Spectacular in-state rivalry? Check.
One loss shared between both teams? Check.
Hyped up crowd with Nike Pro Combat jerseys? Check and check.
If you are looking for a serious Saturday showdown, look no further than the great town of East Lansing where the Michigan State Spartans square off against the Michigan Wolverines.
This game carries more storylines than The New York Times. Michigan State is looking to go four straight after former Michigan running back Mike Hart called MSU his "little brother" (if those words had calories, he would be 600 pounds by now). Michigan is hopeful to keep its undefeated streak going while Denard Robinson looks to keep his Heisman campaign running strong. And did I mention recruiting? Yeah, this game may have something to do with the in-state recruiting battle, too.
It's a game that will make or break either team's season. Will Michigan finally be exposed? Is Michigan State for real this year, too? And most importantly, who will be raising the Paul Bunyan Trophy at the end of the day?
For both teams to have a shot at Michigan bragging rights, they need to focus on these three keys to make this Saturday a classic.
Give Robinson easy routes to throw
If you say that Denard Robinson is an above-marginal passer, you are simply lying to yourself. Any pass that has to be made 15-plus yards has potential to go anywhere from the middle of the field to Row 14.
The best way for Robinson to avoid adding to his nine picks is by throwing short routes, like bubble screens and quick hot routes. This works because a) Michigan State is still spotty in open-field tackling and there is no better way to exploit that than a nice series of screen passes, and b) it's easy.
If head coach Brady Hoke wants to make life easy for Robinson and his offense, he should open up the playbook for some small ball.
Two words: front four
Fun fact for Michigan fans: Michigan State has the fewest rushing yards in the Big Ten with only 644 yards.
That is one of the big reasons Michigan State struggled against Notre Dame and Ohio State is because it only had 100 yards combined in those two games. Without the established run game, Michigan State has to rely on Kirk Cousins to carry the team on his back, and quite frankly that is not what the Spartans want to do.
Let's say the run is stopped by Michigan. Great, but now it also has to focus on getting Cousins on his back as much as possible. If the Wolverines can give Cousins hell, Michigan State coaches will pull their hair out thinking of ways to produce offense against a strong defensive front led by Mike Martin.
Protect Robinson from everything
Block for him. Give him a strong pocket. Hire secret service to follow his every move on the sideline. Anything it takes to keep this man healthy, do it.
It's no secret the main ingredient to Michigan's hot start is due in part to Robinson. He leads the team in rushing and passing, and if the maize and blue lose that at any point during the game, they will be forced to put inexperienced Devin Gardner in the high-pressure game.
If anyone in Ann Arbor is OK with Gardner coming in for Robinson, you must be part of the Gardner family. This game will rely on Robinson's health because if he goes down, so will the Wolverines.
Stay disciplined. Stay very disciplined.
If there is any team out there that will punish a defensive player for falling out of his coverage, it is Michigan.
If one man is left open, expect the ball in his hands. If everyone is covered, but a linebacker got sucked into a broken coverage, set up the finish line for Robinson.
It is a tall task for the Spartans, but the fact that they have only given up a nation's third-best 320 rush yards this season and 547 passing yards should give fans some relief.
State has been disciplined up to this point, and Sparty Nation will feel the pain if it loses that focus this Saturday.
Establish a run game and spread the love.
Last year the Spartans ran out of Ann Arbor with their third straight win. A little-known fact is that three different running backs for Michigan State scored in that showdown last year.
If East Lansing is rocking, it's because the Spartans finally established a run game against a team that is not high school caliber (sorry, Central Michigan). A perfect balance between run and pass will make the Spartans unbeatable, especially considering the talent pool with the running backs. Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Le'Veon Bell all have big-play potential that can drive Michigan's coaching booth into a mad house.
Keep the crowd in it the whole game
Spartan Stadium will be rocking, and the Spartans need to keep it like that to give them the edge.To keep the stadium loud and obnoxious they will need to do the following:
1. Score early.
2. Score often.
3. Have some home-run plays.
4. Keep Michigan out of the end zone.
Definitely easier said than done, but the crowd will be a huge factor in the game, and MSU can not afford to lose them.
Michigan 35, Michigan State 24
Sorry, Sparty, but the buck stops here. It was fun while it lasted, though.
Highlights for Michigan
—The front four will cut through the Spartans' banged up offensive line and sack Kirk Cousins four times.
—The Michigan running backs will have a huge part in this win, making their team more of a threat.
—Despite the new celebration rule, Robinson still won't be flagged for jogging to an open area and dropping to his knee to show the world he is, in fact, religious.
Highlights for Michigan State
—The running game has an average game, scoring the majority of the touchdowns.
—The defense will bring Robinson back down to earth.
Lowlights for Michigan
—Robinson will be exposed by MSU. Again.
—It won't be at the Big House.
Lowlights for Michigan State
—Cousins will get banged up.
—Michigan State will really start to be questioned from here on out.