GoSpartans.net editor Mike Fowler is in Ann Arbor in advance of tomorrow's Michigan State vs. Michigan game.
ANN ARBOR - In the "Backyard Brawl," as the rivalry game between Michigan State and Michigan is affectionately known, there is much at stake for both of the programs and especially for the head coaches.
Here in Ann Arbor, the honeymoon is over for head coach Rich Rodriguez. After losing 14-10 to a Mid-American conference school (Toledo) at home, the heat is rising on Rodriguez to get things turned around more quickly.
After all, Rodriguez didn't inherit a team that had no talent. Michigan played and won a New Year's day bowl game last year. But the hiring of the former West Virginia head coach, ushered in a new type of Michigan football and a paradigm shift away from what got UM to the top of the football world, the foundation set in place by legendary coach Bo Schembechler.
There was a vocal segment of Michigan alumni who never wanted Rodriguez in the first place. They wanted a "Michigan Man" someone who had been reared at the feet of Schembechler, like LSU coach Les Miles or even Ball State head coach Brady Hoke (who ironically has his team 7-0 and in the top-25).
Now with Michigan sitting at 2-5 and the possibility of losing to all three of its major rivals in a single season, having its streak of bowl appearances and winning seasons all snapped, the seat gets hotter and hotter under Rodriguez. Rumors tieing him to the Clemson head coaching position aren't helping either.
A win for "Rich Rod" would at least, temporarily silence those who want him out.
For Michigan State's second-year coach Mark Dantonio, the stakes are also high.
Dantonio desperately wants to establish Michigan State back to where it was in the 40's, 50's and 60's, one of the most dominant programs in the nation.
To do so, he knows he must accomplish two things;
regain the respect the team lost during the laughing stock years of John L. Smith and Bobby Williams and beat the conference's traditional powers, Ohio State and Michigan.
The weapons seemed to be in place for the Spartans to do that this season.
Their run attack, behind senior tailback Javon Ringer, is one of the best in the nation. MSU has been able to control the ball, avoid turnovers and have a chance to win every ball game.
That is until last week.
Last week, against #9 Ohio State, the Spartans turned the ball over five times, senior quarterback Brian Hoyer was ineffective and was replaced by sophomore Kirk Cousins after suffering an injury.
Suddenly, the doubts have begun to creep in and with their old nemesis on the horizon, how will the Spartans react? Will they play the sound brand of football that got them here or will they revert to the 'same 'ol spartans'?
A win would give MSU a 7-2 mark, equaling their win total from a season ago, stamp Dantonio as a rising Big Ten star and give the Spartans a leg up in recruiting and stature in the eyes of the state's fans. A loss and all of MSU's improvement would be viewed as second-rate.
Dantonio had the Spartans in great position to upset the #12 Wolverines in his first season. MSU lead by 10 points with 7:40 left in the game before Chad Henne led Michigan to the victory with two fourth quarter touchdown passes to win 24-20.
He was incensed by the classless taunting of former Wolverine back Mike Hart and he issued a warning, "Pride Comes Before The Fall."
Now with Michigan's season hanging in the balance MSU can put the final nail in UM's coffin. Dantonio's team has the hammer, now can they swing it?
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