Unlikely Success

Time of possession a goal? Really?!

I have no clue what constitutes a win in the kicking game. More field goals made? Less punts? If the turnover row is filled with red x's, what does it matter?

In simply looking at the numbers coming into Michigan's trip to East Lansing this weekend, one won't find anything worth feeling cheery about. These numbers are sub-cheery.

• Michigan State is a 16 to 17 point favorite depending on which oddsmaker you favor.
• Michigan has not scored a touchdown on Michigan State since the 4th quarter of the 2011 game, 8 quarters ago.
• Michigan State's turnover margin this season is +11, while Michigan's is -13.
• While almost even defensively, Michigan State averages 47 ppg on offense, while Michigan averages just 21.7

In almost every statistical category that matters, Michigan State has the advantage. Add in the fact that this game is being played in East Lansing, the site of easily Michigan's most humbling loss of a year ago, well…we're past even sub-cheery.

Seemingly every year Mark Dantonio has his boys perfectly prepared for this one single game. And riding a 5-game winning streak since their loss in Eugene on September 6th, there's just an overwhelming sense that their success and momentum will just be too much for the Wolverines to handle.

Especially these Wolverines.

The general consensus is that Brady Hoke is coaching for his job this weekend. I'd agree that seems about right. Some contend he's coaching for his job back, as these last 5 games represent sort of a on-the-job interview to see if he can redeem himself. Its clear that he will probably not be fired before the end of the season no matter what happens.

Either way, as we knew going into this season, it was always going to be games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State which fans would use to judge Hoke. No more, no less. The first test was a catastrophic failure. Things are not looking good for the second test.

Okay, sure…its easy to pile on. We all know what this team can't do…but what would it take for Michigan to beat Michigan State this weekend?

And really, you be surprised how simple it can be...at least on paper.

Positive turnover margin, limit the big plays against you, win the special teams game and run the football. Easy right? But honestly, those things are what make good football teams good. Michigan, which ran for a whopping negative 48 yards in this game a year ago, was and is far from a good football team.

For this Michigan team to win this game, they need some help.

Michigan needs Michigan State to do some bad things, things they normally wouldn't do. Michigan needs to be the recipient of some really bad turnovers. The breaks all need to go in favor of Michigan. If you remember last year, I know...me either, but Michigan was giving Michigan State a game until late in the 2nd quarter when Connor Cook connected on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler 23 second before half.

Late 2Q scores have killed Michigan this year as well...for example, in games such Notre Dame, Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers. All of those losses featured an opponent score within 1 minute left in the first half.

For Michigan, they're nowhere near good enough to recover from something like that on the road in a game like this. Basically, Michigan just needs to get lucky, like, a lot. Devin Gardner can't be bad Devin, he needs to be hero Devin like he was against Ohio State last year. The offensive line needs to play above their pay scale. The defense needs to get takeaways. And special teams need to do everything right all the time.

I don't mean to make Michigan State sound unbeatable…they're not. Against Nebraska and Purdue, two games in which they were well in control of, they let their guard down as the game wore on, and both games came down to key final possessions for both opponents. If there's a flaw in Michigan State's armor, its finishing games. Part of that it mental preparation, something which I don't think Michigan State will have trouble with this Saturday afternoon.

But the other part of it is sloppiness. Michigan State is not as fundamentally sound as they were a year ago. The six starters they lost on defense were all great players, and while their replacements are good, they're not as good.

Basically though, lots of things need to happen in the right order for Michigan to be successful this Saturday. If recent history under Brady Hoke is any gauge, I wouldn't hold your breath for good things to happen on the road in big games.

Hoke is saying all the same things he says every week…he likes how this team prepares. They had a great week of practice. He's excited to play in this great rivalry…you know the drill. But when a toe meets leather on Saturday, we'll see which team prepared better for this game.

1 comment

  1. If better preparation is the key to this game, we're doomed...