Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What legacy will Denard Robinson leave at Michigan?


Back in August, I asked the question is Denard Robinson the most valuable player in college football?
Certainly Russell Bellomy’s play for the Wolverines in last Saturday’s loss to Nebraska made the argument look even stronger.
But the question now needs to be asked, just what will Robinson’s legacy with Michigan be?
Clearly he has the statistics to be remembered as an all-time great. But numbers are numbers.
What stands out for quarterbacks through history are team accomplishments.
That is what Michigan has been lacking under Robinson.
Until last season, Robinson didn’t have a win over Ohio State.
Until this season, Robinson didn’t have a win over Michigan State.
He still has yet to get Michigan a Big Ten Championship.
His poor performances tend to stick out more than his good ones because his poor performances have come with the most on the line.
That’s not to say Robinson’s lack of accomplishments are solely his fault. He dealt with a poor defense until Hoke’s arrival and hasn’t had a large dose of playmakers around him to work with.
Despite that, the quarterback is always the one that gets the most praise and the most criticism.
If Robinson is unable to lead the Wolverines to a conference title this year, just what will he be remembered for?
To many Michigan fans, I think he will be labeled a disappointment and over-hyped.
To some, they will always label him one of the greats in Michigan history.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
But for Robinson to cement a positive legacy with Michigan, he needs to bring some Big Ten hardware back to Ann Arbor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

News and notes from Mark Dantonio's weekly press conference


Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference on Tuesday where he discussed the win over Wisconsin and this week’s game with Nebraska. Here are the notes from what he had to say.

(Just a FYI, the Dantonio pressers last much longer than Hoke’s, that’s why his notes tend to be longer. I have had complaints about that. It’s not a bias thing, it’s a time thing)

- Dantonio said the team “just kept playing” against Wisconsin and showed a lot of composure. Felt the team grew a little bit on offense and it was good to see Andrew Maxwell win the game in overtime.
- He wouldn’t call the Wisconsin win a “season saver.” He thought it was a good win and it sent a message to keep playing and to finish. Said focus has to turn to Nebraska.
- Dantonio feels Maxwell is getting more comfortable as the season has progressed. He felt Maxwell “cut it loose” on the final drive in regulation and became confident in his abilities. He feels Maxwell has done a tremendous job but you are always asking for more out of your players and team and Dantonio feels Maxwell is growing. He feels he has the demeanor and the tools to do what the coaches want him to do.
- Dantonio called Max Bullough an overachiever, but said it with the greatest respect. Said he is very self driven and will always look to get better.
- Dantonio felt linebacker Taiwan Jones made a step forward in the Wisconsin game and had a great game.
- When asked about playing in close games Dantonio said that the big element is finishing. Against Ohio State, he felt they didn’t finish by not getting the ball back. Against Indiana, the team finished by playing very well in the second half. Against Iowa, the defense didn’t finish the game on a 5-minute drive by the Iowa offense. Against Michigan, the offense had a chance to finish late with a first down or a touchdown when they settled for a field goal. Against Wisconsin, Dantonio said the team just kept its composure and made the plays late when they needed to.
- When asked about MSU’s play in November, he has been proud about his team’s ability to finish the season strong in previous seasons. He said that’s when championships are won, in November.
- Said the team was “having fun” even when down 7-3 in the third quarter against Wisconsin and that was what helped them comeback. After the game, Dantonio apparently joined the team in a dance. He said that was the first time he had done that.
- When asked about Nebraska’s success, Dantonio attributed it to manufacturing the “Big Red Machine” and being able to create a style and mindset where they would run the football.
- Dantonio feels Taylor Martinez is similar to Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson. He is a big part of the offense and can produce a lot of yardage.
- Dantonio said last year, MSU didn’t play well against Nebraska. It was the one game he felt the team didn’t play well. He said his players want to atone for that this week.
- Dantonio said Dion Sims was about 80 percent against Wisconsin. They weren’t sure how much they would be able to use him in the game, but they were surprised about how much he did play. Dantonio expects him to play in full this week.
- Dantonio said the team is as healthy as it has been in the last three weeks. MSU has its first bye of the season after this week’s game with Nebraska.
- When asked about Rex Burkhead, Dantonio said he is a tough-minded football player and a complete football player. Even without him on the field, Nebraska is still moving the ball well.
- On the issues running the ball, Dantonio said they have a big, physical back (Le’Veon Bell) that needs to run downhill. Said MSU needs to strive for balance on offense and they need to avoid the penalties on the offensive line.
- Dantonio said Aaron Burbridge had a tough game (went without a catch). Said that comes with being a young guy. He was out of sync during the game but Dantonio said that he will bounce back.

Monday, October 29, 2012

News and notes from Hoke's weekly press conference


Michigan coach Brady Hoke held his weekly press conference on Monday where he talked about the Wolverines’ loss to Nebraska. Here are some of the notes coming from what Hoke had to say.

- Michigan has Denard Robinson listed as its starting quarterback for Saturday’s game with Minnesota. Hoke said he should be fine and ready to go and he is expecting Robinson to practice all week.
- He said it was a nerve issue with Robinson and that his arm was tingly from the hit and that’s why he couldn’t play on Saturday. He was having trouble gripping the football. If Michigan played today Denard would be "close" to playing. They are looking into possibly adding some padding or protection for the arm.
- Hoke will give Devin Gardner more snaps during practice this week at quarterback just as a precaution. But the plan is still for Gardner to be at receiver this week. He said Gardner and Russell Bellomy will “compete” for the backup spot.
- When it came to Bellomy, Hoke said the team could have done a better job of picking up blitzes to help him out. He felt the experience Bellomy gained of playing in that environment on Saturday will help him greatly.
- Hoke said the team needs to do a better job from a football standpoint and that starts with him. He said the Wolverines need to play better in the red zone and they have to be able to run the ball in that area.
- Hoke called the Minnesota game important for many reasons. One, it is a division game. Two, to move past the loss. Three, because of the Little Brown Jug.
- Hoke said that Michigan has a lot to play for. They have four “guarantees” left.
- Hoke gave praise to Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. Said he respects him as a coach and even more as a man.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Final thoughts on Week 9 for Michigan, MSU


Nebraska 23, Michigan 9
Well, looks like Michigan State isn’t the only team having trouble on offense. Michigan found out what life might be like without Denard Robinson on Saturday, and it wasn’t pretty.
With Robinson on the sidelines with an elbow injury, freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy took over in the second half and was just 3 of 16 passing for 37 yards and three interceptions. Bellomy looked lost and the offense as a whole couldn’t get in any sort of sync with Robinson on the sidelines.
Robinson didn’t exactly light up the Nebraska defense when he played in the first half, but Michigan was in the game and showed signs of being able to move the ball down the field.
Nebraska’s defense isn’t exactly a juggernaut either. I fully expected the Wolverines to score more than six points in the first half with Robinson under center.
The Michigan defense played well enough against a good offense for Michigan to win, but the Wolverines’ just couldn’t find any magic on offense.
Despite the loss, the Wolverines can still win the Legends Division. Unfortunately for Michigan, they will have to root on the Spartans next week as MSU hosts the Cornhuskers.
Aside from Saturday’s loss, the performance of the offense without Robinson has to be concerning about the future of the program.
Just who is going to be the quarterback next season? If it is Bellomy, can he improve enough to make Michigan a contender? If it is Gardner, is he going to be able to transition back to the quarterback position and play at a high level? If it is a true freshman, will they be able to handle the pressure?
Those questions will loom over Michigan the rest of the season as the Wolverines still look to earn the Big Ten title.

Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13, OT
In a year of disappointments, Michigan State had its high moment of the season thus far, picking up an unlikely overtime win at Wisconsin.
The MSU offense was a mess again, racking up just 270 yards, but the Spartan defense had arguably its best performance of the season, holding Wisconsin to 190 total yards.
Despite three and a half quarters of offensive ineptitude, Michigan State put together a pair of big scoring drives when it mattered most with Andrew Maxwell getting two touchdown passes in the process.
Maxwell looked off a lot on Saturday, but his game-winning pass to Bennie Fowler in overtime was a great throw and could be a play that sparks his progression as a college quarterback.
Maxwell needed the marquee throw and victory to give him confidence, and this win could be it.
Michigan State is clearly a team that is not going to light up the scoreboard and play with great finesse, but it is a team that is going to have a shot to win in the fourth quarter each week, largely due to its defense.
The difference between winning and losing will be up to the offense. They haven’t come through very often this season, but today they did.
We can talk about the offensive line issues, but those will be an issue all year. It is something that MSU is going to have to try to overcome.
Michigan State is not going to be a finished product this season. It is going to be ugly football, but the Spartans can hang their hat on not quitting and perhaps still have an 8-win season if they manage to make a few plays.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Predictions for Michigan/Nebraska and MSU/Wisconsin


Michigan and Michigan State each have big games today. Here are my picks for both contests.

Michigan at Nebraska
Nebraska is a very good team at home and not so strong on the road. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines have to face the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. If Michigan is to win this game, I see it having to grind out the victory in a relatively high-scoring contest. Michigan should be able to move the ball consistently on offense but I do see Nebraska picking up some big plays on the Wolverines’ defense. I don’t necessarily feel good about this pick, but I do feel Michigan will get the victory. I see Denard Robinson having a big day on the ground and hitting enough passes to keep the Wolverines ahead. I also feel that Brady Hoke is a better coach than Bo Pelini, which gives Michigan a slight edge, even on the road.
Michigan 34, Nebraska 27

MSU at Wisconsin
I think Michigan State can win this game, but I don’t think the Spartans will win this game. The Badgers aren’t the same team they were a year ago, but neither is MSU. I think the offensive struggles will continue, mainly due to the offensive line issues. Wisconsin won’t light up the scoreboard, but I do think the Badgers have started to gel enough to put some scoring drives together. It won’t take many points to beat the Spartans on Saturday and I expect Wisconsin to be motivated to pick up a win over MSU in the regular season after losing at Spartan Stadium the last two years.
Wisconsin 20, Michigan State 13 

Keys to victory for MSU/Michigan against Wisconsin/Nebraska


A pair of big games for Michigan and Michigan State are just a day away. Here are my keys to victory for each contest.

MSU at Wisconsin
Survive the early storm Wisconsin will be very up for this game and look to make an early statement. The Badgers have started to find their groove on offense, having scored at least 31 points in their last three games against struggling defenses. The MSU defense will need to come out fast and contain Montee Ball. Offensively, MSU needs to be able to convert third downs and put a drive or two together to take the loud Madison crowd out of the game.
Turn The Tables – Most defenses have been stacking the box against MSU and forcing Andrew Maxwell to have to beat them. In this case, MSU needs to take the same approach against Wisconsin. The Badgers rank110th in the country in passing and have already went through two quarterbacks. I am not overly impressed with Joel Stave and think the Spartans would be wise to play one-one-one coverage against the Wisconsin receivers while putting all their focus on stopping Ball. Stave has five touchdowns to three interceptions and is completing 57 percent of his passes. He is bound to make some freshman mistakes if put under pressure.
Finish Drives – Michigan State seemed to make some positive strides in its passing game last week, but the Spartans once again settled for field goals instead of touchdowns deep in the red zone. This week, Michigan State needs to make the most of each opportunity. If Dion Sims is able to play, that should help in both the passing game and the run game. In order for Maxwell to take the next step as a starting quarterback, he has to make the big throws in the red zone.

Michigan at Nebraska
Get back to what works – Michigan struggled on offense last week and I know part of that had to do with the MSU defense, but I felt that the Wolverines played right into the Spartans’ hands. Michigan didn’t do much attacking outside the tackle box with Denard Robinson. It ran right into the MSU trap. For this game, Nebraska isn’t as talented on defense and Robinson should be able to find open space and rack up the yards. But, Michigan still needs to show some creativity and mix things up by getting Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls involved as well.
Take your chances with Martinez’ arm – Taylor Martinez has made strides as a passer this year, but Nebraska’s strength is its run game, including Martinez. Even if Rex Burkhead is out for the game, the Cornhuskers are more than capable of moving the ball on the ground. Like the Wolverines did against MSU, Michigan needs to stack the box and challenge Martinez to throw deep. Michigan may give up the occasional big play with that game plan, but I don’t see Martinez being able to consistently beat Michigan through the air.
Finish – Similar to MSU, Michigan needs to finish drives in this game. That hasn’t been much of a problem for the Wolverines this year, but Nebraska is a feisty team at home. If/when the Wolverines have a chance to put this game out of reach, it must do it because Nebraska can rally in a hurry. Just ask Wisconsin. Field goals won’t get the job done in this one.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

News on Nebraska/Wisconsin heading into this week's games


The ninth week of the season is just a few days away for both Michigan and Michigan State. Here is a look at what their opponents (Nebraska/Wisconsin) are saying about Saturday’s games.

Michigan vs. Nebraska
The big news surrounding Nebraska is the status of starting running back Rex Burkhead.
The senior running back aggravated a lingering knee injury on Saturday against Northwestern. The injury has been a problem for him all season but seemed to be cleared up heading into last week’s game.
His status for Saturday’s game is undecided and his durability for the rest of the season is uncertain.
Tommy Dahlk, of the Lincoln Journal Star has some info on Burkhead from Bo Pelini.
When asked Tuesday in the Big Ten's weekly coaches teleconference how the nagging injuries have affected the running back mentally, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said no one on his staff is too worried about Burkhead’s psyche, and the focus is just getting him back to full strength.
“Rex is a strong-minded kid,” Pelini said. “That’s the last thing we’re worried about what his mind-set is. He’s a strong young man and doesn’t let a lot of things bother him.”
Burkhead has rushed for 405 yards and three touchdowns this season. He also has a receiving touchdown.
In Burkhead’s place, Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 615 yards and seven touchdowns. Abdullah has been a very solid performer for Nebraska, but the Huskers would prefer to have Burkhead back on the field, as he is averaging 8.6 yards per carry.


MSU vs. Wisconsin
The coach had his weekly press conference transcribed on UWBadgers.com. Here are a few thoughts he had on Michigan State.
“I don't know how many times I heard last year, if you didn't care who won those games, they were really fun games to watch. From that standpoint, they're fun. It really gets down to always you got a couple of key plays offensively that go for scores, and a huge factor, special teams has been a factor, really positively or negatively for us in every game. Playing Michigan State, you've got to be on the unexpected, whether it be fake opportunities in the special teams arena or blocks on their punts. So really got to be on top of our toes in every aspect.”
Pat (Narduzzi)’s always been aggressive in nature. No doubt in my mind that they'll bring pressure. Depending on the situation depending on our personnel groupings. The good news is Joel (Stave) is a guy that's been through some situations. Everybody has been bringing pressure on us. Got to have a great plan for him, not just prior to the snap but also during the snap itself. We saw last week where he needs to get rid of the football in certain situations.
Obviously, we built up a nice little tradition. We even played them twice in one year, which had never been done in Big Ten play. At least to my knowledge. Yea, respect Michigan State. Respect Mark Dantonio and his staff a great amount. There's certain things that, when we split the divisions, that were going to go away, and unfortunately, this is a by-product of that. But on the flip side of it, you've got really neat things popping within.
That's the way I spin it. I look at it as every year we get a chance to play Penn State and Ohio State, and for us recruiting-wise, that's very, very important. We do our fair share of recruiting in Michigan, but really probably traditionally do more recruiting against Ohio State and Penn State nationally than Michigan State itself.
The Michigan State-Wisconsin game has developed into a little rivalry as of late. It will be interesting to see what kind of intensity both teams bring into this game. Michigan State is at a crossroads for the program with its 4-4 record. Will it give up on the year or will it fight to have a winning season?
Wisconsin should be able to win the Leaders Division by default with Ohio State and Penn State out of the running, but the Badgers are probably motivated to hand the Spartans another loss based on last season’s MSU victory in Spartan Stadium.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Little Brother Scale after Week 8


The Little Brother Scale is a trolling topic. I won’t argue that.
The term hits a nerve with both Michigan and Michigan State.
It bothers the Spartans for its meaning that their program is the little brother to Michigan.
It bothers the Wolverines for its meaning over recent years since Mike Hart uttered those words.
When I started the topic prior to the season, I expected both teams to have a strong year and keep the debate lively.
Michigan State hasn’t been able to live up to expectations.
Saturday’s game was hard fought and perhaps would have went the other way if it was played in East Lansing. But, in the end, Michigan snapped the streak and beat the Spartans, 12-10.
It is hard to hand the balance of power in the rivalry to the other team after just one win, especially a 2-point victory, but when you break it down, Michigan State has taken a step backwards this season no matter what it does the rest of the year.
Michigan has all its goals in place for this season. The Wolverines can win the Big Ten title this year and still beat Ohio State in the process. That would certainly send a message that it has regained control of the state and even the Big Ten as a whole.
The Wolverines are now leading my scale. They will lead the scale for the rest of the season as long as they don’t completely tank down the stretch.
What interests me now that Michigan is back on top is where this rivalry will go from here.
Mark Dantonio said he will be glad to see Denard Robinson go, but is that really true? Michigan State has been able to contain Robinson as well as anyone. Will a new Michigan quarterback with a new offensive scheme really make it easier for the Spartans?
Michigan will be a new team next season without Robinson and it yet to be known if the Spartans will be able to bounce back in Maxwell’s senior year, but MSU will lose key pieces on defense.
I expect Michigan to continue to be strong under Brady Hoke for his recruiting and solid coaching staff. Michigan State may not have the resources and depth to stay in the mix in the Big Ten year after year.
Only time will tell.
For now, Michigan can enjoy just being back in the driver’s seat.
LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: Michigan 16½, MSU 15½ 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Final thoughts on Michigan/MSU


Michigan got the win it was looking for.
It ended the four-game losing streak to Michigan State on Saturday, 12-10.
It wasn’t a pretty game and it was closer than some expected, but the Wolverines made the plays it needed to in order to win.
Is order restored? Has the balance of power shifted back to Ann Arbor? Perhaps. At least the bragging rights have returned to Michigan.
I wrote my column from the MSU angle of the game. Keep in mind, I was at the game with Pat Caputo. He covered the Michigan angle. I don’t want any accusations of favoritism because my column focuses on the Spartans.
Cleary Michigan State is having a disappointing year and needs to figure out if it is going to go back to being an average program or if it is going to be a Big Ten contender in future seasons.
The only way that the Spartans can lay claim to something in this rivalry is if it is accompanied by accomplishments that go outside of just beating Michigan.
The same can be said for the Wolverines this year.
Obviously Michigan has a lot of championships and prestige to fall back on throughout its history, but the Wolverines are still seeking to get back to a level of championship play.
The Rich Rodriguez era took the Wolverines back, which opened the door for Michigan State to move ahead and claim bragging rights. That was supported by more than just wins against the Wolverines, but also by the Big Ten title in 2010 and the Legends Division title in 2011.
For Michigan to really put a stamp on this season and leave the Spartans in the rear view mirror, it needs to make its way to Indianapolis and play for, if not win, the Big Ten Championship.
Brady Hoke and the Michigan players said that beating MSU was good but their goals are much greater than a win over the Spartans.
Winning championships is what has separated Michigan from Michigan State in the past and will be the only thing to separate the Wolverines from the Spartans in the future.
That’s the next big step for Brady Hoke and the program, to win a championship. This year seems to be Michigan’s best shot in a while to do just that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Prediction for MSU vs. Michigan


I have had a pretty good feeling about my prediction for a week now.
The MSU loss to Iowa combined with the Michigan win over Purdue solidified my belief that Michigan puts an end to the losing streak to the Spartans today.
The problems for Michigan State aren't something I see being solved in a week. The key issue is with the offensive line. The injuries and lack of depth on the line has caused MSU to struggle to execute what it would like to on offense.
Le'Veon Bell is a great player, but he doesn't get the holes to really rack up the impressive numbers he is capable of.
The Michigan defense has been improving and I expect it to be able to contain the run.
The Spartans will have to win this game on the arm of Andrew Maxwell and/or the creativity of offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. I don’t believe either will happen.
Sure, the MSU defense should still pose a problem for Denard Robinson. But, the Spartan defense won’t be able to pitch a shutout.
If Michigan is smart, it will stick with the run, even if it doesn't succeed at first. Eventually some holes will open and Robinson will be able to break off a few big gains.
Michigan won’t put up the points it has in recent weeks, but it will be able to put up enough points to out-score the Spartan offense.
An inspired and physical outing for the Wolverines will end the four-game losing streak to the Spartans and keep them in line to compete for a Big Ten Championship.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Michigan State 7

Keys to victory for Michigan/MSU on Saturday


The time is almost here.
The game Michigan fans have been waiting for is one day away. It’s the Wolverines’ chance to end the streak. For the Spartans, it’s their chance to not only prolong the streak, but perhaps save their season.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 from Michigan Stadium in what will be a loud and electric environment. I will be covering the game for The Oakland Press if you want to voice your thoughts on the game, you can tweet me @ellisdrew.
Here is a look at the keys for each team to walk away with a victory on Saturday.

Michigan
Be stubborn – The Wolverines are a running football team. They are not a passing team. In previous years, Michigan State has been able to take the running aspect away from Michigan and force Denard Robinson to be a passer. If that happens again on Saturday, it could be another tough day for Michigan. The Wolverines have had a smart approach to the offense in recent games. It has been run, run, run, run, run and then pass. MSU still has the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, but Michigan has to stick with the run. If a drive needs to last seven minutes for a score, then let it go seven minutes. Even if the game plan doesn’t work early on, Michigan can’t give up on the run and try to air it out. This MSU defense has been susceptible to the big play and I expect Michigan to get a few big plays from Robinson throughout the game if they stick to what they do best.
Win on third down – That goes for the offense and the defense. The offense will need to sustain drives to win and the defense will help the offense by forcing MSU into three-and-outs. If the MSU defense is on the field the majority of the game, it will open up the big plays for the Michigan offense. Currently, the Spartans are converting just 37 percent of their third downs, which is the third-worst percentage in the Big Ten. Conversely, Michigan leads the conference with a 52 percent conversion rate. Third downs should be won by the Wolverines on Saturday.
Hidden yards – Michigan ranks third in the Big Ten in punt return average and fourth in kick return average. A big return on Saturday can go a long way in this game, as points could be at a premium with the way both defenses have played. Also, the Spartans have been notorious for making penalties this year. Michigan has to play with discipline and not retaliate to anything MSU might do after the play. Penalty yards could rack up quickly in this game and the Wolverines would be wise to let the Spartans make the mistakes. I don’t doubt that Michigan will be amped up for this game and want to take it to MSU, but the Wolverines need to win the game with their play, not their trash talk.

MSU
Don’t be stubborn – Unlike Michigan, I think the Spartans need to mix it up on offense. Le’Veon Bell is a great running back, but the offensive line for MSU is beat up and not opening up holes consistently enough for him to control this game. Despite that, the Spartans still feed him the ball 30 times a game and get stuck in a number of third-and-long situations. Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar needs to take chances in this contest. Really, what does MSU have to lose here? The Spartans have to win and get help in order to play for the Big Ten Championship and they come into this game as a 10-point underdog. If they don’t let it all hang out in this game, I question what they would be saving it for. Go with trick plays, jet sweeps, reverses or anything else you have in the playbook. MSU can’t win this game with a Bell-heavy offense.
Wake up William Gholston – I bought some milk this week at the local grocery store and there was a photo on the carton of William Gholston that said “Missing” under it. The junior defensive end has not had nearly the impact many were expecting this season, but Saturday would be a good day for him to change that. On the year, Gholston has just 28 tackles, 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback hurries. Gholston has to have a presence in this game. His speed and athleticism are a big reason why the Spartans were able to keep Denard Robinson in check last year. Certainly teams are keying in on him this year, but if he is the talent that many think he is, he has to overcome that and show up when his team needs him the most.
Play with discipline – MSU is averaging six penalties for just over 60 yards per game this season. In last year’s game with Michigan, the Spartans tallied 13 penalties for 124 yards. It is clear that the Spartans have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to trying to prove their superiority to Michigan on the football field, but the post-play penalties will not do them any good on Saturday. MSU was able to overcome the penalties last year, but I don’t see that being the case this time around. If the Spartans come out and play reckless, they will just be digging their own grave. With two losses in the Big Ten already, MSU needs to play as close to mistake-free football as it can.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fair or Foul: Judging the MSU/Michigan arguments for Saturday's game


The trash talk for the Michigan-MSU rivalry is always at a peak when the two are set to meet at the end of the week.
Such is the case this year. Michigan fans have a reason to be excited, but Spartan fans still have the bragging rights, at least for now.
Here are a few of the arguments I have heard this week and whether they hold any weight.

Argument from MSU fans: Michigan hasn’t played anyone in the Big Ten: While that may be true to a certain extent, the one thing the Wolverines are doing is easily disposing of those teams. That is something that MSU is obviously not doing. Indiana gave Ohio State a run, but I still don’t believe the Hoosiers are that great of a Big Ten team and Iowa has suffered a pair of losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan. We don’t know where Purdue and Illinois will finish in the conference, but you have to credit Michigan for taking care of business against teams it should best. VERDICT: Foul

Argument from Michigan fans: We’ve taken back the rivalry: You haven’t done that until you beat Michigan State on Saturday. You should win Saturday’s game, but if you don’t, you can’t claim hold of the rivalry. A win goes a long way, but I also think it would be beneficial for Michigan to win the Big Ten to really show that it has returned to control the in-state rivalry. VERDICT: Foul

Argument from MSU fans: Denard Robinson will go down as the QB that couldn’t beat MSU if he loses on Sunday: I think that is a reasonable statement. For all the numbers that Denard Robinson has put up in his time with the Wolverines, he really has nothing to show for it. No conference titles and no wins against Michigan State. He has a Sugar Bowl win, but a Rose Bowl victory is what Michigan fans want most. Robinson needs a win on Saturday to avoid being remembered as the guy who couldn’t beat the Spartans. VERDICT: Fair

Argument from Michigan fans: MSU is going to “thug it up” on Saturday: Michigan fans feel the Spartans got away with too many cheap shots during last year’s game. That may be true, but the refs for this game will be well aware of what took place in last year’s game. Look for them to call this year’s game tightly and not allow a lot of the post-play shoving. If the Spartans try anything funny, it will likely come with a 15-yard penalty. Also, the Spartans were at home last year and trying to intimidate Michigan, I don’t think the confidence level of MSU is high enough to bring that same attitude into the Big House this year. VERDICT: Foul

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Little Brother Scale after Week 7


I am conflicted this week.
Everything I have seen from Michigan and Michigan State this season tells me the Wolverines are, 1. not only better this season, but 2. built to be better in future seasons as well.
That is what the Little Brother Scale is meant to indicate. Not just who is better now, but what program has more credibility than the other in the eyes of the national media.
I didn’t think there was a way Michigan could get ahead of MSU before Oct. 20.
The Spartans had won four straight in this series, won a Big Ten title in 2010 and the Legends Division title in 2011.
However, the Spartans have been a shell of themselves this year.
The offense has been a mess and the Spartans are finding ways to lose this year as opposed to finding ways to win, which they did in previous seasons.
Michigan, on the other hand, is getting better. The Wolverines have looked very impressive in Big Ten play, mainly on defense. After getting out to a slow start defensively, the Wolverines have improved each week and seem primed to be one of the best in the Big Ten.
With all that said, I am ruling the scale a tie this week, simply because Michigan needs to win on Saturday for me to put it ahead on the scale.
You can’t claim superiority over another program when you have lost four straight. You just can’t do that.
So, we enter this week’s game with an even scale, but a win for the Wolverines will put them ahead. It’s all up for grabs this week, and I am sure that means much more to the players than the Paul Bunyan Trophy (I am kidding, of course).
LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: Michigan 16, MSU 16

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

News and notes from Dantonio's weekly press conference


Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference on Tuesday from East Lansing. Here are a few news and notes from what he had to say.

- Dion Sims is not listed on the depth chart again this week. Paul Lang, Andrew Gleichert and Derek Hoebing are all listed as possible starters at tight end. Dantonio said they will know more this week about Sims’ status but he has yet to practice.
- Aaron Burbridge, Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphrey are listed as the starting receivers this week.
- Kurtis Drummond to be the starter at free safety. Isaiah Lewis will start at strong safety along with Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard at cornerback.
- Dantonio called this a big rivalry game (obviously), and that it is good for his football program and for the team to go into a great environment like Ann Arbor on Saturday.
- He called the game a pivotal one regardless of records. Dantonio said a win is a win, it would be a big win for MSU. Beating Michigan five straight hasn’t been done before, so it would be special. He also added that you keep track of the rivalry games the rest of your life.
- When asked about the lack of fans at Saturday’s game, Dantonio said he was more concerned about the ones that show and he appreciates their support. Said it’s a fickle society and there is a lot going on in people’s worlds. Football is not the end game for a lot of people, but he’s sure it will be this week.
- Dantonio acknowledges that MSU needs help to get to the Big Ten Championship Game. He said that help usually does come and that there is a lot of parity in the conference. He just wants to focus on one game at a time and focus on the present. If they take care of their business they have opportunities in front of them.
- When asked why he approaches the rivalry the way he does, Dantonio said that people view things differently. His coaching background brought him to MSU in 1995 and he experienced things back then that shaped that. He said he has never made the rules, just plays the game. These rules were established a long time ago, he is just playing the game.
- Dantonio said he has great respect for Brady Hoke, feels that Hoke handles himself better than Dantonio does. Dantonio just goes about his job and hopes “that other guy” doesn’t show up at the press conference (referring to the “next question” guy). Feels Hoke maintains his composure well.
- Dantonio said that you can’t divide the team in terms of offense and defense. MSU is not getting it done as a team. Can’t just blame the offense or the defense.
- Dantonio said that Denard Robinson is a tremendous football player. He is the central theme to what MSU has done defensively. A lot of things that MSU does on defense center around quarterbacks like Robinson and Braxton Miller. They can take a bad play and make it into a good play. The Spartans need to know where he is at all times. Dantonio said that Robinson has been a great player at Michigan and will be remembered as that.
- Dantonio said that William Gholston has grown from last year’s situation in the Michigan game, said he needs to. Dantonio said Gholston has a lot of people watching him on a daily basis on and off the field, and he needs to handle himself accordingly. He will come ready to play on Saturday.
- Dantonio thinks Michigan is “back”. He feels MSU will continue to win and be a leader in this conference. He looks forward to competing against Michigan yearly.
- No player availability for the media this week for MSU to avoid bulletin board material this week.
- When asked why he was staying so humble and calm about Michigan, Dantonio said that the media hasn’t stoked his fire yet.
- When asked about recruiting against Michigan, Dantonio feels that kids are green or kids are blue by the time they are 14 in this state, maybe 10. Says it can be a hard to swing a kid in recruiting in this state if they have grown up a fan of the other team.
- Dantonio attributed the weather and Iowa defense to some of Andrew Maxwell’s struggles on Saturday. He said they had their issues as well with details and execution.
- Called the end of the first half against Iowa a missed opportunity that was one of many in the game that could have led to a different result. Said he now thinks of it as a long kick into the win and the rain, but they still couldn’t take that opportunity for granted.

Monday, October 15, 2012

News & notes from Brady Hoke's weekly presser


Michigan head coach Brady Hoke spoke to the media on Monday afternoon for his weekly press conference. Here are a few news and notes on what he had to say

- He felt the Illinois victory was a great team win and the most complete game the Wolverines have played this year. He said it was their best showing, but Hoke said they are still a long way from playing championship football.
- He called this week a great week. It is rivalry week and that is always special.
- Hoke feels both teams are different from last year, citing both teams lost key players. He doesn’t think the MSU defense has skipped a beat and that Andrew Maxwell is doing a great job.
- When it comes to what the MSU defense has done to Denard Robinson, Hoke always looks back to see how team’s attack him. He says that MSU has done a good job of getting off blocks and flowing to the ball against Robinson.
- Hoke added the MSU game has always been a physical contest.
- Hoke also said that there is a pretty clear line in the sand in this state when it comes to the Michigan-MSU rivalry.
- Hoke’s most memorable moment from the rivalry was the 2001 game. That was “Clockgate” in which the Spartans won 26-24 in East Lansing on the final play of the game.
- Hoke said the motivation for this game should come from playing a rival. It has to come from within and he hopes his players understand that.
- Hoke said the running backs that get carries in the game are based on feel. Michigan saw Fitzgerald Toussaint, Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls all picked up at least nine carries on Saturday. Hoke said Rawls and Hayes have earned carries.
- No major injury concerns for Robinson. He is “fine” according to Hoke.
- The key to the improvement for Michigan has not been about adjustments in Hoke’s eyes, it has been about guys just playing better and executing better.
- When asked about Jake Ryan’s game on Saturday, Hoke said that the coaches have high expectations on him. Said Ryan has good instincts and is relentless, which is why he is able to make the plays he does.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Week 7 Recap: Wolverines look ready to thrash Spartans


Michigan is getting better, Michigan State is getting worse.
I said it last week, and I will say it again today.
The proof is in the pudding.
The numbers from both games point to that very statement.
Michigan absolutely dominated Illinois in all areas of the game and looked like a solid team. Certainly the Wolverines are clicking on all cylinders heading into this week’s meeting with Michigan State.
The Spartans, on the other hand, looked awful.
I was on hand for the overtime loss to Iowa and shared my thoughts on the mess that was their performance. (I also had a sidebar on MSU OC Dan Roushar)
MSU actually embarrassed itself with its debacle at halftime and then proceeded to find a way to lose a close game against a lesser opponent.
The Spartans were known for their resiliency and ability to finish games over the last two seasons. This year’s team seems to be on the opposite end.
There will be plenty of talk going on this week about Saturday’s game, but the Spartans need a lot of work if they hope to beat the Wolverines.
I don’t care what the streak is or what the MSU defense has done to Denard Robinson in the past. The Spartans of the past are nowhere to be found right now.
For the Wolverines, this is a must-win on Saturday. If Michigan can’t beat this wounded MSU team, when will the Wolverines beat the Spartans again?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Predictions for MSU/Iowa and Michigan/Illinois


Saturday is upon us once again. It is time for me to make my picks for the Michigan and MSU contests. Here is my best shot.

MSU vs. Iowa
One of the big factors in this game appears to be weather. With the Spartans playing on grass, rain could provide some tough conditions. Both teams want to run the ball, but the Spartans have the better passing attack of the two. With the MSU O-line struggling to open up running lanes, a sloppy field could make it even harder for the Spartans to move the ball. I do expect the MSU defense to keep Iowa in check, but I expect this to be another grinder for the Spartans. Iowa is a team that plays its opponents close, so I suspect the game will come down to the end, with MSU finding a way to get the victory.
Michigan State 17, Iowa 14

Michigan vs. Illinois
The rain shouldn’t be as much of an issue in this game because Michigan plays on fieldturf. It will likely cause some problems passing the ball, but running shouldn’t be a problem. Look for Denard Robinson to once again run wild and go for more than 150 yards on the ground. He will also connect on some big passes from blown assignments by the Illini. On defense, Michigan will keep Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in containment and not allow him to beat them with his legs. I see Michigan winning comfortably, but not totally blowing the Illini out of the water.
Michigan 31, Illinois 14

Keys to victory for MSU, Michigan against Iowa, Illinois


The seventh week of the college football season is upon us tomorrow. Here are a look at keys to victory for MSU and Michigan on Saturday.

MSU vs. Iowa
Start fast – Michigan State has not been too good at this in recent weeks, but starting fast will be very important in this game. The Hawkeyes have had their two losses this season come by a combined four points. Iowa is a team that tends to hang around, so MSU doesn’t want to leave this game up to a few plays in the fourth quarter. The defense needs to limit the big play early and the offense has to find a way to get the ball to its receivers in open space.
Look for Burbridge – Michigan State finally got a receiving performance it could build on last week as freshman Aaron Burbridge caught eight passes for 134 yards. Burbridge made some tough catches in traffic and moved well with the ball. The Spartans need to find ways to get him the ball and make him a focal point in the offense. Next to Michigan State, Iowa has the next-best rushing defense in the Big Ten, so the Spartans will have to be able to move the ball through the air, and Burbridge will play a big part in that.
Get to the quarterback – Iowa is far from an offensive juggernaut. The Hawkeyes average just 22.6 points per game right now and only 200 passing yards per game. Quarterback James Vandenberg has just two touchdowns passes with two interceptions this season and he has been sacked six times. Michigan State has to get pressure on him and force him into bad passes. The Spartans have just five sacks this year from a front line that has been hyped up all season. It’s time for the front four to live up to that hype and create havoc for the quarterback.

Michigan vs. Illinois
Don’t look ahead – Illinois has been bad, no doubt about it. But, the Wolverines can’t start looking ahead to Michigan State until this game is over. The Illini can still be a dangerous team and they are desperate for a win. Michigan just needs to take care of its business and then move on to the Spartans.
Build off last week’s game plan – I thought Al Borges did a real nice job with the way he attacked Purdue on offense and I think that is what will work against Illinois on Saturday. Use the run heavily to open up the occasional big pass plays, get Denard Robinson in space and try to find some balance with the other backs. Robinson had to do most of the work on the ground last week, but he didn’t get “beat up” doing it. That will be important again this week.

Make Scheelhaase a passer – Michigan’s defense has taken on a whole new identity over the last few games, really shutting down opponents. This week, they take on a quarterback with some questionable passing ability. In limited action, Scheelhaase is just 65 of 104 passing for 659 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. He does have the ability to run the ball, as he had 84 yards on 22 carries at Wisconsin last week. Michigan would be wise to keep Scheelhaase in the pocket and make him beat the defense with his arm, which I don’t think he can do. If Scheelhaase is able to find open running lanes on the outside, he can create some big offensive plays and make the game interesting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Little Brother Scale After Week 6


When the Little Brother Scale started just a few weeks before the season began, there wasn’t much hope for Michigan to get ahead of Michigan State short of a win on Oct. 20.
That still stands to be the case, but Michigan State is making it harder to stand by that with each passing week.
MSU had another underwhelming performance last Saturday against Indiana, while Michigan put on an impressive showing against Purdue.
If you asked me today who I thought the better team was, I would have to say Michigan.
The Wolverines and Spartans both have two losses, but MSU’s losses have come at home against slightly lesser competition while Michigan’s losses have come on the road.
The Wolverines look better suited to contend for a title right now as their defense is playing well and the offense has the ability to move down the field when not turning the ball over.
The Spartans still have a strong defense, but it isn’t good enough to overcome the issues on offense. The biggest problem facing MSU is its offensive line, and that isn’t likely to change with two starters out for the rest of the year.
Despite my take on Michigan being better right now, it doesn’t change that the Spartans have had the Wolverines’ number for the last four years. It also doesn’t change that MSU has been closer to the Big Ten title in recent seasons.
Until Michigan beats Michigan State, I can’t put the Wolverines ahead of the Spartans. That could happen in two weeks, but two weeks isn’t today.
LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: MSU 16 ¼, Michigan 15 ¾ 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

News and Notes from Dantonio's weekly presser


Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference on Tuesday. Here are some news and notes to come out of that.

Depth Chart Notes
- Tight end Dion Sims is not listed on this week’s depth chart. Dantonio said that Sims won’t play this week but will test out the ankle in the next few days to determine just how long he could be out. Paul Lang, Andrew Gleichert and Derek Hoebing are all listed as possible starters at tight end.
- Nick Hill is no longer the starter at punt returner. MSU lists Andre Sims Jr. and Le’Veon Bell as the possible starters. Dantonio wanted to take the stress off Hill, but he still has confidence in him to catch a punt.
- At the Star Linebacker position, MSU lists Chris Norman OR Tawian Jones as the starter.
- Lawrence Thomas OR Niko Palazeti will start at fullback.
- R.J. Williams OR Kurtis Drummond at listed at starters at free safety.
- Aaron Burbridge holds his starting spot at receiver after his impressive showing at Indiana.

Dantonio thoughts
- Felt the Indiana game was a tale of two halves. He thought the team didn’t do very well the first half but played extremely well the second half.
- Felt the team was going to make a statement in the second half, good or bad. They made it a good one by coming back to win.
- He singled out the play of Max Bullough, Burbridge, Bennie Fowler and Bell as to who stepped up in the win.
- When asked about Johnny Adams, Dantonio said he should have had some help on the deep balls he was beat on. Pointed to missed assignments from the safety that left Adams in a tough spot. He is sticking with Adams.
- He felt the team was ready to play on Saturday but they got gassed and disoriented early on. Said it was tough to simulate Indiana’s style of play.
- Dantonio said that teams are never as bad as people say and never as good either. Felt that two losses to undefeated teams, with one of them by just one point, is no cause for too much concern. Had they beat Ohio State, Dantonio feels people would be singing a different tune.
- Said the positives of the situation is that they have raised expectations at MSU. The negative that comes with that is the additional pressure. He said pressure is good, but stress is not and they won’t stress about what they can’t control.
- Dantonio feels Andrew Maxwell is growing as a quarterback and that he has great command of the huddle. Said in the growing process you can take a step back and then take two steps forward. Felt after the first quarter at Indiana, Maxwell played very well. Dantonio would like to see Maxwell do a better job of turning the bad plays into good plays when something breaks down.
- When it comes to the offensive line, the coaches realized Blake Treadwell wasn’t ready to play after the first quarter at Indiana. Not sure if he will be ready to go on Saturday. He could start which would impact both the guard and center positions with Jack Allen in the mix at both spots.
- On the personal fouls, Dantonio didn’t agree on all the calls on Saturday. He said there is a huge emphasis on protecting players these days and that makes it difficult for the refs. Some of the calls were obvious, but not all of them.
- Thomas is a player that could see more action in the passing game as the fullback. Dantonio feels that he has a similar look and style to Sims.

Monday, October 8, 2012

News & Notes from Brady Hoke's Weekly Press Conference


Brady Hoke held his weekly press conference in Ann Arbor on Monday. Here are a few notes from it.
- Hoke feels the Wolverines aren’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback despite the recent improvements in the defense overall.
- He isn’t concerned about the lack of production from Fitzgerald Toussaint on Saturday and feels it was Purdue game planning against him after rushing for 170 yards on them a year ago.
- Hoke wasn’t happy with the kickoff coverage. Said the unit missed nine tackles in the game.
- Part of the reason for Michigan’s improvement on defense is due to the defensive linemen getting tighter to the opposing offensive line and opening up space and vision for the linebackers.
- Hoke feels Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a dangerous player and is healthier now than he was earlier in the season.
- Hoke also said his team should have no issues in staying focused on Illinois despite the Michigan State game being next week.

News & Notes
- According to Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press (@Mark_Snyder) Frank Clark has been inserted into starting lineup at DE and Raymon Taylor will start at LCB for Michigan this week. .
- Quarterback Denard Robinson won the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week Award, the league announced on Monday. He has won this award nine times in his career, which ties him for the most in Big Ten history with former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne. Robinson shared this week’s honor with Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
- The start time of the Michigan State at Michigan game on Oct. 20 will not be announced until after next week’s games. It will be played at noon or 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Big Ten hitting bottom without a ranked team in USA Today poll


We all knew coming into this season that the Big Ten wasn't high on the conference power rankings list.
But did you think it was going to be this bad?
After another rough Saturday for the conference, it finds itself without a single team ranked in this week’s USA Today Top 25 poll.
Now, Ohio State can’t be included in the poll due to its 1-year postseason ban. The Buckeyes are No. 8 in the AP Top 25, but to not have another team be capable of earning a ranking is pretty sad.
Is it a sign of parity in the conference, or just a sign of bad football?
Right now, Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are all earning votes, but all have had their embarrassing moments during the season.
Michigan State certainly doesn't look like a top 25 team with its recent play.
Michigan has been getting better, but the sloppy look of the offense against Alabama and Notre Dame has hurt its national credibility.
Wisconsin came into the season with high hopes, but the Badgers have been a mess and a shell of what they were a year ago.
Nebraska seems unbeatable at home, but they turn into a completely different squad on the road.
Northwestern has been a surprise, but a loss to Penn State won’t help it earn many votes from pollsters.
Ultimately, the Big Ten will get its ranked teams as the season progresses, but the conference has a very big uphill climb to ever get back in the national title picture.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Final thoughts from Week 6 games


For just the second time this year both Michigan and Michigan State won on the same day.
Despite both coming out victorious on Saturday, the moods of both teams have to be very different.
Michigan picked up an impressive 44-13 win at Purdue while Michigan State continues to look unimpressive in its 31-27 win at Indiana. Here are my closing thoughts on both contests.

MSU at Indiana
Let’s start with the bad.
Michigan State won, but did little to inspire hope for the future.
After three weeks of sloppy football, the Spartans once again came out flat against the Hoosiers. They once again dropped passes. They once again committed undisciplined penalties. They once again struggled to open up running lanes for Le’Veon Bell. They once again gave up big plays on defense.
I think that about covers it.
Indiana came out right in the beginning of the game and took it to the MSU defense. The Hoosiers had absolutely no respect for Johnny Adams, as they threw it deep, and succeeded, against him many times.
The offense can’t get into rhythm because the offensive line is playing so poorly. Injuries surely play a part in that, but the Spartans should have the depth on the line to move the ball against a team like Indiana.
Le’Veon Bell had 121 yards, but it took 37 carries again. The Spartans could barely get 1 yard when it had to, and they usually did because Bell fought his way to fall forward.
Pass protection wasn’t very strong, and when it was, it seemed like Andrew Maxwell was getting happy feet in the pocket because he was anticipating a rush that wasn’t there.
The only thing MSU can take from Saturday’s game is that it overcame a 17-point deficit, but I truly question whether it had more to do with what the Spartans did or because Indiana went completely conservative in the second half.
The Hoosiers that took the first in the first half didn’t show up in the second half. They made it very easy for Michigan State to get the comeback victory.
I thought Aaron Burbridge played well in his first start at receiver, but even he had a key drop on a third down. He made up for it, making some tough catches late, and I suspect he will be a strong player for the Spartans going forward.
Burbridge will have to step up, along with everyone else, if tight end Dion Sims is seriously hurt.
Saturday’s win felt similar to the Eastern Michigan victory. It didn’t feel like it was even a win, more like a tie.
We keep waiting for Michigan State to turn things around and improve, but perhaps this is just what the Spartans are this season.

Michigan at Purdue
I thought Michigan would have a much tougher time than it did.
Saturday’s 44-13 win at Purdue was a good sign for the Wolverines.
The Michigan defense continued to play strong, holding Purdue to just 213 yards, while the offense racked up 408 yards and Denard Robinson was the Denard Robinson we have been accustomed to watching these past three years.
If I am being picky, I would say Michigan had a chance to put the game away sooner in the second half, but settled for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Coming into the game, I said that Michigan needed to be smart with its play calling and the Wolverines were. They didn’t put Robinson in a position to have to force tough throws. They let the running game dictate the game and used it to set up some big pass plays.
Michigan should be able to play that same style of offense against most Big Ten teams. If the defense can continue to get better, it makes the Wolverines a legit Big Ten contender.
Though Michigan didn’t pass for many yards, Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess made some nice receiving plays and it appears that the Wolverines are starting to get some playmakers other than Robinson.

Michigan State is a team that seems to be regressing, or at the very best, staying the same. Michigan, on the other hand, is a team that looks as if it is getting better, especially on defense. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Week 6 Predictions for MSU, Michigan


It is the Saturday of Week 6 of the college football season. It’s time for both Michigan and Michigan State to put up, or shut up. Here are my predictions for today’s games.

MSU at Indiana
Indiana is on par with Mid-American Conference programs. The Hoosiers have already lost to the likes of Ball State at home. Michigan State shouldn’t have any issues winning this game.
But, the Spartan fans don’t just want a win. They want dominance.
Unfortunately for them, I don’t see a dominant performance coming. The Spartans we have seen in recent weeks are likely to be the Spartans we see going forward, as their injuries up front will be an issue the rest of the season.
Look for the offense to grind out some touchdown drives and the defense to largely hold the Hoosiers in check. Indiana will get the occasional big play and score some points, but never be in control of the game.
Michigan State will let Indiana hang around before pulling away late and getting its first Big Ten win, in unimpressive fashion.
Michigan State 27, Indiana 13

Michigan at Purdue
Purdue is coming into Saturday’s game with big hopes. Michigan comes into the game with a lot of pressure.
A loss on Saturday likely means a long season for the Wolverines and would put them below .500.
Purdue wasn’t expected to really be in the Big Ten race, so a win would be icing on the cake to a decent start.
Michigan just needs to stay within itself and not get too risky on either side of the ball.
The Wolverines have shown improvement on defense and should be able to play well enough against Purdue to give the offense a chance to win the game.
If Denard Robinson holds true to his promise, he should have a solid game and play largely mistake-free.
Ultimately, I see this being a fight to the finish, with Michigan coming out on top. I expect Denard Robinson to rebound and make a number of big plays with his legs while making smart decisions with his arm. The defense will be good, but not great. They had to be great against Notre Dame, but today, good will be enough.
Michigan 31, Purdue 24

Keys to victory for MSU vs. Indiana & Michigan vs. Purdue


Michigan and Michigan State hit the road for Big Ten play on Saturday. Here is a look at some key to victory for both teams.

MSU at Indiana, Noon
Avoid the big play on defense – The Michigan State defense has been good, but not as good as many of us expected. Its big flaw is allowing the big play, especially in the passing game. The Hoosiers surprisingly come into Saturday’s game as the top passing offense in the Big Ten. While you can’t expect Indiana to light up the air against the Spartans, the Hoosiers may only need to connect on a few big throws to win the game. The secondary must avoid that and not get beat deep.
Be a quick-strike offense – That doesn’t mean big plays. What I mean by this is get the ball out of Andrew Maxwell’s hands quickly in the passing game. Use bubble screens, swing passes and slant routes to attack the Indiana secondary. With the injuries to the offensive line, you can’t expect there to be a lot of time for pass protection. Getting short, quick passes early will build some confidence in Maxwell and the receivers and open the door for long passes later in the game. Indiana also has a poor rushing defense, so the opportunity for Le’Veon Bell to have a big game will be there. Make things easy on Maxwell and the line by getting the ball outside the tackles in both the running and passing games.
Win the turnover battle – Michigan State’s defense has given up the big play and not been creating them. For having a hyped defense, the Spartans have not been great at getting to the quarterback and intercepting passes. The front four has to pressure the quarterback, get sacks and force fumbles. The secondary needs to make plays when they get the opportunity. The defense can make life a lot easier for the offense by giving them the ball with good field position thanks to a turnover.

Michigan at Purdue, 4 p.m.
Stick with your strength – Obviously the issue in the loss to Notre Dame was turnovers. The offense was able to continually move the ball down field, but turned the ball over before getting points. Purdue comes into Saturday’s game as the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, but the Boilermakers haven’t exactly faced offensive juggernauts this year. Michigan needs to do what works and that is run the football. If Michigan can’t run the ball consistently, it is going to be a problem. I am not saying avoid the passing game, but be smart about it, especially in the red zone. Three points are still better than none.
Avoid mistakes early – This is similar to my first point, but with this being the first Big Ten road game for Michigan, it needs to do what it can to control the atmosphere early on. That makes the opening offensive drives all that more important. Don’t give Purdue, or its fans, any reason to really get into the game by giving up a big play offensively. The Boilermakers have three interception returns for touchdowns already this year. If Robinson forces a bad pass or Michigan decides to be overly aggressive, it could lead to a big play for the Boilermakers and put the Wolverines in an uphill climb all game.
Get off the field on Third Down – The Michigan defense took a step forward against Notre Dame and gave the Wolverine fans some hope moving forward. Purdue appears to have a better overall offense than Notre Dame, as the Boilermakers average 42.5 points and 463.5 yards per game. The big key to Purdue’s offense this season has been third down conversion. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten in that stat, converting on 58.5% of their attempts. If Michigan wants to win this game, the Wolverines need to get off the field on third down and now allow Purdue to systematically move down the field.