Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Five players to watch for in Saturday's Michigan State/Michigan game

The key to the majority of rivalry games are the players who could make an impact on the field and make a name for its respective school forever.

Over the years of the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry, players like T.J. Duckett, Desmond Howard, Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards, Mike Hart and Kirk Cousins have used this game as a platform to ascend to icon status at their respective schools and Saturday's contest will be no different.

Here are five players who could join the names listed above as a legend in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy:

5) Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough:

The heart and soul of Michigan State's defense will be needed to shut down Michigan's physical and punishing style on offense.

Riley Bullough leads the Spartans this season with 55 tackles (26 solo, 29 assists) and tied for second on the team in sacks with 3.0.

On Sept. 19 against the Air Force Academy, Bullough recorded a season-high 16 tackles.

If any of Michigan's running backs are to get to the second level of Michigan State's defense, Bullough would be the menace to ensure nothing goes any further.

4) Michigan running back De'Veon Smith:

After missing the Maryland game due to an ankle injury, De'Veon Smith saw sporadic action against Northwestern on Oct. 10, but the made most of his work tallying eight carries for 59 yards, to go along with three receptions for 19 yards.

Expect Smith's workload to increase, but enough to the point in which he is not worn down and other players such as Ty Isaac and Drake Johnson can spell the workhorse of the Wolverines' offense.

3) Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook:

After three straight games without throwing an interception, Cook committed one against Rutgers on Oct. 10 and will have to keep mistakes at a minimum against the Wolverines.

Cook's lofty pre-season Heisman expectations have not lived up to the billing thus far, but can change voters' minds on Saturday.

In six games this season, Cook has thrown for 1,334 yards. 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

2) Michigan cornerback Jabrill Peppers:

After playing sparingly last season due to injury, Jabrill Peppers' impact on the Michigan secondary has reaped its rewards through six games.

Peppers leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 4.5 and has accounted for five pass breakups.

Expect Peppers to draw the assignment of covering Spartans wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., to go along with spot duty on standout Aaron Burbridge.

1) Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis:

To say the Northwestern game was a coming out party is an understatement as Jourdan Lewis shined in the national spotlight as he collected four tackles and an interception returned for a TD in last week's 38-0 win.

Lewis's performance earned him the Big Ten defensive player of the week honors and the stakes will rise to another level against the Spartans. 

Expect Lewis to be matched up against Burbridge for most of the game and will be counted on to make several big plays if Michigan stands to continue its defensive dominance this season.

As if being named the defensive player of the week was not enough, Pro Football Focus named Lewis as the No. 7 overall player in the country.

Lewis leads the nation with eight passes defensed, to go along with 11 of 34 for 67 yards when targeted by quarterbacks.

Game Planner:

No. 7 Michigan State Spartans (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at No. 12 Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

TV/Online: ESPN/WatchESPN

Line: Michigan (-7)

Social Media:

Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.