Yes, the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines want to protect their undefeated record and continue their push for a College Football Playoff berth.
And it’s true that the Michigan State Spartans want to earn a bowl berth after a disappointing first half of the season.
What both really want this Saturday is bragging rights. They’ll play for the annual state championship in Ann Arbor.
“Our guys really want to win this. I’m not gonna lie to you; I really want to win it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “No doubt that if you pulsed every player and every coach on both sides that they’d tell you the exact same thing.”
Even with less at stake in the wide-lens view of the conference and national landscape, Spartans coach Mel Tucker wasn’t about to downplay its significance.
“It’s bragging rights, it’s something you talk about every single day,” Tucker said. “There’s not a day that has gone by since I’ve been here that it hasn’t come up. When you’re in close proximity like that, I think it just adds to the intensity of it.”
Well-timed bye weeks allowed both sides to rest up and get extra time to prepare for the rivalry game.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are favored by more than 20 points and with good reason. They have a formidable running game led by Blake Corum and a stingy defense that has allowed 17 or fewer points in six of their contests.
Corum has placed himself in the Heisman Trophy discussion by scoring 13 rushing touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards per carry.He needs 99 yards on Saturday to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Donovan Edwards isn’t a typical backup. Edwards rushed for a career high 173 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan’s last game, a 41-17 romp past Penn State. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is also a running threat and has completed 77.1 percent of his passes, including nine touchdowns. Michigan’s defense ranks in the top 10 among FBS schools in eight categories.
“Love the way we’re trending there in the pass rush, the run defense, getting guys to the ball,” Harbaugh said. “I mean that’s one that I see us getting better and better.”
Michigan will be seeking revenge after losing the last two meetings, including a 37-33 thriller in East Lansing last season. Tucker’s team won 27-24 in its last visit to Ann Arbor.
“We’re going to win, and we’re going to, like, leave them no mercy kind of deal,” Edwards said. “That’s what we want to do.”
The Spartans (3-4, 1-3) snapped a four-game losing streak in their last game by defeating Wisconsin 34-28 in double overtime.
Last year’s offense was spearheaded by running back Kenneth Walker III, who now starts for the Seattle Seahawks. Without him and given other changes, the Spartans have faltered on the ground this season, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.
Quarterback Payton Thorne has thrown for 11 touchdowns but has been intercepted seven times. Thorne had his most efficient outing of the season against the Badgers, completing 75 percent of his attempts and two touchdowns without getting picked off.
“Success leaves clues, so we were able to look at the Wisconsin game and say this is why we were able to have success – whether it’s offense, defense or special teams – and why were we efficient in the run game or why were we able to get off the field on third down, create takeaways and things like that,” Tucker said. “We study those things and then we want to make sure that we understand why we had success, so we can repeat it.”
–Field Level Media