, UConn and Indiana?
If not, Dantonio may be quick to turn to Jeremy Langford in the rushing game. The junior has looked very good at times in replacing the departed Le’Veon Bell, having rushed for 655 yards and nine touchdowns.
Michigan’s Frank Clark is punishing on the defensive line, however, and linebacker Jake Ryan is back in the fold after suffering a torn ACL in the offseason.
Who comes out on top and wins bragging rights for another year? Is Michigan’s offense good enough to overcome its porous defense? Or is Sparty stout enough defensively to grind out a victory?
We have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but perhaps you do. It’s time to Settle It.