Friday, September 21, 2012

Keys to victory for MSU/Michigan on Saturday

The fourth week of the season is just 24 hours away. Here is a look at my keys to victory for both games.

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.
Find some confidence on offense – This shouldn’t be difficult as Eastern Michigan is giving up over 500 yards per game. After last week’s performance the Spartans need to find something on offense that can give them some confidence heading into Big Ten play. Andrew Maxwell needs to find some chemistry with his receivers. The MSU receivers need to make plays and catch the ball consistently. The Spartan offensive line needs to open up running lanes for Le’Veon Bell and not force him to have to do most of the work. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, there will still be a lot of questions about the offense heading into the Ohio State game. But if the offense struggles on Saturday, there will be even more reason to be concerned.
Don’t let EMU get started – The MSU defense needs to keep the Eagles from establishing anything early. The Eagles would ideally like to be a running team, but if they find themselves behind by a lot early, it makes them a passing team. If the defense can force some quick stops, the offense should be able to put this game away early.
Get Dan Conroy some confidence – Like the offense, MSU’s kicker could use a little confidence as well. In some odd stats, Conroy is 4-for-4 on kicks from 20-29 yards and 50 yards or more, yet is 0-for-3 on kicks from 30-49 yards. With the struggles of the offense (which will still be a problem entering conference play) the Spartans are going to have to rely on Conroy to be consistent. On Saturday, hitting a few field goals in that 30-49 range will do a lot for him going forward. I am not saying the Spartans should kill drives for Conroy’s sake, but I do expect a few opportunities to arise.

Michigan at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m.
Attack the weakened secondary – Notre Dame has nightmares about what Denard Robinson has done to them. It seems as if the Irish front seven on defense are finally capable of containing his running ability. However, Notre Dame is dealing with a lot of inexperience in the secondary, especially with safety Jamoris Slaughter now out for the season. I am not typically one to encourage a lot of passing from Robinson, but this could be a game where he could do some damage with his arm if his receivers can step up and win 1-on-1 battles. Similar to the fourth quarter of last year’s game, there may need to be some balls tossed in the air on Saturday. Look for Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess to be targeted a lot with their bigger frames.
Protect Denard – In order for Key 1 to happen, the offensive line is going to have to play better than it has. The Fighting Irish have 11 sacks in three games and their pressure on Andrew Maxwell last week caused the MSU offense to crumble. Robinson has the running ability to avoid pressure, but the Irish may have the speed to keep up with him this year.
Contain the run – Notre Dame was able to run the ball well enough that Everett Golson didn’t have to win the game on his own last week. Golson still made some big plays when needed, but Brian Kelly has to be thinking about keeping it simple for his quarterback. The Wolverines are giving up an average of 211.3 rushing yards per game this season. Notre Dame can run the ball and will run the ball if Michigan allows it. The Michigan front seven has to be up to the challenge and contain the run. If not, Notre Dame will be able to control the ball with lengthy drives and keep Denard and the offense off the field.

BONUS KEY – Create Turnovers – In a game like this, turnovers will be crucial. Michigan has failed to create turnovers consistently on defense. Saturday would be a good day for the Wolverines to change that trend. The opportunity will be there for the secondary to make plays, so someone will have to step up.

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