The Big House will feel like an empty nest on one of the biggest days of the college football season.
Due to Big Ten restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, the crowd will be limited to family members of players at the annual Michigan State-Michigan game on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.It's still a game that both teams have circled on their calendars.
"If you get a chance to see it, it's different," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's still a game. The red blood is pumping, and it'll be really pumping for both sides in this game. No question about that. It's for the state championship; it's what we call it. ... It's a really big deal."
This will be the first time Mel Tucker will experience it as the Spartans' head coach. Tucker began his coaching career as an MSU graduate assistant under Nick Saban in the late 1990s.
"Being here as a graduate assistant, I was really able to experience it first-hand and feel the passion and the energy," Tucker said. "Not a day goes by where you don't hear about this game from someone. It's certainly not just a game, and that's what makes college football special is these types of rivalries."
The passion is there, but it would be a surprise if Tucker's team heads back to East Lansing with a victory. The 13th-ranked Wolverines (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are a 24-point favorite to beat the Spartans for the third consecutive time.
Michigan opened the season last weekend with an impressive 49-24 road victory over Minnesota. The Wolverines overpowered the Golden Gophers on the ground, rushing for 256 yards and five touchdowns.
Michigan's top two backs, Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet, combined for 152 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. Joe Milton, making his first start at quarterback, showed his dual-threat skills. He completed 15-of-22 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
"The protection was so good all night, and so was the run blocking," Harbaugh said.
Michigan's defense also made some big plays, including a sack that led to Donovan Jeter's 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first half. The Wolverines led by 18 at halftime and limited Minnesota to seven second-half points.
"Now we know where we're at, and we know what we can look forward to building on and getting better," Harbaugh said. "That's our focus right now."
Tucker's debut as MSU's coach last Saturday turned into a debacle. The Spartans (0-1, 0-1) committed seven turnovers and lost at home to Rutgers, 38-27.
"What is your mental disposition coming off a game like that? The process is, win or lose, it's a 24-hour rule, and then it's time to move on to the next game because the most important game is the next game," Tucker said. "Obviously we do self-evaluation, we watch the film, we see the things that need to be corrected and put a plan in place to do that. We make sure players understand where we fell short and how we can get better."
Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi passed for 319 yards and three touchdowns but was picked off twice and lost a fumble. The rushing attack was limited to 50 yards on 39 carries.
"We've got to run the ball better," Tucker said. "We've got to be able to run the ball on our terms, because having balance on offense and not being one-dimensional is critically important."
--Field Level Media