Michigan State players don't see Michigan pulling away in series
Some forecast Michigan and Ohio State will pull away from the rest of the league, based on the recent hires of Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer, respectively, and their recruiting prowess.
Both turned in top-10 recruiting classes this past year. Michigan has been among the top 10 the past two years, and has dominated its in-state recruiting.
But Michigan State -- which has contained Michigan as well as any team the past four years -- says not so fast.
MSU beat the Wolverines four consecutive times before falling in Ann Arbor last year -- and even in that game, its defense still had Michigan figured out. The Wolverines escaped 12-10 on a field goal by Brendan Gibbons in the final seconds.
"I don't see it as Michigan pulling away," former MSU cornerback Johnny Adams said over the weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Did they even score (a touchdown) on us last year? They kicked four field goals.
"I just think that Michigan isn't going anywhere any time soon. We have a lot of players that are developing and that are going to be great."
Michigan dominated its in-state rival from 2002-07, winning each of the six games and outscoring the Spartans 214-128. But since 2008, the tables have turned.
Michigan State beat the Wolverines 35-21 in Ann Arbor in 2008, setting off a four-game winning streak in which Michigan never scored more than 21 points.
The Spartans also solved Denard Robinson as well as any team. He was just 38-of-82 passing (46.3 percent) with five interceptions and two touchdowns in this three starts.
Robinson did average 94.0 rushing yards per start against Michigan State, but needed 59 carries to do it. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry -- well off his career average of 6.2.
He came through when he had to last year, breaking free for a 44-yard run to set up the game-winning field goal. But Michigan was held out of the end zone, and Robinson was contained most of the day.
The key is not surprising.
"Make him throw the ball," Adams said. "I mean, make him throw the ball. He's more effective when he can run, then throwing the ball. So we tried to make him throw as much as possible."
Added former MSU defensive end William Gholston: "The way our coaches styled the scheme of the game plan, and how we executed in practice, it was great. I loved the situation I was in at Michigan State, because the coaches did everything in their power to get us prepared for that game.
"I think he got out one time. That was a long run. But it's Michigan. You're always going to be up for Michigan."
Both Michigan (8-5) and Michigan State (7-6) underperformed last season. But what happens in this series going forward?
Robinson is gone now, and senior quarterback Devin Gardner appears set to guide Michigan in 2013. He's not as electric on the ground as his predecessor, but is more proficient through the air and will facilitate the Wolverines' move to a pro-style offense.
He's a true dual threat, which means the Spartans will have to reboot their game plan if they are to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing on Nov. 2.
They also will be playing without Gholston, tight end Dion Sims and tailback Le'Veon Bell, each of whom declared early for the NFL Draft. Adams, a senior last year, also is gone.
But the Spartans return plenty of talent, and that defense continues to find ways to reload under coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. And they have proved to have a feel for exploiting Michigan's offensive weaknesses.
That gives them a confidence that they will continue to compete in this series, despite Michigan's win last year and its higher-regarded recruiting classes.
"Hopefully my dogs can bring it back -- bring Paul back," Gholston said. "I think he's missing us."
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