The last time Michigan and Michigan State met in East Lansing, the Spartans had a bye week before the game.
MSU would go on to win 28-14.
The teams meet again at Spartan Stadium this Saturday, and it’s the Wolverines who are coming off a bye.
The off week couldn’t come at a better time for U-M, which defeated Indiana 63-47 most recently, but found some more problems in the process.
Offensively, the big fellas up front have been inconsistent, and Brady Hoke and Al Borges have been mixing guys to find something that works. Michigan is allowing 7.86 tackles for loss per game, which is No. 116 nationally. Most of those come in the running game, where Fitzgerald Toussaint is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and a power running game hasn’t emerged.
Michigan inserted true freshman Kyle Bosch into the starting line against Indiana looking for something to work. Borges was asked last week if he will stick with the same five he ended the Indiana game with, but he would not confirm. The aggressive MSU defense is a different animal.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s going to be competitive, but those five guys did a pretty good job during the game. It’s going to get tougher. We’re going to have to demonstrate some consistency. But if they can do that, they will be the five offensive linemen. But we’re not eliminating anybody. We still have some talented kids in the wings.
“We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. Do we want the five guys? Yes, we do. I’ll answer the question before you ask it. But that being said, we got to this point where we’re pretty functional now because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
While the line has struggled, the passing game is actually coming off one of the best performances in Big Ten history. Devin Gardner had 584 yards of total offense against the Hoosiers, which was one yard short of the Big Ten record. Receiver Jeremy Gallon had 14 catches for 369 yards, a Big Ten record for yardage and the second-most in FBS history.
Michigan’s top targets in the passing game are Gallon and athletic tight end Devin Funchess. The emergence of Funchess has helped open up Gallon by drawing the attention of defenses.
“There’s no question that’s a big part of it,” Brady Hoke said last week. “The threat that Devin is vertically down the field. I don’t think there’s any doubt he had a lot of attention from Indiana and their secondary. That in turn helps obviously if you’re going to combo or double a guy or whatever. It helps another guy out.”
Defensively, the Wolverines gave up nearly 600 yards to Indiana. There was a lot defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn’t like.
The U-M players had time off during the week, but not Mattison, who said he was using every part of the bye week to prepare for the Spartans and their suddenly potent offense.
“Oh every second,” he said. “I was here last night just as if we were playing this week. Every second we have will be getting ready for that game. Every second. As if we’re playing it Saturday, and then we’ll have another week. There’s no question about it.”
You can be sure the Michigan coaches and many of the players were watching MSU’s 42-3 win against Illinois.
Mark Dantonio said Sunday that Michigan is week is just different. But he’s going to try to keep things business as usual to an extent.
“It’s pretty much the way it is at all times,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to get more involved here as the day goes on today, then beginning tomorrow. But there’s no question it’s a different type of week. We’re going to try to keep it as normal as we can at this point.”
Michigan fans may say the MSU week doesn’t mean much, but you can be sure it’s hugely important to the coaches and players. Hoke previously said the Wolverines had communication issues in a loud Spartan Stadium in 2011. That will be a point of emphasis internally this week.
It will be interesting to see what Hoke and the Wolverines have to say during this week. Dantonio also has to keep his emotion in check, though that is difficult for him when it comes to Michigan.
“I’ve always just believed as a coach that you embrace your rivalries,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to play in state or play a rivalry out of state. You know who your rivals are. I’ve always chosen to embrace it. It’s there. Why ignore it? It’s important. Why ignore it? It’s important to your program and everybody surrounding your program.
“I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always challenged our players to do the same. We’ve done that.”
You can be sure neither team wants to add any more bulletin board material to an already-heated rivalry.