Published January 13, 2015
East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - Bitter Big Ten Conference rivals get together on Saturday afternoon, as the 23rd-ranked Michigan Wolverines come calling on the 24th-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
This bout marks the 104th meeting between the two clubs, with Michigan holding a 68-32-5 series advantage. The Wolverines have won six of the last 10 matchups, and their 12-10 victory in last year's tussle snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans.
Both teams have just one loss on the year, with Michigan sporting a 6-1 mark (2-1 Big Ten) and Michigan State at 7-1 (4-0 Big Ten).
The Wolverines' lone setback came in a four-overtime thriller at Penn State on Oct. 12, but the team bounced back with a 63-47 win over Indiana the following week. Michigan has been idle since, and it is 3-0 following a bye week under current head coach Brady Hoke, outscoring those three opponents 122-40 in the process.
Hoke spoke recently about the excitement of facing their in-state rival, particularly with so much still to be decided with regard to the race for the Big Ten title.
"Number one, there is so much passion for this football game for Spartans and Wolverines -- it's something that you as a coach or competitor that you understand and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the other piece of the puzzle, it is an important football game when you look at where we want to be and where they want to be at the end of November."
The Spartans narrowly lost to Notre Dame for their only defeat, but they have reeled off four straight wins since, all in conference, with their latest being a 42-3 shellacking of Illinois on the road last weekend. MSU is led by Mark Dantonio, who is in his seventh year at the helm, has amassed a record of 58-29 -- the most wins of any coach in school history in his first six-plus campaigns.
While realizing there is still much work to be done, Dantonio is pleased with the effort put forth by his team thus far.
"We're 4-0 (in the Big Ten), which is where we wanted to be."
This game pits one of the nation's top offenses in Michigan (42.4 ppg, tied for eighth) against one its top defenses in Michigan State (12.2 ppg, third).
The Wolverines boast considerable talent all over the field, and it all starts with quarterback Devin Gardner. A dual-threat with the ball in his hands, Gardner has thrown for 1,779 yards with 13 TDs and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 520 yards and nine scores. Fitzgerald Toussaint is the team's primary ball carrier, having logged 155 carries for 575 yards and 11 TDs. Jeremy Gallon is one of the best pass catchers in the Big Ten, ranking second in both receptions (45), receiving yards (831), while tying for the top spot in receiving TDs (seven).
As a collective unit, the Michigan offense accounts for 183.9 ypg on the ground and 262.6 ypg through the air, and the team converts its third-down opportunities 49 percent of the time.
Both Gardner and Gallon had monster efforts in the wild win over Indiana, with the former setting a new program record with 584 total yards and 503 passing yards, and the latter establishing a new school and conference record by tallying 369 receiving yards. Gallon has caught a pass in 33 straight games.
From a defensive standpoint, Michigan sits in the middle of the Big Ten pack in permitting 26.7 ppg, with opponents using the pass (255.4 ypg, 11th) to do the bulk of their damage. The Wolverines have been much stingier against the run (99.9 ypg), and they've allowed only four rushing TDs. James Ross III paces the unit with 50 tackles, while Desmond Morgan is close behind with 47 and Raymon Taylor has 44. Frank Clark has 4.5 sacks, Cameron Gordon has three, and Blake Countess is tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions.
It took them a little while to get going last Saturday at Illinois, but the Spartans turned it on later in the first half and scored six TDs in routing the Illini. Connor Cook set a new school record for passing efficiency as he went 15-of-16 for 208 yards and three TDs, and Jeremy Langford ran for 104 yards and a pair of scores in helping Michigan State amass 477 yards of total offense, 269 of which came on the ground. Keith Mumphery led all receivers with three grabs for 77 yards and a TD, and the offense converted a staggering 14-of-16 third-down opportunities.
As for the Spartans' top-rated defense, it allowed just 128 total yards to the Illini, including a mere 25 yards on the ground. Taiwan Jones led the way with six tackles, and the group was credited with two turnovers and a pair of sacks.
MSU is averaging just shy of 30 ppg in churning out 377.4 ypg. Most of the production comes from the rushing attack (196.5 ypg), as Langford has turned 141 carries into 655 yards and nine TDs. As for Cook, he has completed 59.9 percent of his passes, but for just 1,238 yards (154.8 ypg). His TD-to-INT ratio (12-2) is impressive though. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Bennie Fowler sit atop the team's receiving list with a combined 46 grabs, 581 yards and seven scores. The offensive line has given up only six sacks to tie for the top spot in the conference, and the team also ranks first in time of possession (34:48).
In nearly every contest this season, the Spartans have dictated the action when on defense, yielding a mere 215.5 ypg. They have been equally dominant against both the run (54.9 ypg) and the pass (160.6 ypg), and they rank among the league leaders in sacks (18), while placing first in third-down conversion defense (.275). Denicos Allen paces the unit with 48 tackles, and he also has eight TFL, three sacks and a fumble recovery to his credit. In all, six guys have made at least 30 stops. Shilique Calhoun has four sacks.