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Shut-Out or Shut-Down, Michigan Stands to Limit Michigan State

Photo: Andy Shippy

Michigan State hasn’t been shut-out since Oct. 21, 2000.

As a matter of fact, the 15-year anniversary of that 14-0 loss is right around the corner.

And as luck would have it, the Spartans get to celebrate it Saturday–and a week early, at that–with the team that denied their entry to the scoring column so long ago–and that team is Michigan, which happens to be riding a three-game shutout streak after Saturday’s 38-0 homecoming romp of Northwestern in Ann Arbor.

The stage has been set for the Big Ten Game of the Year 1.0 on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It’ll be the conference’s No. 9-ranked total offense of Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) versus the nation’s No. 2-ranked total defense of Michigan (5-1, 2-0).

Doesn’t sound all that competitive does it?

And judging by recent trends, it’d be fair to assume that Michigan will at least shut-down, if not shut-out, the Spartans this weekend. It’ll be a nationally televised event and a potential tipping point of the interstate rivalry–one which has been dominated by the Spartans during six of the past eight years.

So what’s it going to be? Something along the lines of 34-7 Michigan? How about 28-3?

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Maurice Hurst has three sacks, second only to Willie Henry, who has four. Photo: Andy Shippy

It’s unlikely but not entirely impossible. Take a look at the Spartans’ 24-21 win over lowly Purdue in Week 5, or how they struggled to knock off down-and-out Rutgers, 31-24, in Week 6.

The Scarlet Knights had the No. 10-ranked total defense in the Big Ten and gave Michigan State fits until the final moments–but that’s nothing when compared to what’s in store in for Week 7.

Prior to Saturday, Michigan State had the No. 6-ranked scoring offense in the Big Ten (31.4 PPG) and the No. 9-ranked scoring defense (20.8 PPG)–all of that versus a team that’s chewed up and spit out challengers for the past five weeks.

The Wolverines haven’t given up a point since Week 3–when UNLV’s Devonte Boyd reeled in a six-yard touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of a 28-7 loss–and they’ve shut-out opponents in 18 of the past 20 quarters. They’ve played 24 quarters of football this season.

Incredible.

That’s the only word that can describe what Michigan has done since Week 1’s 24-17 loss to Utah. And really, the defense only gave up 10 points in Salt Lake City–the other touchdown was due to a pick-6 thrown by quarterback Jake Rudock.

Following Michigan’s win over the Wildcats, Kurt Svoboda of the Michigan athletic department provided useful information that connects a few dots on the defense’s timeline.

Drew Hallett, formerly of the Michigan athletic department, is always good for up-to-date stats:

Scoring first usually leads to a win for Michigan State, which is 60-9 when doing so under coach Mark Dantonio. That’ll probably have to happen in order for the Spartans to have a realistic shot at getting past the Harbaughs in Ann Arbor.

Flashback or Flash-Forward?

On Oct. 28, 2000, the Spartans were held to just 63 rushing yards. History could repeat itself Saturday, as the Wolverines have been especially tight during their shut-out streak, holding Northwestern to 38, Maryland to 26 and BYU to 50 yards via the rush.

Again, not a direct comparison–just something to think about.

Prior to Week 6, Michigan State averaged 201.4 yards on the ground, led by true freshman L.J. Scott and redshirt freshman Madre London. Before meeting Rutgers, Scott averaged 6.2 yards per carry and London averaged 4.7 per touch.

A tuned-up running game will be necessary Saturday. If it’s not there, the Spartans will be in trouble. They’re not going to attack the Wolverines secondary. Other than Utah, every opponent has steered clear of making that mistake.

Michigan’s defense is on a scary-good pace. The defensive line isn’t giving an inch, the linebackers and safeties are tackling with purpose and the cornerbacks–namely junior Jourdan Lewis, who has three interceptions–aren’t allowing a thing through the air.

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Willie Henry and the Michigan D-line has slammed the door on everyone this season.

Well, two touchdowns for those who are counting.

That doesn’t leave many options for Michigan State, which typically fields great offenses under Dantonio.

Having a lid put on scoring just isn’t normal for the Spartans.

However, they’ve had a few moments of despair: In 2010, the Spartans were basically shut-out during a 37-6 loss to Iowa. Months later, they were shelled 49-7 by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. In 2011, they might as well have had a zero on the board during a 24-3 loss to Nebraska; and in 2012, the same was true during a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame.

Rivalries are rivalries, and stats usually end up being a bunch of numbers at the end of the day. Remember, statistically speaking, Michigan vs. Northwestern was supposed to have been a low-scoring defensive battle.

Instead, it ended up being a massive blowout fueled by a new-look Wolverines offense.

That could hold true Saturday versus Michigan State. It’s not likely, but the numbers certainly suggest the Wolverines–who are coming off their first shut-out three-peat since 1980–could hold the Spartans to very little this weekend.

Scores of 38-0 versus then-No. 13-ranked Northwestern, 28-0 on the road versus Maryland and 31-0 versus then-No. 22-ranked BYU have a way influencing that type of thought.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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