The Michigan Wolverines need little introduction. They are our hated rivals, the single team us and Ohio State could mutually agree to both smear out of the big 10 race every year. They would tell you this isn't a rivalry, but would reluctantly admit that Michigan State is the team they hate losing to most. As usual, Heck does an immaculate job summing up the hate from the Michigan State side. So, it's the Michigan game, on Saturday root for Greg Mattison to blitz his way off the field and maybe a drunken phone call to John Harbaugh seeing if maybe they could meet up for a cup of coffee sometime, you know, just to give back the stuff they still have of each other's?
This marks the third year in a row we're going to be playing Michigan's September Heisman Winner. This is the third year in a row we're playing an undefeated Michigan team that's going to beat us until we can't stand. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Michigan's combined record coming into this game has been 15-0. We have been the Lloyd Carr to the JLS Wolverines the past couple of years and I'm good if we can pull this off a third year in a row.
Michigan's Passing Attack vs MSU's Pass Defense
Last year UM moved the ball on MSU until it got into the redzone and then D-Rob was more likely to complete a pass to us than he was to his own guys. This will be true again. D-Rob was such a good QB last year because Magee got D-Rob's receivers FILTHY open.
Denard is the best running back playing QB since Michael Vick. I seem to recall reading that MSU's defense has given up nine plays over 20 yards this season. Further, Denard has a real propensity for throwing moonballs, not manballs. So you have a strength of MSU's juxtaposed with a strong weakness of UM's. Denard is going to throw some picks, provided he throws at all.
Michigan's Rushing Attack vs MSU's Rush Defense
Denard is the rushing attack too. Frankly, Denard's the whole damned offense. MSU has shown itself prepared to stop a rushing QB in Braxton Miller, but honestly, he's like Diet Caffeine Free Denard. The YPC is up across the board for their running backs, but at the end of the day stop Denard, stop the Wolverines.
MSU has been stingy against the run this year allowing an average of 64 yards per game and 74.5 against OSU and ND. I do not realistically expect us to surrender only 64 rushing yards against Michigan, but I do think we could keep them under 150. We only gave up 35 rushing yards to OSU and I think we're adequately prepared to stop a rushing QB.
MSU's Passing Attack vs Michigan's Pass Defense
Michigan has the 39th ranked pass defense and has been real solid in the red zone. We've been moving the ball effectively, but kinda crappy in the redzone, 100th in the nation or worse. Mattison seems to run a high risk, high reward type defense with lots and lots of blitzing. So that makes this call a bit difficult. If Michigan can get the blitz home, MSU is in some trouble. If MSU can stop the blitz, Cousins could have a field day. Further complicating matters is that Cousins still has a brain fart when he's pressing. So, the key for MSU will be short, safe throws for 5-7 yards.
Advantage: Push. I think there are too many unknowns for me to call this with any confidence. Either side could massively outperform the other.
MSU's Rushing Attack vs Michigan's Rush Defense
The BBC backfield has struggled this year behind our woeful Offensive Line of Sorrow. I think the Woeful Offensive Line of Sorrow is turning into a Woeful Offensive Line of Patchworked Occasional Success. However, I don't see the OLine coming together enough over the bye week to turn the rushing attack into a scary juggernaut for this week's game.
Michigan's rush defense is ranked 58th, giving up 141.6 yards per game. Our Rushing Offense is ranked 79th. They're good in defending the red zone and we're not good at scoring in it so it'll be important if we're going to be good at rushing that it happens in their redzone. Bell will be a critical piece of this.
Advantage: UM. I think we have too many holes in our rushing game to be improved with a bye week.
So we had a bye week before this, which means we had time to drop some wrinkles in the playbook. With a bye week the week before we might come out a bit rusty. MSU has been outscored 49-20 in the first half of the two post bye week games under Dantonio. Still, we have saved some of our best for Michigan the past few years and with an extra week to cook things up, I expect some very interesting stunts and blitzes. Maybe a Keshawn package?
Michigan on the other hand, is playing with house money at this point. I don't think anyone expected Michigan to be 6-0 and in such resounding fashion at this point. So winning this game would be icing on the cake for them I think. State needs to jump out to a quick lead and keep it because UM is a second half team.
Advantage: UM, but slightly.
Overall: Earlier this week, I was a bit bearish on our chances this weekend, but it goes without saying that UM has not played a defense like ours yet. Further, they struggled in the early goings against every team they've played except Minnesota and SDSU. If MSU is going to win, it needs to come out early, get up big, and not get soft in the third and fourth quarters. If this were an away game, I'd worry about that a bit, but I think we'll be properly prepared and the rust will come off quick.I think the rushing game will surprise this week despite UM's perceived advantage in this arena. MSU's weaknesses seem slightly more likely to be overcome to me with the extra practice than UM's weaknesses.
Predicition: MSU 31 UM 28.
This is a difficult post to write without feeling it'll upset some Spartan fans, but, so be it. I think this is something that needs to be said. This all began for me with a simple question. Is there a way to empirically prove that the MSU fanbase is no longer little brother?
See, it's not the team I worry about with the little brother thing.
The team is coming off of three straight victories against a terrible, bad and so-so Michigan team respective to 2008, 2009 and 2010. Despite Jerel Worthy's choices in arm decoration, the focus of this team is to win the Big Ten again. Not beat Michigan above all other things. Michigan is an important stop en route, but this isn't 2007 with the most over-hyped countdown clock in the history of time, nor is it 2009 where we kept 2/3rds of our defensive playbook scuttled away while going 2-2 including a loss to Central so Tater could show up in EL and be completely lost. This game will be approached by our coaching staff with a little extra verve, but this is not Michigan State Football's Super Bowl anymore.
So I posted a twitter poll and a poll on spartanmag with the question, would you as an MSU fan rather Beat Michigan or Go to a Bowl Game? Results can be found on MLive here through twitter responder Patrick Walters or on the Underground Bunker here. So, I woke up in the morning and decided I asked the wrong question. The value of a bowl is variable, i.e. the Pizza Pizza Bowl != Rose Bowl. So I decided to re-ask the question as "Would you rather Beat Michigan or Play in the B1G Title Game?". This fixes the value of the game and provides a choice for the top agenda item of the team. As of the time of this writing it's currently 45 percent for Beating Michigan, 43 percent for playing for the Big Ten title and 8 percent voting for Perot. On MLive, it's 65% for Beat Michigan and 35 for win a bowl game. On SpartanMag it's 83 percent for Beat Michigan and 11 percent for Win a Bowl Game, with the remainder doing the Tenacious D "Can't Decide, Brain Aneurysm".
Even this question and sampling are a bit flawed. For starter's the two outcomes of the question are not mutually exclusive, rather a victory over Michigan likely will put the Winner in the catbird's seat to play in the B1G Title Game in 2011. Second, frankly this blog draws a lot less water than either MLive or Spartanmag.com. So our sample size is pretty small. However, I don't think that either of these points is enough to rob the question of it's validity. The question is: Is beating Michigan the number one priority of Michigan State football fans?
Rivalries are not about what happens on the field, they're about what happens with the fanbases, media and season outcomes off the field. Go back and look at the infamous MGoBlog Juggalo Post. The real complaining is about fans, not our team. Think about every Ohio State fan you've ever met. Every single one. They're all dickheads and probably wife beaters. My wife spent a few years in the marching band and they stopped going to Columbus because they kept getting hit with batteries. Michigan-OSU rose to prominence because the coaches hated each other and the winner won the Big 10 every year. None of that has to do with the actual game outside of the fact it provides the fodder on which the rivalry is based.
Beating Michigan is a critical piece of the puzzle particularly if Brady Hoke brings Michigan back. We'll be competing with them for the right to go to the Big Ten title game, but if we ever want to empirically prove we're no longer "Little Brother" as fans, the idea of putting ourselves in a position to win the Big Ten has to be the foremost goal of the program and the measuring stick of success for the fans each year.
If we lose Saturday, we're not again relegated to the role of little brother as fans or as a team for that matter. The team has a chance to still accomplish it's goal of winning the Big Ten. Bielema is a meathead and I think he'll lose in EL next weekend (I'm not backing down on this one for reasons I'll go into next week). The Huskers just lost Jared Crick for the season and are looking beatable. While MSU's schedule isn't favorable, it isn't impossible either. The fans get relegated to the role of little brother if we go to the Citrus Bowl, win and come home all Sad Panda about how we suck because we didn't beat Michigan.
This weekend, I hope we stomp all over Michigan, but it's mostly because I want us to be playing for the right to go to the Rose Bowl in December. That's my Super Bowl now. The MSU football team is no longer Little Brother. They've won three years in a row and have set their sights on the Rose Bowl and Michigan is a slightly larger than normal piece of that. After the results of several polls have come in to measure this question, can it be said that MSU fans have moved past little Brother status? I think not, but I didn't say it, you guys did.
I don't like going Meta, but feel it's necessary here. Due to an overwhelming flood of things at work and this weekend being my first ever half-marathon the blog is going to get about a third as much attention as I'd like this week. My sincere apologies, being slovenly was much less effort than trying to take care of myself.
It's rivalry week and time to address our friends down the road. Much will be made of what this game means. Was Jesus just a prophet for Denard? Is Brady Hoke the long-awaited successor to Bo? Does Michigan State even have a chance against U of M? If MSU loses are we destined to become a second-rate doormat all over again? If we win is U of M on it's way to Richrodding it's way through the season again? I think this is all a bunch of knee-jerk crap honestly, so let's stick to some facts and maybe some mild opinion and go from there.
Fact: Michigan has outscored it's opponents in the second half 114-21.
If you are not winning at halftime, it's unlikely you will beat these Wolverines. A key to success for the good guys will be being up early and making Denard play from behind. Frankly, this statistic is just stunning. Outscoring your opponent 5-1 in the second half over six games is no fluke.
Fact: Michigan State has outscored it's opponents in the first half 89-27.
While this involves us being up 58-0 on FAU and Central respectively, I do think it points to us being more of a first half team. Interesting to note, at halftime we've blanked three of our opponents at the half. So again, better be up at the half or else.
Fact: Michigan and Michigan State have scoring defenses in the top 10 nationally.
Normally this would be extremely impressive, but the Big Ten has half the top 10 scoring defenses nationally, so it's only kind of impressive. The turnaround is more impressive in the case of Michigan who finished somewhere around 2,000,000th in total scoring defense last year.
Fact: Michigan has the leading rusher in the Big Ten at QB.
We haven't yet played a QB in this mold in 2011. We of course played Robinson last year and shut him down very nicely, but until he is stopped we cannot write him off as a threat. A key to the game will be limiting him to taking only a few yards here or there and making him throw the ball.
Fact: Michigan State Football has improved under Mark Dantonio.
I bring this one up in case we lose and fans start jumping off ledges. MSU is better than they've been since Biggie Munn and aren't you lucky because they've been pretty so-so for a long time? Mark Dantonio's current record is 37-20 and 21-12 in the Big Ten. In order for Mark Dantonio to have a winning percentage equivalent to Duffy Daughtery he'd need to lose his next three games. He'd have to lose five to be as good as St. Nick Saban. On Saturday, win or lose Michigan State football is improving under Dantonio.
Opinion(But Strongly Supported): The Winner of This Game will have the inside track on winning the Legends Division
Neither program rises or falls based off of this game, but I think the winner has the inside track on playing in the inaugural B1G title game. Nebraska is already down a game in the Big Ten season and is unlikely to beat both MSU and Michigan. Iowa looks to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this year. So it is my opinion that the loser does not become a second-tier program, but instead this might become a rivalry of who plays in the division title game.
Brian from MGoBlog recently wrote two posts: “A Brief History of In-State Recruiting: late Lloyd Carr era”, and its sequel, “Rodriguez and Now.” Both delve into the gritty details—and the dramatic meta-narrative—of the battle between U-M and MSU for Michigan football talent. Shorty thereafter, MGoBlog recruiting maven Tim posted Big Ten recruiting rankings, and . . . well, it backs up the current state of said narrative: Brady Hoke is eating Mark Dantonio’s lunch.
First, a disclaimer: I’m not a recruiting guy. I’m leaning on what I glean from other sites, and from my co-author, Jim (who, like me, has taken the postseason off to pursue other pursuits). Still, I’ve been watching the U-M masses frolic upon Mark Dantonio’s grave, and suddenly a post was bubbling up under my fingers. So, out it comes:
I told Brian during the Hoke intro presser, “You may have gotten your Dantonio, for whatever it’s worth.” Hoke, like Dantonio, was an assistant during the most recent Glory Days of his respective program—and Hoke, like Dantonio, immediately appealed to his base with strong campaign promises: I will install a Good Old Fashioned He-Man offense, I will recruit in-state talent, my teams will out-work the other guy for sixty minutes, and—most importantly—we will beat our rivals.
Dantonio tried, sort of, to hold together the transitional ‘07 recruiting class. But when he went hunting in early 2008, he had lots of ammunition: immediate playing time in a pro-style offense, a BCS National Championship ring, and a big bandolier of we’re going to beat Michigan. His 2008 haul looked unlike anything seen at MSU since the Internet has cared about such things, and 2009 saw an unprecedented tail-kicking of U-M for in-state recruits. Brian describes these years as “Transition,” and “Dominance Type Substance” in his articles:
Michigan State nearly swept the in-state four stars, though some of those were pretty iffy—Jeremy Gainer's offer list read "MSU, Iowa and crap"; Donald Spencer's read "MSU and… MSU." Others could be filed under "just one of those things," like Blake Treadwell being a Spartan coach's son. Others were no longer of interest to Michigan because of their offensive system. That said, this year saw four players who Michigan wanted and seriously could have used go to Michigan State, more than the previous six years combined. Only one—Norman—was a Ren/SE kid. Michigan's instate recruits were three Cass Tech kids and Inkster's Cam Gordon; with the exception of Michigan getting the #1 kid in the state this looks like a complete reversal of The Natural Way Of Things.
Michigan State nearly swept the in-state four stars, though some of those were pretty iffy—Jeremy Gainer's offer list read "MSU, Iowa and crap"; Donald Spencer's read "MSU and… MSU." Others could be filed under "just one of those things," like Blake Treadwell being a Spartan coach's son. Others were no longer of interest to Michigan because of their offensive system.
That said, this year saw four players who Michigan wanted and seriously could have used go to Michigan State, more than the previous six years combined. Only one—Norman—was a Ren/SE kid. Michigan's instate recruits were three Cass Tech kids and Inkster's Cam Gordon; with the exception of Michigan getting the #1 kid in the state this looks like a complete reversal of The Natural Way Of Things.
We Spartans proudly proclaimed it all over the Internet: The Natural Way of Things had been reversed, and the upper hand was ours! Unfortunately, that didn’t really hold for the 2010 class, and 2011 is shaping up to be a tail-kicking of us, by them. What happened?
Partly, it’s losing Dan Enos to CMU; he recruited Detroit beautifully. But primarily, I see a lot of Hoke’s 2011 success coming from the same source as Dantonio’s 2008 triumph: easy buy-in. Hoke’s doing and saying all the right things to appeal to Michigan’s (huge) in-state fanbase. Hoke is telling kids they can get in on the ground floor of the New Era of Michigan Awesome, and it’s easy to believe. He’s preaching the same values and fundamentals these kids have heard all their lives, and offering immediate playing time in pro-style schemes. In-state recruits are buying what Hoke’s selling, just like Michigan fans everywhere.
Is this a return to the Natural Way of Things, as experienced by Michigan since Bo? Maybe. But if Hoke is Bo, or even significant fractions thereof, he has yet to show it in the fifty-two years he’s walked the Earth. Brian, since the 2007 coaching search, has been screaming that Hoke’s resume is completely inadequate, and repeatedly stating the truth: that if Hoke “been a Michigan State assistant no one would have ever brought him up:”
I promise you this: if Brady Hoke is actually hired small children should not read the site for a week following because every other word will be swearing. This is in no way a joke.
I promise you this: if Brady Hoke is actually hired small children should not read the site for a week following because every other word will be swearing. This is in no way a joke.
Of course, the aforementioned introductory presser pressed every right button, with authority. Just as we clung to Dantonio’s granite jaw after years of John L. Smith calling triple-pitch WR passes and slapping himself, Hoke sweating maize and talking blue is anodyne to the Wolverine faithful. Hoke also pulled off an incredible hire, convincing Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to hold the same position at U-M—as he once did from 1995 to ‘96 . This should help offset the fact that Hoke has never coordinated a defense at the college level.
That’s right; Hoke was a career DL or LB coach, and he held a DL coaching job at Michigan from 1995 through 2001, before the words “associate head coach” were appended to his job title. Hmm . . . career defensive line coach, spent most of a decade under the same head coach and defensive system, got promoted to “associate head coach” before landing a head coaching gig, compiled a losing record over several years, and loves to whip players and fans into a team-first adrenaline frenzy with dramatic monologues about toughness and outworking people. Sound familiar, Lions fans?
I’m not saying . . . I’m just saying
Honestly, now: I’m not saying Brady Hoke will be the disaster at Michigan that Rod Marinelli was in Detroit. For starters, Hoke’s made much better coordinator hires. Besides the masterstroke of pulling Mattison to run the defense as opposed to, you know, his son-in-law, Hoke brought along his offensive coordinator from SDSU, Al Borges. Marinelli, on the other hand, hired his personal and professional antithesis: Mike Martz. Second, the NFL is a brutal meritocratic road grader: over time, the wheat consistently get separated from the chaff. Marinelli may be able to whip a defensive end into a quarterback-killing frenzy with nothing but talk, but he had no clue how to play the game of chess that unfolds between NFL offensive and defensive coordinators every Sunday. The ultimate result was 0-16.
In college ball, however, perception is reality; reputation can produce results in a feedback loop. The teams that recruit well win; the teams that win recruit well. Hoke is attempting to start that loop by stuffing an empty larder with beefy front seven recruits; with enough hard work and pad level and luck and smoke and mirrors, his hot air will inflate that perception long enough for the results on the field to catch up to his pressers—and the “Natural Way of Things” really will be restored.
However, Hoke’s strategy will be to take one of the best round offenses in the nation and file off the edges until he can stuff it into a square hole—then take one of the worst round defenses in the nation and stuff that into a square hole, too. Just as Marinelli spent three years trying to remake the roster in the image of his system, Hoke will have to throw out what’s working along with what isn’t. If initial results are no better than Marinelli’s—or, to the point, Rodriguez’s—all of the Michigan Men who never extended Rich Rod a second’s grace will fall all over themselves excusing Hoke . . . for a while. Meanwhile, all the fans who simply want Michigan to win again will grow restless, especially when Michigan again loses to Michigan State, Ohio State and three, four, five, or maybe six other teams.
So, fellow Spartans: do not sweat this tidal wave of Hokeamania. Wail not ye on the message boards, nor gnash thy teeth on teh Twitterz. Let Michigan be The Victors of April. Golf clap for their recruiting classes now, as they did not for ours. Should they press their case to you, simply smile and say “Scoreboard.” Sleep well, knowing what the Way of Things shall be come autumn.
Michigan State football was the beneficiary of a quirk of college football physics: progress through stagnation. Thanks to Northwestern’s Pyrrhic (Persahic?) victory over Iowa, the Hawkeyes fell out of the Rose Bowl race. By not playing at all, the Spartans emerged unscathed past another week of Big Ten competition—and unless they pratfall at home against Purdue, should do so again this weekend. Further, the one team who has a lead on MSU in the Rose Bowl race will have to leap a much higher hurdle: Iowa, whose defeat of MSU and subsequent loss to Northwestern put us all in this mess to begin with.
I’m usually one of those obnoxious people who parses common sports phrases for their actual meaning—so when talking heads on TV talk about receivers “catching the ball at its highest point,” I chuckle at the mental image of a guy launching himself fifteen feet in the air to nab a skinny post at its apogee. But the other day, I caught The John Kincade Show, and Kincade sussed out one I’d never thought of: “controlling your own destiny.” It’s completely impossible to “control” your destiny! If it is truly Michigan State’s destiny to play in the Rose Bowl, if it is written in the stars, then it IS going to happen; we’re all just along for the ride.
What of it, then? Is it already a fait accompli? If I could get my hands on Biff’s Sports Almanac, would I see Michigan State in Pasadena this year (A: no, it only ever went up to 2000)? Honestly, I think the opportunity will be there. All season long I’ve had a weird itch, an inkling, a hunch that Ohio State would trip up at the end of the season. My hunch was that it would be Michigan doing the tripping; after all the hullaballoo surrounding the Wolverines this year, wouldn’t that just beat all? Better yet, it would cinch immediate Coach-For-Life-Until-We-Get-Really-Sick-of-Scoring-Fifty-Points-a-Game-and-Winning-Eight-Games status for Rich Rodriguez. However, if it’s to be Iowa—who’s been in the business of making and unmaking seasons of destiny this year—then that’s fine with me, too.
The question: even if the path is clear, can the Spartans walk down it? Even if the enemy is waylaid for them, can they claim their prize? Even if all they have to do is walk into Happy Valley and walk out victors, can they pull it off? Ah, that’s a question for next week. This week, the task is simple: win by not-losing, for the third week in a row—and let the stars choose whom they will.