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Published: Saturday, 10/9/2010

Wolverines face tough test against Spartans

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Picture Mike Martin in a preschool classroom 15 or some odd years ago as the teacher invites Martin and his classmates to stand up and share their favorite color.

Martin, who would later go on to become Michigan's 299-pound starting noseguard, wore the biggest-size Wolverine T-shirt of any of his peers. Born in Detroit, Martin, who played his high school ball about 30 minutes away from Ann Arbor in Redford, always knew which side of the Paul Bunyan Trophy he fell on.

"Never wavered from the blue," Martin said. "I never really liked the color green."

UM has mostly dominated its series with Michigan State, but that has begun to change over the past two years, as the Spartans have won twice, leaving Martin, a junior in his third year, seeing more green than he'd like.

Not since a span from 1965-67 has UM lost three straight in this rivalry, but that'll be a possibility today when the Spartans visit Michigan Stadium in an always emotional encounter being exacerbated by both teams coming in at 5-0 for the first time since 1999.

Overall, UM is 67-30-5 in the series.

This one should yield plenty of engaging subplots. MSU coach Mark Dantonio will likely work from the press box rather than the field as he's still recovering from a heart attack suffered three weeks ago.

On the other side there is Denard Robinson, the topic of everyone's Heisman talk, and UM coach Rich Rodriguez, who lately, has been the subject of no one's coaches-on-the-hot seat talk.

But mostly, the talk will be of Robinson, who despite missing three quarters against Massachusetts, enters the game 95 rushing yards shy of reaching 1,000 and 87 combined yards shy of reaching 2000. He's the biggest reason the 18th ranked Wolverines average the second most yards in the nation and have won twice on their final drive.

"[I] have not come across a player like him in a long, long time as a defensive coach," said Dantonio, who is 2-1 in this series and 2-2 against Rodriguez, dating to the years when they both coached in the Big East.

Dantonio and his staff are hoping their All-American linebacker Greg Jones is able to spy on Robinson and trying to limit the damage inflicted by the laceless speedster. So far, no one has come close to succeeding in slowing down Robinson, but MSU's defense will be the best UM has faced to date. Headed by Jones, who has five tackles for loss and a sack among his 41 stops, the Spartans rank sixth in the Big Ten in total defense after holding Wisconsin to less than 300 yards last week in a 10-point home win.

Jones, who has intercepted two passes and forced three fumbles, has Robinson's attention.

"That's Greg Jones, he's a great player, physical player," Robinson said. "He's fast and he can hit. You have to always have an eye on him."

Offensively, the Spartans and quarterback Kirk Cousins may throw more than normal given UM's struggles in the secondary this year. Cousins has completed 81 of 120 passes (67.5 percent) for nine touchdowns and 1,132 yards.

"We're going to be tested this week and it's probably going to be our biggest test so far," UM safety Jordan Kovacs said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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