Friday, November 2, 2007

Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy: 100th meeting in Intrastate Rivalry

After polishing off a one-win Minnesota team to win the Little Brown Jug last week, Michigan will take on another rival tomorrow afternoon, this time for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, when they meet the Michigan State Spartans for the 100th time. The game is in East Lansing and against a very formidable Spartan squad who is 5-4, but all four of their losses have been by a touchdown or less. The Spartans have reportedly been counting down the seconds until the Michigan game ever since first year coach Mark Dantonio arrived on campus. Michigan will look to stay unbeaten in the Big Ten and in the driver seat for the Big Ten title while Michigan State will be searching for a win to salvage their season.

Michigan Offense vs. MSU Defense:

Michigan is expected to have seniors Chad Henne and Mike Hart back on the field tomorrow afternoon and, if healthy, MSU should have their hands full. Michigan should have a huge advantage especially in the running game. Although MSU has held teams on average this season to 129 yards on the ground per game, the last two weeks they’ve seen Iowa back Albert Young rush for 182 and OSU back Chris Wells run for 234 yards. Even if Mike Hart is not healthy, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown have both proven in the last few weeks that they can do damage with both having 100 yard games last week. Throw all-time leading rusher Mike Hart into the mix, and the Spartan secondary should be busy making a lot of tackles on the Michigan backs.

In the passing game, Michigan should also have an edge. MSU does not have a terrible secondary, but still give up over 200 yards per game through the air. If Chad Henne plays, Michigan should be able to look to the air deep and often. Mario Manningham is starting to play the way he did at the beginning of 2006 and Adrian Arrington is continuing his stellar season. They should overwhelm the two undersized corners of MSU in Kendell Davis-Clark and Ashton Henderson. Even if Ryan Mallett needs to play, he threw some nice deep balls to Manningham last week and if the Michigan rushing attack plays as well as they should Michigan should be able to get by. MSU’s best defensive player is a true freshman in SAM linebacker Greg Jones. Even if he has the best game of his life, MSU’s only hope is to take advantage of Michigan’s mistakes and to force turnovers.

Advantage: Michigan

MSU offense vs. Michigan Defense:

MSU’s offense has been very balanced on the year. They, like Michigan like to run the ball first, averaging 213 yards per game rushing, and then pass, averaging 222 yards through the air. The Spartan ground attack is spearheaded by two backs in power back Jehuu Caulcrick (255 lbs.) who has 564 yards on the year, and Javon Ringer who has amassed 1111 yards. Michigan’s front seven will have to continue their hot play in order to slow down those two. After the run, the Spartans will look to the air behind the arm of Junior pocket passer Brian Hoyer. Hoyer has been more of a game-manager and one who takes care of the ball with 1910 yards and 11 TD’s to just 4 INT’s while completing 60% of his passes. His best attribute might be that he will not lose football games by carelessness so Michigan will be hard-pressed to force Hoyer into bad decisions. Hoyer will mainly look to Junior wide receiver Devin Thomas who leads the team with 906 yards receiving with 5 TDs. Thomas is his favorite target as no other receiver has over 300 yards receiving. The fact that Michigan State does not tend to spread the defense out and that Hoyer is not a mobile quarterback, should work in favor of the Wolverines. Michigan State does not have the “communist” spread offense as Linebackers coach Steve Szabo referred to it as, and Michigan’s defense has been playing their best football as of late. Still Michigan has not faced a rushing attack this solid since the second week of the season against Oregon, and everyone knows the result of that. Brandon Graham, Shawn Crable, Obi Ezeh, and company have to have their best game to date if they want to slow down that attack. The way they have been playing would suggest they can, but with the other factors such as the clock at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State might have an extra second to make the one play they need to win. Still the defense has been playing too well.

Advantage: Michigan

Special Teams:

Unlike Michigan who did not find their kicker (K.C. Lopata) until midway through the season, Michigan State has had Brett Swenson handle the placekicking duties all year. Swenson is a sophomore and is coming off a year where he was named a freshman All-American after going 15-19 on field goals. This season he has struggled a little more and is 10-16 this season but two of those misses are from over 50 yards. Earlier this season he missed a 50-yarder at the end of the Wisconsin game that would have forced overtime. On the Wolverine side it looks like K.C. Lopata will be the kicker for the rest of the year as he is 8-8 since taking over and even kicked a 42-yarder last week. Still I don’t know that Michigan’s kicking game can be trusted when the game is on the line. In the punting game, Michigan will have the advantage with Zoltan Mesko who averages about 42 yards per punt. Michigan State punter Aaron Bates is still respectable with a 38.3 yards per punt average. In the return game, Michigan State’s only legitimate threat is Devin Thomas who averages 30 yards per kickoff return. Michigan, still has not found a consistent return man and still looks lost at times. Due to this, Michigan State gets the nod in special teams until Michigan proves that they actually are ready to field punts and kicks.

Advantage: Spartans


Michigan is still in the driver’s seat with OSU for the Big Ten title and though a loss to MSU would not knock them out of the race, it would hurt their chances of an outright title. Seniors Mike Hart and Chad Henne are expected to be back for the game and will not want to lose their last game to Michigan State. On the Spartan side, this game alone might mean more, though. The Spartans are 1-4 in the Big Ten, but might be the best 1-4 team ever. They have plenty of talent, especially on offense, and gave #1 Ohio State their best test of the season so far only losing by a touchdown. More importantly, new coach Mark Dantonio has stressed the importance of the game since he arrived and started a Jim Tressel-esque countdown to the Michigan game. The Spartans have been counting the seconds to this game and a win would certainly salvage a disappointing run as of late. In addition, most Wolverines have responded to the countdown in a joking manner with captain Jake Long even saying “at least they will be on time.” If Michigan does not take the Spartans seriously they could get hit in the mouth early and often and not wake up until it’s too late.

Advantage: Spartans


I will stay true to my superstition and due to the way the Wolverines seem to be laughing at the Spartans’ attention to this game, I have reason to believe the Spartans can steal this one and send the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor disappointed.

Final Score: Michigan 24 Michigan State 26

Player of the game: Spartan Bob (Bob Stehlin): Spartan Bob somehow gets into the stadium tomorrow and takes over the clock operating for the final minute for a repeat of 2001. Michigan State is down 24-20 and the Spartans are out of timeouts. Hoyer throws a 20 yard pass to Thomas who goes down at the 2 yard line with 7 seconds left. The Spartans rush to the line to spike and Spartan Bob keeps the clock at 1 second (for 5 seconds) until Michigan State can get to the line and take advantage of a Michigan defense who thinks they won the game. Tight end Kellen Davis catches the game winning touchdown as time expires due to Spartan Bob’s efforts. (Yes, I am still bitter towards Spartan Bob)

-Rushi Vyas

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