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Michigan vs. MSU Preview

October 8, 2010

When Michigan is on Offense

You may have heard of Michigan’s QB, Denard Robinson.  He’s put up video game like numbers against almost every opponent with the exception of Bowling Green when he left the game early due to injury.  While his first 5 games have been dismissed by some because of the quality of opponent, everyone will agree that Michigan State’s defense will be he his first real test.

Michigan State’s defense is led by All-American linebacker Greg Jones, whose job it will be to try to shut down Denard.  Jones is probably the best linebacker Michigan will face all season, so if he can’t shut him down it bodes well for the offense going forward.

Michigan Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush Defense

Michigan State’s rush defense is the supposed strength of their defense with a serviceable defensive line and stud linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon who clean up pretty much everything.  I say supposedly because MSU’s rush defense, though ranked #20 in the country, has faced only one decent rush attack all year in Wisconsin (#13).  The other I-A opponents were ranked #114, #116, and #98 respectively.  And Wisconsin was still able to churn out 165 yards on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Given that Michigan’s main rushing threat is Robinson, I expect MSU to crowd the line and even have one of the linebackers spy on Robinson at all times.  What this means for Michigan is that they will need to rely on the running backs to step up and take advantage.  Vincent Smith still doesn’t look like he’s fully recovered from his ACL injury, so the hope is that Michael Shaw can not only play, but be effective.  Last week MSU did a good job of containing Wisconsin’s best running back John Clay, but struggled with their faster back James White.  Several times White beat MSU defenders to the corner and picked up long gains with his speed.  Shaw has looked much better this year than last, and I think will give MSU problems with his speed.

While I do like MSU’s linebackers, I’m less enthused by their front four.  Jerel Worthy is the best of the bunch, but he’s much better getting after the quarterback than in the run game.  A big key for MSU will be to keep Patrick Omameh and Steve Schilling on the first level, and not let them get downfield to block Jones and Gordon.  The Michigan offensive has been the strongest unit on the field in my opinion, and even though MSU has a solid front 7, I still expect them to have a big day.

Bottom Line: MSU has a great linebacker and a rush defense whose only “victory” is slowing down, but not stopping Wisconsin.  Michigan has the best rushing attack in the country.

Big Advantage: Michigan

Michigan Pass Offense v. MSU Pass Defense

As I mentioned, I expect MSU to try to stop Denard on the ground and force him to pass.  He’s the best running threat in the country, and a very good passer.  I’ll take “very good passer” over “best runner” anytime if I’m the defense.  I think it’s a lose/lose situation if I’m MSU, because given their secondary woes, and the experience of our receivers, I expect Denard to have big day through the air.

Michigan has severalweapons with Roundtree, Hemingway, Stonum, and Odoms all stepping up at different points this year.  Although MSU’s secondary isn’t as woeful as they have been in year’s past, they are led by corner Chris Rucker, who was everybody’s punching bag the last two years.  If your best corner was the weakest link last year, you haven’t improved that much, I don’t care how bad of a day the Wisconsin QB had.

Bottom Line: Denard will have to earn it, but my guess is that he’ll get plenty of shots at wide open receivers as MSU loads up to stop the run.

Advantage: Michigan

When Michigan is on Defense

With 5 games under our belt, we all know that the Michigan defense isn’t going to set any positive records this year.  Mike Martin is still the best player on defense by a longshot, and due to some inexperience on MSU’s line, should be able wreak havoc on Saturday.  Beyond that, I’m not really sure who else can have an impact, though I would look for true freshman Jibreel Black to get some more snaps.

For MSU, they have several playmakers to watch out for.  While Leveon Bell may be the starter at running back, I think Edwin Baker is the better back.  He’s stronger, faster, and hits the hole better.  The offensive line is still unproven, and I think given the right scenarios, we can definitely get to QB Kirk Cousins.  Expect the wide receivers to make some big plays for MSU at some point during the day, though it won’t be another show like Tandon Doss put on last week.  But MSU will score points.

MSU Rush Offense v. Michigan Rush Defense

MSU has been one of the best rushing teams in the country this year.  Edwin Baker and Leveon Bell have alternated having big games, with both going over 100 yards multiple times this year.  Larry Caper is also a solid back who has gotten some carries as well.  The offensive line is light on experience, with less than 35 starts between the 5 players, and most of those coming from LG Joel Foreman.  But they’ve looked pretty good opening holes so far this year for Bell, Baker, and Caper.  From watching the games however, much of Bell and Baker’s yards come after contact, which means Michigan cannot afford to miss any tackles.

Michigan’s run defense has been solid the last couple of weeks, though that may be more of a product of the porous pass defense making it easy for opponents to ignore the run.  I have a feeling that Mike Martin is going to have his way with MSU center John Stipek, a first year starter.  If he does, Michigan may have a shot at slowing down the MSU rushing attack.  I’m terrified of the idea of Obi Ezeh being forced to shed blockers and make tackles in space, but he’ll have to do so on Saturday for Michigan to have any success against the run.  Baker and Bell will get their yards – the key for Michigan will be to make sure that 4-5 yard runs don’t turn into 15-20 yard runs.

Bottom Line: Michigan’s rush defense is ranked #37 in the country, but that number may be inflated because of opponents choosing to pass.  MSU has the #20 ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 220 yards per game.  MSU probably won’t get to their average,  but they should get 175 on the ground between the 3 backs, maybe more if somebody breaks a long run.

Advantage: MSU

MSU Pass Offense v. Michigan Pass Defense

Let’s see, Michigan gave up 480 yards passing last week, and has the #120 rated pass defense in the country.  I could just leave it at that and give the advantage to MSU and move on.  But there are a few reasons where I could see Michigan having more success against MSU than they did against Indiana.

First, talking about MSU, they have a good, but not great passing attack. Kirk Cousins is an accurate QB who has shown he can make the big throws.  His receiving corps is among the best in the Big Ten and is led by Mark Dell and BJ Cunningham, both guys who can both go up and get the ball and stretch the field.  The real burner of the group is Keyshawn Martin, who will probably break a long screen at some point if we don’t tackle well or we try to get too aggressive.  MSU also has tight end Charlie Gantt available, who Cousins didn’t go to early in the season, but found several times last week.  There is no question they have the tools to move up and down the field.

Where I’m optimistic about MSU’s pass attack is that Michigan’s approach to defending the pass is to force the QB to make accurate throws and be patient.  We’ll drop 8 into coverage and see if the QB can find an open receiver.  Where this bodes well is that Kirk Cousins has been very reluctant to throw the ball away or check down to his 2nd or 3rd option this year.  He locks in on a receiver, and if he isn’t open, he’ll get flustered and take a sack, or try to force a pass.  I’d like to see Michigan take away his primary read on every play, and then send a late blitz to see if Cousins gets confused and makes a mistake.  Unlike Ben Chappell last week, who really only threw one ill-conceived pass, Cousins will throw 4-5 bad passes a game.  We just need to take advantage of those passes when he throws them.

Bottom Line: Although I’m optimistic Michigan will fare better than last week , MSU still has a very good QB, and very good receivers, and Michigan has a below average (and that’s being nice) secondary.

Big Advantage: MSU

Special Teams

I’m not even sure why Michigan employs a special teams coach these days.  We don’t kick field goals, we rarely punt, and we don’t even bother to field punts.  In contrast, MSU’s special teams are a strength.  They’ve got a good field goal kicker in Dan Conroy, they’ve scored on a punt return and a fake field goal, and they even do a decent job returning kickoffs.   If this game comes down to Special Teams, MSU will win, as they have the advantage at nearly every turn, with the possible exception of punting.

Advantage: MSU


Rivalry games often come down the little things.  Home field advantage, weather, momentum, desperation, etc.  In Saturday’s matchup, things are setting up nicely for Michigan.  Michigan will be at home, playing an MSU team that has yet to play on the road.  For his career, Mark Dantonio is 3-18 as a head coach when playing road games against teams that are .500 or better.  Throw in the fact that MSU hasn’t beaten Michigan 3 times since the 1960’s, and has only beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor 3 times since 1982, and the intangibles are stacked against the Spartans.  The weather should be beautiful, which will allow both offenses to operate cleanly, something that should benefit Michigan too.  MSU gets Head Coach Mark Dantonio back, but he won’t be on the sideline.  Not a whole lot of other intangible factors swinging MSU’s way.

Advantage: Michigan


The teams are both pretty evenly matched.  MSU has a slightly above average defense and a well above average offense.  Michigan has a below average defense and one of the best offenses in the country.  MSU gets the edge in special teams, but the intangibles fall Michigan’s way.

This game will be hard fought, and close for most of the game, but unlike most, I don’t expect it to come down to the final possession.  Eventually, one team is going to pull away, even if just a little bit.  When teams are pretty much evenly matched, go with the team with the best player.  And if you don’t know who that is, you haven’t been paying attention.

Denard’s Stat Line: 135 rushing, 250 passing.  4 TD’s

Michigan 38

MSU 28

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