Key to Michigan-Michigan State victory: You better run
East Lansing — There's no doubting the intensity of the rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan.
Players on both sides say it's the most physical and intense game they play every year. As Michigan State guard Travis Jackson said, "It's a slobber-knocker of a game, and that's how it's been for a long time and that's the way we like it."
In keeping with that style of contest, whichever team runs the ball better typically wins. In the last 44 meetings, the team with more rushing yards has won 41 times.
The last time that did not happen was 2007, when the Spartans ran for 191 yards to 100 for the Wolverines. But Michigan quarterback Chad Henne threw four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, to rally the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory.
"I think that's an indication of can you control the line of scrimmage or not," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think that any football team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins. ... Doesn't mean it's always going to happen, but you have a chance."
No. 8 Michigan State enters Saturday's game fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 260 yards, while Michigan checks in eighth with 164.1 yards. Both teams have been solid against the run, each ranking in the top 10 in the country.
The Wolverines are fourth in the nation and second in the Big Ten, allowing 93.6 yards, while the Spartans are eighth in the nation and third in the conference at 100.3 yards.
"We talk about whoever wins the line of scrimmage has a better chance of winning this game," said Spartans running back Jeremy Langford, who had 120 yards and a touchdown in last season's meeting. "That's what we have continued to do to get the ball rolling the last couple of weeks."
Michigan State likely will get center Jack Allen back after he missed last week with an ankle injury. Even at full strength, the Spartans will be tested up front.
"That's definitely something we're going to focus on," Jackson said. "Their front seven is very physical. They play really fast. ... But we need to get the run game going and have it be consistent through all four quarters."
While Michigan State was playing at Indiana last week, Michigan had the week off.
Dantonio, however, doesn't believe the extra week of preparation for the Wolverines will be too tough to overcome.
"I'm sure that we're going to try and be prepared for everything, but every week teams change somewhat," he said. "There is always adjustments in any football game, and it's how you handle those adjustments a lot of times that is the key to victory."
The Michigan State locker room isn't the only place emotions are ramped up.
The same goes at Dantonio's house. Having coached at Ohio State and Michigan State, he and his family have a unique view of playing Michigan.
"It's a little different," he said. "I remember when my daughter was in second grade we were at Ohio State, she wrote a little story and in the story it said that if you wore blue and gold you went to jail for a week. So it's a little bit different, yeah, they remind me."
Paul's a Babe
The winner gets to keep the Paul Bunyan Trophy, not exactly the most visually appealing trophy there is.
That doesn't seem to matter to the Spartans.
"I think Paul Bunyan's a beautiful man," Jackson said.
Added safety Kurtis Drummond: "When you see him in the locker room, you see guys paying more attention. It kind of raises more awareness, raises more enthusiasm throughout the locker room when you see a trophy like that in the locker room."