by Mark Edwards
Let’s start with some honesty. Michigan State fans HATE Michigan. Not only the school, but they also hate everything that goes with it (fan base, media coverage, uniforms, former players, former coaches, band uniforms). You name it, they hate it. Michigan fans have looked down their noses at State for decades…just not the last decade.
It all started with Mike Hart in 2007. State took notice, Dantonio took notice and for the better part of the last ten years has been heavily tilted in MSU’s direction. What Sparty fails to acknowledge is this lined up with the worst decade in Michigan football since the Kennedy Administration. State fans CAN’T STAND that MSU had nothing to do with it. They’ll swear that it does but we know better…and so do they.
So I had a State fan a few weeks ago tell me, “If you guys didn’t have Harbaugh.” Well, we do. Undoubtedly, you’ve seen a lot of replay clips of the 2015 game ending. It happened. State fans still revel in it. Michigan fans should see it for what it was…the moment when Jim Harbaugh chartered the path of return for the program. You have to “put steel in your spine” to admit it was okay…and it is.
So on Saturday night, Sparty returns to the scene of the fumbled snap hoping for that magic to return. Can Brian Lewerke make it reappear? Will Kirk Ferentz be coaching Michigan to a comatosed performance like the one that Iowa gave last week? Methinks the answer is no but that’s why they play the game.
The whole game from an offensive point of view comes down to two main questions:
- Can Michigan run the ball with effectiveness?
- Can Michigan’s o-line protect new starter John O’Korn?
You can expect a ton of blitz and personnel groupings from Sparty as they try to resurrect the formula from the last decade. MSU will blitz the A gaps and this is where Ty Isaac, Chris Evans and Karan Higdon will factor into the pass protection. You can expect the “ax” cross blitz early and often. Most pundits expect this game to look like 2015 where rushing yardage was hard to come by. I expect Michigan’s offensive line to play very well and I think a repeat of the 2016 look will be more likely to appear “under the lights.”
O’Korn, who played a lot at Houston before transferring, steps into the role he came here for. What can we expect to be different? You’ll see more play-action passes and some designed QB runs that Wilton Speight wouldn’t bring to the table. Michigan State, when actively blitzing, has to get to O’Korn quickly or the middle of the field will be ridiculously wide open. I anticipate Gentry, McKeon, Wheatley and the slot receivers to have some long receptions.
Michigan will run for 150 yards as they march toward the second rivalry win that the fan base so badly dismisses but secretly needs.
How does State move the ball on this defense? The answer is in the last decade…they’ll attempt to beat Michigan with a uber-effective power run game, cleverly- conceived pass plays and the ordinary Dantonio trick plays. I have smiled this week thinking about that approach because if the Purdue game taught us anything, we learned that Don Brown’s defense will adjust quickly.
State will bring in the power run game and feature Holmes, London and Scott. MSU has struggled to run the ball in their traditional attack and if that doesn’t continue, Michigan fans should hit the panic button. But it will continue and force Lewerke to do it all.
Let’s be frank…Don Brown is going to come after Lewerke and get the ball out of his hand quickly. The final quarter in East Lansing last year was the last time you’ll ever see Don Brown just go “vanilla” and not pressure the quarterback. It was tough to watch and it almost led to a collapse. Never again.
The question that lingers is how many have to rush to get pressure? Iowa, in all of their mediocrity, forced Lewerke into bad throws by getting to him quickly. I think Hurst, Gary, Winovich & Co. will be able to do the same. Similar to the 2015 game, you will see Spartan WR Felton Davis take the role of Aaron Burbridge and the Michigan CBs trying to win the 1-on-1. I anticipate they will be just fine.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan 31, MSU 10
PICKS TO CLICK: Offense – Offensive Line, Defense – Khaleke Hudson
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: It’s a rivalry game…you should never rest in the confident range.
ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE: Michigan will pin the Spartans deep in their own red zone with a superior kicking game.
ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT:
Sparty will hit one trick play. Dantontio will smirk, Don Brown will adjust. (Somewhere Greg Robinson’s stuffed animal is dying)