With plenty of wars of words in the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry, it was clear both sides wanted to keep things heated, but peaceful this week. Apparently, Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint didn’t care to follow that.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, Toussaint talked about the 2011 meeting, a 28-14 MSU win. He brought up MSU’s trash talking before and after that game, and Toussaint said the rivalry is personal to him.
He also seems to expect a certain outcome on Saturday.
“It’s going to be better in their house,” Toussaint said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I feel, once we go over there and take care of business, it’ll feel a lot better than 2011. So last year, in the Big House, we went out there and played ball (winning 12-10). We expect to win the in the Big House. That’s what we do. But over there’s going to be a different ballgame.”
Toussaint also brought up Mike Hart’s “Little brother” reference and said MSU takes offense to that. It’s too bad Toussaint’s comments came on Tuesday night. Had it been earlier, Mark Dantonio and MSU players certainly would have been asked about then. Instead, they’ll get to wait until game time to do give a response.
On Monday, the physical play was a common theme from U-M coaches and players. Taylor Lewan said MSU bullied the Wolverines in the 2011 matchup. On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Al Borges was asked about increasing the physicality without crossing a line.
“Yeah, that’s a delicate balance,” Borges said. “You have to be smart, but then you don’t want to go in with the idea that you’re going to get pushed around. This is a figurative street fight. You want to go out there and match and exceed the intensity of your opponent. That’s the only way you’re going to play games like this. These aren’t finesses games, to me. There may be a little finesse here and there, but when push comes to shove, the winner is going to be the guy that’s most physical and won’t back down and still be smart and not throw punches when you might be tempted to throw punches. Whatever.
“It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff, but that generally doesn’t win football games. That loses football games, to be honest with you. There’s a composure that comes with your emotion that helps you win the game. But you do want to play with some emotion. Not going to erase that. Especially in rivalry games.”
MSU had 3 personal foul penalties in the 2011 game, including several personal fouls and a punch from William Gholston that later resulted in a suspension. Looking to make sure a reputation and perception about his team wasn’t taken into Saturday, Mark Dantonio mentioned at his Tuesday press conference that officials need to make sure calls are made on both sides.
Dantonio likes to say the rivalry is about the players, and Borges echoed that in reference to the need to be physical.
“At the end of the day it’s the players,” Borges said. “I haven’t hit anybody in 40 years. So it’ll come down to giving them that opportunity, and when they get that opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity. But physicality, particularly offensively, being physical has to be matched with technique. Just coming off trying to kill somebody doesn’t usually work. There has to be technique, there has be fundamental issues that go with your physicality. I think when you do that, you really give yourself a chance.”
When Borges was asked about specific game-planning, of course he wasn’t going to give much away. MSU loves the double A-gap blitz up the middle with linebackers. Borges called it a huge test. What will he do to help the guards?
“I’d never tell you, but we always have a plan for it,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you. We’ll have a plan for it.”
More than anything, Borges knows it is going to take a team effort from his offense to beat the MSU defense. He was asked about MSU playing tight and single coverage with the cornerbacks. The Michigan receivers will have to get some space on their own.
“Oh that’s huge,” Borges said. “You have to, because there’s going to be some instances where you’re singled up, and you’re going to have to get free. If we’re not able to do that, then we’re going to have to hold the ball longer than we want to, and generally something bad happens after that.
“It’s a joint effort, you know? Yeah, it’s offensive line handling the A-gap blitzes or whatever, it’s the quarterback, it’s everybody involved. To beat a team that’s that good defensively, you need a stellar effort from your entire offense, not just certain positions, because, when a team’s good defensively, it’s because they can exploit a lot of different things. It’s not because they’re good at one thing. We have to play well at every position, play aggressively at every position, and handle the adversity of being on the road and all the things that come with it.”