With the game getting closer and the talk about the importance of the rivalry behind them, Brady Hoke talked more specifics about Saturday’s game in East Lansing on Wednesday. Specifically, the personnel.
Wide receiver Drew Dileo made the catch to set up Michigan’s winning field goal in Ann Arbor last year, but his availability is up in the air for Saturday. Whether or not he plays receiver, he will likely remain the holder. Remember, he executed a fake field goal against MSU in 2011.
“He did some things yesterday,” Hoke said. “We’ll go more today, see how he progresses. Same thing on Thursday. He’s doing some of the things we want him to do. I think he’s a viable guy for us.”
One of U-M’s top blocking tight ends, A.J. Williams, is suspended for the game. Devin Funchess is more of a receiving tight end and has been split out wide at times. Hoke expects to use several players to fill in for Williams.
“There’s three guys,” he said. “There’s Jordan Paskorz, who’s played a little bit in every game. You’ve got Jake Butt, who’s gotten better and better, who can block the line of scrimmage pretty good, and you got Funch. Those are the guys. You run some of the offense with an H-back or a fullback kind of like Aaron Shea. You’ve got that you can do, and you go with those three guys. You want everybody. I’d like to have Drake Johnson and Ondre Pipkins and those guys, but you’ve got to move forward.”
With Funchess, Hoke was asked how he will be able to handle the physicality. MSU’s corners like to play press coverage and be physical. Being a tight end, Funchess isn’t especially fast, but he’s stronger than a wide receivers. It will be a very interesting matchup if he lines up wide.
“I don’t know,” Hoke said. “I think they’ll try to send some messages, and we’ll see how Funch (will handle it), and I think he’s well aware of that. The in-state kids, they understand this game better than out-of-state kids. They’re playing against teammates, guys they played against in high school. I think for him it’ll be fun. They’re pretty good at corner. They’re pretty talented. Dennard is a high-round pick with what he can do. We’ll have to use technique and fundamentals.”
Two years ago, Michigan came to East Lansing undefeated and left with a 28-14 loss. It was Hoke’s second road game as U-M coach, and he admitted the crowd caused some communication problems. He feels his Wolverines are more prepared this time around.
“Team’s are different,” he said. “It was our first year. I don’t know how well we knew each and every guy on that team. Until you play every game, though, that game, you don’t know. They can sit there and look me in the eyes. You don’t know, because it’s one of those games you’re going to play through the whistle. Every hit’s going to be a little harder. There’s going to be some physicalness to it. And that’s the way it’s going to be played. Until you do it, I don’t think you understand it.”
That physical play and extra-curricular activity certainly has been a point of emphasis with the Wolverines this week. Taylor Lewan said MSU bullied themin 2011. Mark Dantonio made sure to publicly ask the officials to call penalties on both sides.
“Yeah, we always try to communicate that,” Hoke said. “Especially, there’s a fine line, double-edged sword, whatever you want to call it, about how far you want to go with it. At the end of the day, the ball’s kicked off and you have to go play. Simple as it is. Have to go execute.”
Hoke expects his team to grow up a little bit in this game. U-M doesn’t have a notable road win under Hoke, and Saturday’s game is a chance for his program to take a step forward.
“Well, to some degree, each week is measured, and this week, because we’re playing a really good football team, a really good defensive team, and their offense has been really good the last three weeks, too, they’re a good football team,” he said. “Their special teams are good. Their punter is outstanding.
“Would this be a defining moment? I don’t know. I think it’s a learning moment. You learn a little bit more about your guys as a team. Until you put anybody in those kinds of games in that environment, and that’s where we’ve got to do a good job of what we do and the preparation for them.”