Michigan determined to not let Michigan State run wild again
ANN ARBOR -- The winner of the rushing battle has won the Michigan-Michigan State game 39 of the past 42 meetings.
That's not breaking news. It's a stat coaches, players, fans, media and probably the hot-dog vendors know well. It's trotted out every year to underscore the importance of running the football in this game.
Yet, Michigan -- a run-based team -- came up well short in last year's game, losing the rushing battle 213-82. That still irks the Wolverines.
“Last year, if you look back, that’s something that kind of sticks with us the entire year that they took it to us,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said this week. “You can cut it any way you want, they lined up and they ran the football and knocked us off the football. We don’t like that, we don’t believe in that at Michigan, so it’s going to be that kind of game.
"It’s going to be a very physical football game.”
Michigan State has owned Michigan on the ground the past four seasons, holding the Wolverines to fewer than 100 yards three of the four games. It won the rushing battle by a combined 826-356 in the four years.
Former MSU tailback Edwin Baker did most of the damage last year, racking up a game-high 167 yards on 26 carries in the 28-14 win against the Wolverines. He scored one touchdown.
"We got out-physicaled,” Mattison said. “Anytime a team controls the ball and you don’t get off the field, there’s a reason for that. Their style was not necessarily to throw it down the field, even though they were very proficient at doing that. It was to line up and take it right to us.
"When you can’t get off the field -- when a team does that -- OK, that’s what’s happened. That’s why you play another year. That’s why this will be a big game for us.”
The Spartans now feature tailback Le'Veon Bell, who entered some Heisman Trophy talks after beginning the season on a tear. He's since cooled a bit, but still averages 130.9 yards per game.
He's second in the Big Ten in rushing, trailing only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, which means a game that often hinges on the run will feature the league's top two rushers.
Michigan true freshman tailback Drake Johnson has simulated Bell in practices, but at 209 pounds, can't replicate the 6-foot-2, 244-pound Bell's size.
But the Wolverines can counter with some threats of their own.
Michigan's run game has found a groove since the Notre Dame loss, racking up a season-best 304 yards two weeks ago against Purdue, then topping that with 353 more yards last week against Illinois.
Robinson leads the Big Ten in rushing at 134.0 yards per game, and the lackluster tailback production picked up with a season-best 217 yards last week against the Illini.
A diversified rushing attack is key against the Spartans, who have shut down Robinson in both his starts in the series.
The Wolverines are a double-digit favorite against Michigan State, but know all too well what could happen if they can't get that ground game working against the Spartans' Big Ten-best rush defense.