Hoping to atone for a heartbreaking, double-overtime loss against Iowa last week, the Michigan State Spartans head to Ann Arbor on Saturday to battle the Michigan Wolverines for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
That loss to the Hawkeyes put the Spartans record at 4-3 on the season and put the team's bid to win the Big Ten championship on life support. Led by early season breakout star Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State will certainly need an upset against its bitter rival at the Big House to keep the ship afloat.
On the other hand, the Wolverines are on the complete opposite spectrum coming into Week 8. Spurred by a resurgence from quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 89-13 in two conference clashes.
Nonetheless, those opponents were Purdue and Illinois, two teams among the lower-end of the Big Ten squads. Considering the uptick in opponent level, the Spartans could pose a huge threat.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's intra-state rivalry game.
When: Saturday, October 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -9 (Bovada)
After losing to Notre Dame and Alabama in their non-conference slate, the Wolverines have found far better success in the Big Ten, eviscerating both Purdue and Illinois.
However, neither one of those teams present nearly the same defensive threat that the Spartans will.
Though the offense has often been a frustrating unit, the Michigan State defense has been among the nation's best this season. The Spartans have given up just 15.7 points per game through seven weeks, which ranks 14th in the nation and best in the Big Ten.
Though Michigan may win this contest, nine points seems like far too big of a spread considering the matchup.
Over/Under: 43 (Vegas Insider)
If you're a believer in the Michigan offense we've seen over the past two weeks, you jump on the over and don't think twice.
However, it's rather apparent that Michigan State presents a huge challenge for Denard Robinson and company. In two games against elite defenses this season (Alabama and Notre Dame), the Wolverines have scored a combined 20 points.
While they have seemingly worked out some of the debilitating kinks over the past couple of weeks, you cannot trust Michigan's offense until it performs against a team like Michigan State.
I'm very tentatively taking the under here.
Michigan State Injury Report (via USA Today)
S Jairus Jones, Undisclosed, Questionable
DT Tyler Hoover, Calf, Questionable
DE Lawrence Thomas, Concussion, Questionable
TE Dion Sims, Ankle, Questionable
C Travis Jackson, Leg, Out for Season
T Fou Fonoti, Foot, Out
DL Brandon Clemons, Foot, Out
Michigan Injury Report (via USA Today)
QB Denard Robinson, Finger, Probable
RB Vincent Smith, Hamstring, Questionable
RB Stephen Hopkins, Hamstring, Questionable
TE Brandon Moore, Knee, Questionable
DT Nathan Brink, Undisclosed, Out
DB Blake Countess, Knee, Out for Season
LB Kaleb Ringer, Knee, Out for Season
DE Chris Wormley, Knee, Out for Season
OL Chris Bryant, Shin, Out for Season
LB Antonio Poole, Pectoral, Out
While both teams certainly are out of the national championship picture, the Legends Division and a spot in the Big Ten championship game are still very much up for grabs.
For the Spartans, they will undoubtedly have to win out and get some big-time help. Losses to Iowa and Ohio State put the team fifth in the division with a 1-2 record in the conference.
On the other side of the field, Michigan controls its own destiny in the conference. Undefeated and at home against their biggest threat (Iowa), the Wolverines have the inside track in the division.
Regardless, a loss at home against their in-state rival will spark a standings jumble down to the very last week.
Keys for Michigan State
The Spartans offense has been heavily dependent on running back Le'Veon Bell all season, and that certainly will not (and should not) change on Saturday.
Though the Wolverines have given up the second-fewest yards per game in the Big Ten this season, they have some deficiencies against the run that Bell certainly should be able to exploit.
Both Alabama and Air Force tore up the Wolverines for over 200 yards on the ground using two completely different styles. The front seven has been a weak spot for Michigan much of the season.
What's more, the Spartans know how to scheme well against the Michigan defense.
Last season, Michigan State running back Edwin Baker ran for 167 yards on 26 carries, which spurred the Spartans' 28-14 victory.
Considering Bell is a far superior back playing against a weaker Michigan run defense, there should be plenty of openings for the junior bruiser on Saturday.
Keys for Michigan
As always, the onus will fall on Denard Robinson to lead the Wolverines offense to the promised land.
The scintillating dual-threat has recaptured his brilliance over the past two weeks, combining for 627 yards and five touchdowns.
Nevertheless, those who follow Robinson's career have picked up on his pattern of flailing against elite defenses. Against Notre Dame and Alabama, Robinson accounted for just two total touchdowns and threw six interceptions as he looked lost and intimidated against top-notch schemes.
Last season's matchup against Michigan State saw Robinson struggle mightily as well, completing just 9-of-24 passes for 123 yards with one touchdown and an interception while being mostly ineffective on the ground.
If the Spartans get a repeat performance from their defense, the Wolverines will have little chance at coming out on top.
Until Robinson and the Wolverines prove they can put up points against an elite defense, it seems impossible to take them.
Expect Bell to put up a huge game on the ground for the Spartans as they take an extremely close contest and keep their Big Ten championship hopes alive.
Score Prediction: Michigan State 20, Michigan 17
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