Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Matt Charboneau look ahead to Saturday's showdown between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Detroit News
East Lansing — If there was a game made for Joe Bachie, this week’s might be it.
For the Michigan State middle linebacker, the physical, intense nature of the rivalry with Michigan is right up his alley.
There will be no intimidation when he arrives in Ann Arbor. No, this is exactly where Bachie wants to be — in the thick of one of the most bitterly contested rivalries in college football.
“I heard it’s crazy when you get off that bus,” Bachie said this week.
“That competitive hatred is really flying in the air, and just being in the game last year, I was able to feel the energy of the fans and everything on the walk (to the stadium) and how much they pride themselves on Michigan State.
“You got to love that as a competitor when you got that fan base behind you.”
Those fans were behind Bachie and the Spartans last season in East Lansing, but that will be far from the case this time around as the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
And while Bachie got his feet wet in the rivalry last season, this will be his first time taking on the Wolverines on the road. But according to his teammates, that won’t faze the sophomore who leads the Spartans with 34 tackles this season.
“I think it gets forgotten that he’s so young,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said.
“He’s a sophomore that played 100 snaps last year and for him to be making the plays that he’s making right now and being such a great leader on this team goes unnoticed. Maybe not unnoticed, but he doesn’t get enough recognition because of how young he is. I think people overlook that and think he’s older than he is because of the plays he’s making.”
Whether he’s been overlooked or not, it’s hard to ignore how effective the 6-foot-2, 233-pound Bachie has been this season.
His 34 tackles rank sixth in the Big Ten and he has twice had 10 or more tackles in a game. In last week’s victory over Iowa, Bachie had nine tackles, including a career-high 3.5 for loss.
Throw in his first sack and a fumble recovery and there wasn’t a more productive player on defense.
It’s the sort of play the Spartans expected when Bachie replaced Riley Bullough late in the season when he sat because of a targeting call, and it’s the same type of play that had coach Mark Dantonio lauding Bachie early this season.
“I sort of feel like Joe is much like Brian Lewerke in a lot of ways,” Dantonio said, comparing him to the sophomore quarterback.
“He has that sort of ‘it’ factor a little bit. You knew he was going to be a good player last year. You knew Brian was going to be a good player based on what you saw from last year and the feeling that you had.
“Same thing with Joe Bachie. He’s a great athlete. A physical and very hardworking guy, brings a sense of that hard-work mentality to our entire defense. But he’s a great athlete, very active and he’s been very, very productive.”
It’s been a quick ascent for Bachie, who saw his first action last season against Maryland after Bullough was ejected in the first half against the Terrapins. He had seven tackles that day, giving a glimpse of what was to come in 2017.
And the more he plays, the more Bachie believes he can be a difference-maker for the Spartans, especially against the Wolverines.
“The more reps you take it just helps you,” he said. ‘You see things, diagnose things better and we’re watching film this week a lot. They do so many different formations, use so much personnel. As long as we do our job and are disciplined I think we’ll be all right.”
With Bachie in the middle of the defense making the calls, his teammates are confident they will be all right.
“Joe has made plays since the day he got here,” Frey said.
“He picked up on our defense so fast and I’ve got so much respect for him.
“I feel like guys on the field are more comfortable when he’s out there because he knows what he’s doing. He’s making the calls out there and for how young he is.
“He has shown people that he can play. He’s going to be a great player for us both now and in the future.”
That includes Saturday, when a rivalry that demands intensity will include a middle linebacker who doesn’t need to be told.
“We know what this game means,” Bachie said. “Just seeing how physical it gets and seeing the hatred between the teams. The competitive hatred. We are going to get our guys ready to go. It’s going to be a fun one.”