Michigan State motivated to spoil No. 2 Michigan's season

Posted at 12:24 AM, Oct 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-29 00:24:51-04
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh has Michigan marching toward a special season, winning its first seven games and climbing to No. 2 in The Associated Press college football poll for the first time in a decade.
Michigan State , meanwhile, has lost five straight for the first time since 1991.
The Spartans are not afraid to say spoiling the Wolverines' season adds to their motivation to win.
"Yeah, I think it definitely does," linebacker Riley Bullough acknowledged.
Michigan State receiver R.J. Shelton took it a step further.
"This is a game right here that can turn our season around," Shelton said.
The Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are not just expected to beat Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) Saturday at Spartan Stadium. They're expected to dominate a game they're favored to win by more than three touchdowns.
Even though Michigan's fourth-year seniors such as cornerback Jourdan Lewis are 0-3 against the Spartans, who have won seven of the last eight games in the series for the first time, they refused to publicly say it was more important than any other game.
"We can't look at Michigan State as the end all, be all," Lewis said. "If we win the Michigan State game and lose the other games, it really doesn't matter."
Here are some things to watch when the rivals meet:
QUESTIONABLE QB: Michigan State might have to start freshman Brian Lewerke for a third straight game because both fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor and redshirt junior Damion Terry have been slowed by lingering injuries. If Lewerke plays, he will face quite a test. Michigan's defense leads the nation in five categories, including holding teams to an average of 10 points, 207 yards, 111 yards passing.
Spartans tight end Josiah Price said he believes Lewerke can get the job done.
"Brian plays fearless," Price said. "He's not afraid to just throw the ball around, take shots, let it go. As you can see with his scrambling and the way he runs, he's not afraid to take a hit. He's not afraid to lower his shoulder and try and dive for the chains."
TERRIFIC TRIO: Michigan's offense, which is averaging a Big Ten-best 48.7 points a game, has a talented and senior-laden group of targets in the passing game. Amara Darboh leads the team with 30 receptions for 499 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Jake Butt ranks just behind him with 26 catches, 310 yards receiving and four TDs. And when teams try to take them away, Jehu Chesson is more than capable of taking advantage. Chesson has 18 receptions for 275 yards and a score. The Spartans are giving up 225 yards passing a game, ranking 13th in the Big Ten, and nearly 30 points on average to rank 12th in the conference.
WEAK LINK: The Spartans lost three starters from last year's offensive line and simply haven't been able to replace them. A look back the 2013 recruiting class, a group of players in their fourth year, shows a possible reason there is a problem. Michigan State signed only one offensive lineman, Dennis Finley, that year and he has started only one game in his career.
REGULARYL RELENTLESS: If Michigan builds a big lead and stays aggressive, it probably won't be because Harbaugh wants to run up the score against a rival. Harbaugh showed last week, again, that he will do everything he can to win every play regardless of the score. Leading Illinois 34-0 in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines faked a punt from their 45. In control of the game with a 41-8 and a little more than 2 minutes left, Harbaugh challenged a spot and complained publicly after the video review not going his way after the game and again two days later.
A LOOK BACK: Mark Dantonio has helped Michigan State win seven games on a final play, including last year's game at Michigan Stadium. The memorable game ended with a bobbled snap on a punt with 10 seconds left and ended when Jalen Watts-Jackson scored on a 38-yard return off the fumble.
"We had a plan," Dantonio said. "It was a plan thrown together at the time and our players believed in the plan. When I looked out there, I saw confidence faces when I went out there. They were going to do their best. They were going to try to defeat the guys across from them."