Much of the talk about Saturday’s Michigan State-Michigan game is the matchup between MSU’s defense and U-M’s offense. But that’s only half of the game.
U-M defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was asked earlier this week if all the attention on MSU’s defensive motivates his guys. Why wouldn’t it?
“That’s a great question,” he said. “You’re right on. I think if you’re a Michigan defensive player, you want to be considered the best. Michigan State has done a tremendous job on defense. So now we get a chance. Let’s see who is. Let’s see where we are. You always want to play the best. You always want to be the best. It goes from game to game. That’s why this next game coming up is a chance for our defensive players to be where we say they want to be.”
The Wolverines have had a stout rush defense, ranking No. 9 in opponent yards per rush. Of course, MSU is No. 1. But the MSU offense is predicated on being able to run the ball, so the matchup in the trenches will be big. Michigan allows 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
In the 2011 game, MSU won 28-14, and Brady Hoke recently admitted the Wolverines had some communication problems in that game. Mattison and the staff are better-prepared this time around.
“You have to definitely over-coach that in a game like this,” he said. “You have to make sure that any check or any adjustment that happens on that field has to be communicated louder and more emphatically more than ever. You’re right on. Games like this come down to communication. You have to have everybody on the same page when you’re playing these kinds of games. We’ve really stressed that in the couple of practices that we’ve had, and we continue to stress it.”
Early in the week, it appeared there wouldn’t be any controversial comments during this rivalry week, but U-M running back Fitzgerald Toussaint brought back the “little brother” comments and was confident the Wolverines would leave East Lansing with a win. Brady Hoke joined 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit on Thursday morning and was asked his reaction. Not surprisingly, Hoke downplayed it.
“My first reaction was, I think we have a great respect for their football team, and their kids who play and all that stuff,” Hoke said. “I can tell you we’ve got a great challenge on Saturday. But once the ball’s kicked off, any of those comments or remarks don’t mean a thing.”
The game is almost here, and it’s time to make a pick. Prediction: MSU 27-21
I want to say my prediction is tentatively depending on the weather. If the weather is nice, I think MSU’s offensive line will be able to get enough a push that the running game will be effective and open up opportunities in the passing game. MSU’s offense has done a good job of taking care of the ball, and Cook will need to avoid forcing throws, which he typically does well.
On the other side, MSU could bully the Wolverines up front again, especially the running game. Toussaint only averages 3.7 yards per carry. Where U-M could find success is Gardner running when the pass game breaks down. He’s stronger and breaks more tackles than Denard Robinson did. It will be vital MSU players wrap up when they get to Gardner. I think Gardner will hit a few big plays in the passing game, but a couple turnovers would doom U-M’s chances. I think the offense does enough and the defense holds off the Wolverines for the win.
However, if the rain is bad, that throws everything up in the air. Connor Cook has struggled mightily in wet conditions, while the Wolverines put up more than 750 yards in partial rain two weeks ago against the Hoosiers. However, the Indiana defense is not the MSU defense, and that game was on artificial turf. If it’s raining, a couple fluky big plays can be the difference. A year ago, MSU was dominating Iowa, but couldn’t pull away. A long run late in the game let Iowa tie the game, and they won in double overtime on a deflected interception. MSU should have won that game.
Michigan has a better passing offense than MSU (10.1 yards per attempt for the Wolverines), so the rain would seemingly hurt them more. But the rain could make MSU’s already-struggling passing offense non-existent. Straight-up, I see too many advantages for MSU, meaning the Spartans would probably be better-suited for good weather