Michigan State Preview

Michigan State Vitals
7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Head coach: Mark Dantonio
     Career: 76-46 (10th year)
     at MSU: 58-29 (7th year)
Offense: Multiple
     Rush: Jeremy Langford (141-655 yards, 9 TDs) 
     Pass: Connor Cook (118-197, 1,238 yards, 12 TDs)
     Rec: Macgarrett Kings (26-303 yards, 3 TDs)
Defense: Multiple 4-3
     Tackles: Denicos Allen (48 tackles)
     Sacks: Shilique Calhoun (4.0-24 yards)
     Int: Darqueze Dennard (2-38 yards), Jairus Jones (2-6 yards) and Isaiah Lewis (2-0 yards)


When Michigan has the ball
Really, this the crux of the game. Can Michigan move the ball effectively? Can Michigan run the ball? Can Michigan score? Can Michigan avoid turnovers?

These are all terrifying questions because the answer is probably "Not really". Since the Great Akron Scare of 2013, the Michigan offense has been on a wandering journey to find itself. And you'd think after throwing up 67 points in their last game against Indiana, we'd be a little jollier around here. But then someone taps you on the shoulder to remind you that Indiana ranks 121st in the nation in total defense...right behind Eastern Michigan. Yes, that Eastern Michigan.

By contrast, Michigan State ranks...yep, #1.

In their only loss of the year, to Notre Dame, Michigan State gave up 224 yards of offense, and only 83 of that were rushing yards. Over the course of 8 games, they've only allowed 54.8 rushing ypg. The Wolverines come into this game averaging 183.8 ypg rushing...good enough to be ranked 49th nationally, believe it or not. That's still 12 spots behind where MSU ranks, though.

So, you guess it, it's on Devin Gardner to lead the Wolverines to victory. I don't think Old 9D8 needs to play a perfect game. But I will say that after a little rough patch with turnovers there, Devin has been looking much sharper and more poised in recent weeks. In a low scoring game, like I think this will be, the key will be ball protection and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. They did it in the second half against Penn State. They did it all day long against Indiana.

If turnovers do happen, let's hope they happen more toward the middle of the field and not inside the M 30 yardline. I think the defense can bail Devin out, but they can't do it all day long, especially on a short field. But he'll need to be sharp and make very good decisions. He'll also need to pass to set up the run. MSU will do everything they can to stop the run and pressure Gardner, so his ability to know when to scramble and when the eat it will be a factor.

There seems to be an air of confidence about the offensive line combination that Michigan has settled on. Lewan-Bosch-Glasgow-Magnuson-Schofield is your lineup. Hey, I'm all for whatever works and if Hoke and Funk are satisfied with it, which it sounds like they are, then that's all I need. It's game on brother and these guys better be ready to go.

Michigan doesn't have to run the ball like crazy on Saturday. Honestly I think Michigan could out-gain Michigan State...thanks mostly to the Devin Gardner factor, but what difference does it make? Rushing yards are rushing yards. In a game like this, you don't care how much or little the ball is being spread around just as long as it's being moved forward and for points.

I'd go into excruciating detail about Michigan State's defense and where their strengths are, but they're everywhere. The Spartans will lock 7-8 in the box and keep their corners in man-to-man. It's a gamble, but their good enough to do it with confidence. This is where guys like Gallon and Funchess will need to shine. They've done so in a big games so far, and that's something that has to be good news to Al Borges. If Michigan can find a way to use Michigan State's aggressiveness against itself, they could really do some damage in this game.

When Michigan State has the ball
If there's one upside to playing Michigan State its that their offensive scheme is right in the Greg Mattison wheelhouse. For as multi-dimensional as their defense is, the offense is just the opposite. They will run the ball. And after that they'll probably run the ball some more.

Of course I say that, but against Iowa...maybe their most impressive win, Cook threw it up 44 times for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns...but only a yards per attempt of 6.3.

Michigan State may try the occasional deep ball tomorrow, and they'll sprinkle in plenty of play-action and screens. Anything to catch Michigan's secondary off guard. Jim Bollman watched the Penn State and Indiana tapes, so he saw the DBs get burned quite a bit. To avoid that, Mattison must blitz Cook.

Don't forget, Connor Cook is only a redshirt sophomore making his second start against a ranked opponent. And their leading receiver, Macgarrett Kings has 303 yards for the season. Gallon had 369 yards against Indiana.

I'm fine admitting that Michigan State has a good running game. They do. I'm also fine admitting that Michigan's 7th ranked run defense ain't so bad either. Langford is a good running back and it certainly seems that Michigan State's OL is really coming together. But to win this game, Connor Cook will need to throw the ball around a little bit. Last week at Illinois he had his most efficient outing of the season by far...15 of 16 for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns, and a yards per attempt of 13. That elevated his season average to 5.9 yds/att.

Keeping Langford in check is important, but getting overwhelming pressure on Cook is critical. Keeping MSU as one-dimensional as possible will be muy importante. If Cook struggles, Michigan's offense will have more possessions and more opportunities to put up points. Plus, nothing frustrates and silences a home crowd like a lot of punts.

Not much I can say here that I haven't already said. Tomorrow is a big day for Michigan Football. It has the potential to be Brady Hoke's biggest road win at Michigan. It also has the potential to be just another road game against a good football team that results in another frustrating loss.

With two weeks to prepare, there's no excuses for Michigan to not have a superb gameplan. The key will be if they can execute it. A lot of factors favor the Spartans in this game, among them...a great defense, a sound rushing game and the home field advantage.

And let's not discount special teams and the random trick play that I'm sure Dantonio has up his sleeve. Michigan State has a great punter in Mike Sadler, which isn't something you're always ready to brag about, but it's nice to have. If this game comes down to field goals, it's a crap shoot whether you put the game on Gibby's or Wile's foot.

Ultimately, it really just depends on whether or not Michigan is ready to take that next step forward to become an elite football program again, that just simply refuses to be beaten. We've heard all week about how Michigan won't be bullied tomorrow like they were 2 years ago. Talk is cheap, though. It's time to man up and put Little Brother back in his place again.

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• Michigan is running the ball effectively, no matter who's carrying it.
• Turnover ratio is favoring Michigan.
• Michigan State is trying to "bully" Michigan with no success.
• Loose garbage isn't blowing all around the stadium.

Commence panic if...
• The OL is having one of their "critical" days.
• Connor Cook is picking M's secondary apart.
• MSU points off turnovers is a stat line.
• Random Dantonio trick play turns the tide.

Michigan State 28 Michigan 24

Related content:
• Road Hard
• Big Ten Preview: Week 10
• Big Ten Power Rankings and Bowl Projections - Week 10
• Michigan On the Road: Flow Versus Hyperfocus

1 comment

  1. Go Blue!!!!