Something in the East Lansing air changes during Michigan week.

At Spartan Stadium, the shoes are laced up a little tighter and the pads crack a little harder, as the Michigan State football team’s intensity picks up.

During the Spartan Marching Band’s rehearsals next door on Dem Field, the fight song’s staccato strain, “Go right through for MSU,” shifts to, “Smash right through that line of blue.”

By Saturday’s kickoff, the city reaches a fever pitch to welcome the 11th-ranked Wolverines.

It’s Michigan week. You know when it’s here.

And once the teams take the field in front of 75,000-plus fans in East Lansing on Saturday, it’s that “line of blue” — Michigan’s defensive line — that will have the toughest task in the rivalry game.

No. 23 Michigan State (1-0 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) boasts an offensive corps — headlined by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins — with big-play potential across the board.

The passing attack ranks second in the Big Ten, with 269 yards per game. And three highly-touted running backs — sophomore Le’Veon Bell and juniors Edwin Baker and Larry Caper — will be prowling in the backfield, eager to make it a long day for the Wolverine defense.

When the Spartans visited Ann Arbor last season, they trampled over Michigan’s front line, rushing for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Coming off a shared Big Ten Championship season in 2010, even with a weak offensive line, Michigan State will pound the line of scrimmage.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke expects nothing less.

“They’re going to be physical up front, they’re going to run the power, they’re going to run the outside stretch play,” Hoke said on Monday. “The three backs are all really capable of hurting you.”

Michigan’s defense has been notoriously bad in first halves this season, but spectacular in the second half. The Wolverines (2-0, 6-0) have allowed 54 first-half points and just 21 in the second half.

Against the Spartans, that inconsistency won’t work. It starts with stopping the run.

“That’s what a great defense is built on,” Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said on Tuesday. “You can measure a defense on how they stop the run in my mind.

“We’ll get challenged. That’s what it’s going to be. They can throw it, too. It’s not like we can put 10 guys up there (on the line). This is going to be another test.”

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry game was named the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award Marquee Matchup of the Week, pitting Cousins against Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson.

“(Cousins) was good last year,” Mattison said. “I think he’s really good this year. … Anybody that wins as many games as he’s won, you’re a good quarterback.”

After watching film, Mattison determined Cousins’s favorite target, senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, is “a big-time wide receiver” with NFL-type talent.

Cousins and Cunningham have connected 38 times this season, averaging 116 yards per game. Michigan’s secondary had its tune-up for Cunningham when Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd collected 159 yards in the second game of the season.

But during Michigan week, anything can happen.

Over in East Lansing, the final change falls into place. On Dem Field, the marching band makes one last fight-song alteration in the line, “See, their team is weakening.”

“Michigan is weakening, we’re going to win this game,” the Spartan brass chant. “Fight. Fight. Rah, team, fight. Victory for MSU.”

After never beating the Spartans, Michigan’s seniors have one last chance to topple them on Saturday. And it’s the defense’s job to force the rivalry back in the Wolverines’ favor.

Until then, the Paul Bunyan Trophy, given to the winner of the annual rivalry game, will rest in East Lansing with the Spartan victors.

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