Despite Michigan being a heavy favorite in Saturday's game, recent track record against Michigan State suggests the outlook of the game isn't so cut and dry. Julia Schachinger/Daily. Buy this photo.

Entering Saturday, the No. 4 Michigan football team is heavily favored against a limping 3-4 Michigan State. But as the Wolverines know first hand: in this rivalry, anything is possible.

What are the Spartans’ keys to a potential victory? In a rough season, what are Michigan State’s strengths, what are its weaknesses? Will Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh end up 0-3 against Mel Tucker? All good questions — so The Daily asked them.

To learn more about the matchup from the Spartans’ side of the aisle, The Daily sat down with football reporter Jenna Malinowski. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you think Michigan State has in it that it hasn’t shown this year, and how can it bring it out against Michigan?

I think going into the rivalry, they were all talking at the availability yesterday about how important it is to educate the younger players on the importance of the rivalry and just kind of how it doesn’t really matter what the odds are, what the rankings are. This game, there’s always a chance that either team could pull it off. And I think last year, having Kenneth Walker, MSU was able to kind of overlook some of those weaker points, like our secondary.

This year, not having him, I think has been really hard for Michigan State, especially since they haven’t been able to get a run game going with their current lineup. But I think it’s been a point of emphasis. But if they are able — and they’ve shown glimpses of it with Elijah Collins getting a couple of carries in — I think that if they can get that going, I think they have a much better shot of being competitive against Michigan. But I think that’s the big if, because it just hasn’t (yet). I think we got a glimpse of it against Wisconsin, but it just hasn’t been there yet.

Picture at the end of the day, Michigan State wins their third year in a row. What did Michigan State have to do to win? What is their path to victory?

First, a certain thing that they’ve been able to still have this year — and they’ve been struggling with injuries lately — (is) Jayden Reed. He’s been back, he’s been healthy. But he’s been having like little things here and there he said a couple weeks ago. If him and (quarterback Payton) Thorne connect on the field, that will definitely help them get to where they need to be offensively. They’ve just been a for-sure thing this year when they’re both healthy out there. And if they are able to be 100% and they connect, I think that could be what gets them there.

Then offensively, as I said earlier, them getting the run game going will be really important this weekend more than I think it’s been, just because we saw a glimpse of it at Wisconsin. Especially against Akron, I think it was (Collins) and Broussard, they had a combined five touchdowns. They had basically all of the scoring. And they can, like they do have that power. They just haven’t shown it yet. So I think if the run game does come back, that will be their path to victory.

And obviously the defense has been struggling this year as well. They were dead last in secondary statistics last year, and they haven’t improved much. They’re going to have to rely more on their offense just because that’s not going to be some magical turnaround in a week. But I think obviously they will have to play up to that level. But I think their offense and their run game is going to be the key to getting the win on Saturday.

On the flip side, what is the Spartans’ biggest weakness that the Wolverines might exploit?

Defensively, I think just defending against the run and the pass game has been a struggle for Michigan State lately, and we know that it was against the pass game last year. Like I said, that hasn’t improved too much. I think we’re still ranked pretty low in FBS. 

But I think the weakest point is definitely the secondary. I think it was Ohio State, (that) was their first interception of the year, so they hadn’t been putting together much. And even teams like Minnesota came in and Tanner Morgan threw for (an) uncharacteristic amount of yards, which they weren’t expecting. They were expecting more of a run team, and they weren’t able to stop the run game either. So it’s even these teams that don’t usually have, like a huge pass game will come in and can just, you know, tear through our secondaries. I think that’s definitely the weakest point, especially with JJ McCarthy on Saturday.

How has Mel Tucker gotten his team up the past two years for this rivalry, and what does he do to intensify his players and get the win?

He has not said a whole bunch this week. I think he’s very focused. And the players haven’t haven’t said much either. They said that he’s an intense guy, and it gets ramped up this week, but they haven’t said much more than that. They’ve made it clear that even though they’re not saying much that he’s a guy that they want to play for. So I think he just he really knows how to get his players inspired. 

And there’s been a lot of education about the rivalry. I think Jacoby Windmon was talking about yesterday, how because he’s transfer this year he was like getting an education program from Mel Tucker about the history of the rivalry. And what stood out to him was Michigan not wanting Michigan State to join the Big Ten like some decades ago. So they’re getting a full history on it. 

Obviously they, the players that have been with the team for the two years, have seen his ability to find the weakness in Michigan both years. And last year it was a come-from-behind win, but they were still able to pinpoint and turn it around.

Whatever he’s telling them — which they definitely won’t tell us — seems to be working and they’re all pretty fired up for Saturday. Even though I think they’re like 21 and a half point underdog right now, they don’t seem deterred by that at all. And I think it starts with Mel Tucker and his leadership.

How would this win change how people view Mel Tucker’s coaching tenure and how people view this season?

I think after last year, the mood on campus as the season progressed, you could tell that there’s a lot of support for him. After the COVID season, that was kind of a rough year for just everyone in the world, but they were giving him another couple of years to get his guys in (and) figure it out. Last year I could tell the mood on campus was really changing, they were supportive. There were “Tuck Comin’ ” signs everywhere. You could tell there was something in the air almost. 

And then this year they have not gotten off to the best start. There’s not calls for him to be fired or anything; but you can tell it’s just not that same energy. And I know a lot of State fans that I’ve been talking to that — I mean, they don’t want to lose every game this season — if they were to get one win, they want it to be Michigan. So I think this game means a lot to people and Spartan fans, and that means a lot to the team. 

Like they’re gonna look at it as another game on their schedule that they need to get through. But everybody knows the underlying rivalry and the meaning of this game. 

Somebody asked him about being 2-0 against Michigan and — obviously it’s a huge deal — but he was just like, “We got to go in on Saturday and play our best football.” That’s what he always says: “You’ve got to play 60 minutes of complimentary football.” So I think it always means a lot to get a rivalry win, but I think with the way that the season has started that that would really be the boost that the team needs to kind of end on a good note.

Lastly, what is your score prediction and why?

I think it’s gonna be relatively high scoring. Last year it was 37-33, I think it will be something around that. I’ll say 42-30. I think Michigan does pull this one off. Just because they have the home advantage, they’re the No. 4 team in the country — they’re obviously there for a reason. 

I think they will probably pull it off. I wouldn’t count the Spartans out despite the huge underdog odds. Just because we’ve seen before that they really don’t matter in this game, and it’s just so intense that odds don’t really matter. But I would say probably 42-30, Michigan.