The Wolverines know better than to underestimate the Spartans.
Mel Tucker is the first Michigan State coach to win his first two games against Michigan in the 114-game series, continuing a stretch of success that includes 10 wins in 14 games against the maize and blue.
Jim Harbaugh, who is 3-4 in the rivalry as a coach, said there’s no question the recent results make it easier to get his players’ attention despite the Spartans’ struggles this season.
“Our guys really want to win this,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie to you. I really want to win it.”
Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) has much more to lose against Michigan State (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday night at the Big House in a matchup of well-rested teams coming off byes.
The Spartans would love to be spoilers while improving their chances of being eligible for a bowl bid.
“It’s not just another game for us,” Tucker said. “Our players understand that. Our staff understands that. Our fans understand that as well.”
The team that runs the ball the best usually wins in the series, and it will be surprising if the Spartans can slow Michigan down on the ground.
Behind an offensive line that has pushed defenses around all season, Blake Corum ranks first in FBS with 13 touchdowns and second with 901 yards rushing. With reserve Donovan Edwards providing production, the Wolverines are averaging a Big Ten-best 241.7 yards rushing and ran for 418 yards in their win over then-No. 10 Penn State in their last game.
“Their backs run hard and they can make you miss,” Tucker said. “They can run you over.”
The Spartans, meanwhile, are giving up 153.3 yards rushing a game to rank 11th in the Big Ten and 78th in the country. They received much-needed help with safety Xavier Henderson and defensive tackle Jacob Slade returning from injuries to help end a four-game losing streak with a win over Wisconsin in their last game.
Michigan State receiver Keon Coleman has caught five touchdown passes this season and Jayden Reed has a touchdown reception in three straight games.
“Probably the best receiving corps that we’ve faced,” Harbaugh said.
In last year’s win over Michigan, Reed had six receptions for 80 yards.
“As good as anybody at the 50-50 balls,” Harbaugh said. “He can go up and get it.”
Tucker made it clear he and his players would not say anything that might end up being bulletin-board material for the Wolverines.
“You don’t want to add to the hype,” he said. “There’s going to be enough hype organically with the game itself.”
In a matchup of undefeated, top-10 teams last year, Michigan State beat Michigan 37-33 after trailing by 16 points with 6:47 left in the third quarter. Kenneth Waker III ran for five touchdowns against the Wolverines, who had a quiet bus ride back home.
“I remember that feeling of just nobody really talking to each other,” Michigan left tackle Ryan Hayes said. “Everybody knew we let it slip through our fingers. It helped us for the rest of the year, but obviously we don’t want that to happen again.”
Michigan then ended an eight-game losing streak to Ohio State, won the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004 and earned its first invite to the College Football Playoff.
The Wolverines lead the all-time series 71-38-5, but they’ve won just four of the last 14 games. The last time Michigan State was as dominant as it has been in the rivalry, it was 14-4-2 against Michigan from 1950 to 1969.
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