Friday, October 19, 2012

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.

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.

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.

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