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October 24, 2008

Matchups: Michigan vs. Michigan State

Michigan and Michigan State renew their bitter rivalry tomorrow in a must-win game for both teams. The ground-game victor has won 35 of the last 38 meetings. Which team has a more favorable matchup? We examine …

Game Facts
What: Michigan State at Michigan.
When: Oct. 25, 3:30 p.m., in Ann Arbor.
Radio-TV: The game will be televised by ABC and will be carried by the Michigan Sports Network (104.3 FM) and its 37 affiliates. The game can also be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio (Channel 126) and on XM Radio (Channel 114).
Coaches: Michigan: Rich Rodriguez (2-5, first season). Michigan State State: Mark Dantonio (13-8, second season).
History: Michigan leads the series with Michigan State, 67-28-5.
Last Meeting: Michigan 28, Michigan State 24, 2007.

Michigan State's Offense vs. Michigan's Defense

It's no secret what MSU is going to try to do on Saturday. Senior tailback Javon Ringer is the Big Ten's leading rusher at 147.4 yards per game. He's largely responsible for the Spartans' success this season, generating 45.1 percent of State's 2,822 total yards and 66.7 percent of its 21 touchdowns.

Three opponents - California, Iowa and Ohio State - held Ringer to less than 100 yards and the effect was significant. Michigan State went 1-2 in those contests. What's the secret to success? Scoring. Cal and OSU both got off to big leads against MSU, forcing the Spartans out of their comfort zone. Iowa, meanwhile, controlled the line of scrimmage and didn't let up the big play.

On Saturday, if Michigan is to slow Ringer down, it could use a similar formula - score early (and keep scoring) to potentially limit the effectiveness of the running game, and win the battle up front. The Wolverines have already shown they can do that, getting the better of Wisconsin's offensive line, but the Green and White will be a formidable foe because they're playing with confidence.

If the Maize and Blue can keep Ringer boxed in, they would force fifth-year senior quarterback Brian Hoyer to beat them, and that's not something he's prepared to do. Hoyer is completing only 49.5 percent of his passes this fall for 167.6 yards per game with six touchdowns and four interceptions.

Sophomore wideout Mark Dell is Michigan State's leading receiver with 24 catches for 496 yards and two touchdowns, but he hasn't been a consistent go-to target in recent weeks, making just seven grabs for 96 yards and a touchdown in his past three games played.

Sophomore tight end Charlie Gantt has just 11 receptions this season, but has made the most of his touches, scoring three touchdowns. The Farmington Hills, Mich., native has exploited linebackers in the middle of the field with gains of 82, 33 and 20 yards this fall.

Though their passing game isn't worth bragging about, the Spartans can still find success through the air because U-M's secondary is shaky at cornerback and safety. The greatest concern for Michigan is biting on the play-fake. If State's running game is working, it will suck the Wolverines' safeties down to the line of scrimmage, providing Hoyer and Dell the opportunity to go deep.

On Saturday, the Maize and Blue can beat their rivals if they don't let Ringer single-handedly beat them and if they prevent the big play.

Edge: Michigan State

Michigan's Offense vs. Michigan State's Defense

Is Michigan's offense finding its stride or was its first-quarter dominance against Penn State last week simply a repeat of what we saw against Wisconsin and Illinois also? With junior running back Brandon Minor lending a veteran presence and the further development of redshirt freshman quarterback Steve Threet, there is hope U-M will come much closer to playing a full game Saturday.

It will help that Michigan State's defense isn't exactly a shutdown unit. The Spartans rank seventh in the conference in total defense, allowing 358.1 yards per game and 26.9 points per contest. MSU's greatest weakness is rush defense, yielding 145.0 yards per game.

The Green and White have a pair of strong ends in Trevor Anderson and Brandon Long but aren't as solid in the middle. Linebackers Eric Gordon and Adam Decker have also struggled, losing control of their gaps in allowing more than a few big runs this season -- MSU has given up runs of 66, 78 and 81 yards.

Sophomore middle linebacker Greg Jones is a force to be reckoned with, though, and could have a big game Saturday. MSU biggest playmaker leads his team with 8.0 tackles for loss among a team-high 65 stops. He's also playing his best, recording double-digit tackle totals in each of State's past two games, including a season-high 13 stops in last week's loss to Ohio State.

A transfer from Cincinnati, Anderson sat out the 2007 season but is making the type of impact this fall expected. The Detroit native leads the Spartans with five sacks among his 6.5 total tackles for loss.

Michigan won't be doing anything differently offensively this week than it has the past few. There is no Justin Feagin-package to unveil. However, the Wolverines feel they are very close to experiencing that breakthrough game and if they can achieve consistency this week, could score early and often.

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams Matchup

MSU junior kicker Brett Swenson doesn't miss field goals. The Pompano Beach, Fla., native has split the uprights on 15 consecutive kicks to set a MSU record while ranking as the fourth-longest streak in Big Ten history. He's converting at a 93.8 percent clip this fall.

State also boasts a talented punter. U-M fans may remember sophomore Aaron Bates. He changed the momentum of the rivalry game last year when he pinned Michigan inside its own 10-yard line twice in the second quarter after U-M opened up a 14-0 lead. This season, Bates has dropped 12 of 43 punts inside the 20-yard line and is averaging 41.8 yards per punt with a long of 57 yards.

U-M senior placekicker K.C. Lopata made his only field goal last week, from 27 yards, and is hopeful he's back on track. However, classmate Jason Gingell could get a look if Lopata, who is now 5 of 8 on field-goal attempts, struggles.

Redshirt junior Zoltan Mesko didn't have his strongest game a week ago, averaging 41.7 yards per punt, but he limited dangerous returnman Derrick Williams to one return for minus-four yards.

Neither team has been very successful returning kicks, though Spartan senior Otis Wiley can get free on punt returns, with a long of 78 yards this year.

Edge: Michigan State

Intangibles

After blowout defeats last weekend, both teams are probably suffering a bit from a confidence standpoint. However, there is nothing like a rivalry against a hated opponent to refocus.

Obviously, MSU is fighting to end a six-game losing streak to the Wolverines and to re-enter the Big Ten race. U-M defensive end Brandon Graham's "guarantee" and Mike Hart's "little brother" comments are also serving as motivation this week.

For Michigan, pride is on the line, as well as any last hope of a bowl game and a chance to resurrect the season. The trash-talking seems to be motivating the Wolverines too.

Edge: Even

Prediction: Michigan State 24, Michigan 17








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