|Amber Ainsworth/Michigan Journal|
It’s finally here, Michigan vs. Michigan State. No. 12 vs. No. 7. The game is finally about football again, no more trying to prove yourself, no more excuses. It’s about football, and it has a huge role in potentially taking control of the division, and a step to the College Football Playoff.
As usual, here is my breakdown and prediction for the big game.
Oh the offense, the one that has surprised myself, and many others week by week. Just when you say the offense is going to struggle, isn’t designed for the type of game about to be played, or anything else in between they come up and drop 31 on BYU, and 38 on what at the time was one of the top ranked defenses in the country. Jake Rudock is a game manager, and he will need to be just that in this game. Limiting turnovers, and not making stupid plays is what Rudock is known for, and exactly what he needs to do in this game. Let DeVeon Smith, and Drake Johnson carry the ball, and carry the load offensively, and make passes when needed. I suspect that Michigan will stick to their usual gameplan and try to pound the ball with Smith or Johnson, but it would not shock me if Jim Harbaugh sent out his offense firing from the start. Michigan State’s secondary is far from dangerous, while they have a very strong run defense, so if Michigan flipped the script and threw the ball around the first few drives to put the defense on their heels, then go back to the ground game to control the clock. I think Rudock will have a typical game as he has had all year, right around 200 yards, but I think most of the Wolverines touchdowns come via the pass. Once they get the ball into the redzone, Rudock will be looking towards Jake Butt, who I also expect to have a huge game as well. I think Johnson and Smith will take the bulk of the carries, with Derrick Green taking a couple, along with Karan Higdon, we may see Ty Isaac for a small splash of plays as well.
Michigan State will feed off of the play of star quarterback Connor Cook. Cook is most likely going to be a first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, at least as of right now. He can make all the throws needed, and he has great awareness and field vision to go along with his great arm strength and accuracy. Cook has played in big games, and tough atmospheres as well so I don’t expect the raucous big house crowd to rattle him much. However, the rest of his team could very easily get rattled. The Spartans have a badly banged up offensive line, and even if the usual starters go they might not be able to last all game. With newer guys playing against a very tough Wolverine defensive front and a wild crowd, it will be quite the task. Aaron Burbridge is not an easy task to cover, but Jourdan Lewis has had receivers on a leash all season long, and matched up against Burbridge, he very well could be left without a catch for the game. I don’t expect to see the Spartans able to do much on the ground in this game against this defense. The line will not be able to open up any holes for their backs, which will put all the pressure on Cook to make plays. The lack of running game from Michigan State will make Cook force plays, thus committing turnovers. I think Cook throws at least one interceptions, and fumbles the football trying to make a play with his legs.
The Michigan defense is elite. Yes I said it, the “E” word is out. They’re an elite bunch that plays very well together. With the Spartans being riddled with injuries on the line the Wolverine defense will put max pressure on Cook, and allow less than 50 rushing yards for the game. I think the defense is going to sack Cook four times in this game, and like I said force a fumble when Cook tries to make a play. I said Connor Cook likely won’t get rattled by the crowd, which is true, but Cook will get rattled by the fact his line will be incapable of protecting him. The Michigan defense was hurt a bit by the quick slant routes, and quick passes over the middle against Utah, but that was the first game of the season. The defense has just gotten better each week since then, but I think that’s how the Spartans will open up the game, trying to exploit that. The Michigan defense will give up a long drive early in the game, likely in the first quarter but will settle down and lay the hammer the rest of the way. I don’t think the shutout streak is going to continue, but I do think the Wolverines will limit the Spartans points.
The Michigan State defense is nowhere near where it has been of late. The “No Fly Zone” has completely dissipated and just like that the Spartan secondary is its biggest weakness. Some say the Michigan offense isn’t built to exploit that, I say it’s Jim Harbaugh, we shall see. The Spartans defensive line is very good still with Calhoun and McDowell, and the Wolverine offensive line is still a work in progress, despite looking much better lately. The key for the Spartan defense is without a doubt to get off the field. If the Wolverines can control the clock, and the ball then it will put more strain on this defense that also suffers some injuries, and could make for a very long day at the Big House. There is not much to say about this defense other than how things have changed dramatically without the presence of Pat Naduzzi.
The Spartans have struggled on special teams this season while the Wolverines have thrived. If the Wolverine defense can keep the Spartans outside of the 20-yard line then the shutout streak could stay intact. I also think this the game we finally see a blocked punt, and I would not be one but surprised if the Wolverines return a punt, or another kickoff back for a touchdown.
It’s going to be a good one. The crowd will be hyped, the players will be ready, and Jim Harbaugh is going to be very ready. It is one thing to note however that the last six Wolverine head coaches (Hoke, Rich Rod, Carr, Moeller, Bo, and Elliot) have lost their first meeting with Michigan State. However, that all changes this game!
Michigan 23, Michigan State 6.