Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reasons Michigan State can beat Michigan

Michigan State has the luxury of being at home on Saturday when it hosts rival Michigan at 3:30 p.m. The Spartans can really improve their chances at winning the Legends Division with a victory over the Wolverines. Here is a look at some reasons why they can beat Michigan on Saturday.

- Defense – It’s really no secret why Michigan State is 7-1 right now, it is largely due to its defense, which is one of the best in the country, and clearly the best in the Big Ten. MSU is giving up only 12.3 points and 215.6 yards per game. MSU’s worst outing came against Indiana, but the Spartans still held the Hoosiers to 28 points and 351 total yards, which are well below IU’s season averages of 42.4 points and 514 yards per game. Moving the ball on this unit has proven to be tough, especially when you have limited offensive weapons, as Michigan does.

- Winning up front – Michigan State has done a great job this season of controlling the line of scrimmage. The defensive line has been very impressive, leading an effort of allowing only 55 rushing yards per game. On offense, MSU didn’t start with a great line, but the group has improved and has been very strong in Big Ten play. Michigan State is averaging 206 rushing yards per game in conference action, and if the Spartans are able to control the tempo of the game with lengthy drives on offense, it will make things even more difficult for Michigan.

- Field position – It would be one thing if Michigan State was good on defense but awful on special teams, but that is not the case. Michigan State has one of the top punters in the Big Ten in Mike Sadler. Even if the Spartans stumble out of the gate on offense, Sadler should be able to keep the Wolverines pinned back. Michael Geiger is 6 of 7 on field goals right now and 3 of 3 on field goals from 40 yards and beyond. This game last year came down to a few points, so having a steady leg will be important.

- Devin Gardner – The Spartans don’t need any help on defense, but they may get it from Gardner. Gardner is a talented athlete with potential as a quarterback, but turnovers have been a big problem for him. He has 10 interceptions and a handful of lost fumbles this season. Michigan State’s defense has five touchdowns on its own this year, and with points at a premium in this game, a defensive touchdown for MSU might be all it needs to get the win. Gardner needs to be as close to mistake free as he can get if Michigan is going to win.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Reasons Michigan can beat Michigan State

On paper, I don’t feel like Saturday’s meeting with Michigan State is a good matchup for Michigan. Despite that, there are some areas I think Michigan can take advantage of. Here are some of the reasons the Wolverines can beat the Spartans.

- One-on-one coverage – Michigan State’s defense is so good that the Spartans can play one-on-one coverage on the outside. Most teams have taken a number of deep shots on the Spartans, but have been unable to capitalize on those attempts. Devin Gardner isn’t a great short-field passer, but has a big arm and a couple of athletic receivers in Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Michigan has the potential to hit on some big plays down field if Gardner gets time to throw deep.

- Mobile quarterback – Denard Robinson didn’t have a lot of success against Michigan State, but last season, mobile quarterbacks posed a problem for the Spartans. This is a different MSU team, but the defensive philosophies are still the same. Braxton Miller had over 300 total yards of offense in beating MSU in East Lansing last season while Taylor Martinez rushed for 205 yards while throwing for 160 at Spartan Stadium in 2012. Gardner is a better passer than Robinson and also has plenty of mobility, as he has rushed for 520 yards and nine scores this season.

- Dennis Norfleet – Norfleet hasn’t exactly been outstanding on kick returns, averaging just 24 yards per return, but it is clear he has the ability to break one. Norfleet could be a big weapon for the Wolverines on Saturday if he gets an opening. With the MSU defense being as strong as it is, Michigan is going to have to take advantage of special teams, with Norfleet being its biggest key.

- Connor Cook – Ultimately, this game looks like it will be decided by the Michigan State quarterback. Which Connor Cook will show up on Saturday? Will it be the one that struggled mightily against Purdue, going just 13 of 25 passing for 107 yards, or will it be the one that showed up last Saturday at Illinois, going 15 of 16 passing for 208 yards with three touchdowns? If Michigan faces the bad Cook, or if Cook feels the nerves in his first start in this rivalry, the Wolverines will have a great opportunity to win at Spartan Stadium.

Monday, October 28, 2013

An early look at Michigan vs. Michigan State

Michigan-Michigan State week is finally here.
Like most hoped, there is a lot on the line in this game. Not as much as there could have been, as both weren’t far from being unbeaten entering Saturday’s clash, but this game will go a long way in determining the Big Ten Legends Division champion.
A win for MSU clearly puts it in the driver’s seat, as it will have two games on Michigan and one game on Nebraska with the Cornhuskers still on the schedule and Nebraska heading to Michigan down the line.
Michigan can even things up with MSU with a win, which it will need with games against Nebraska and Ohio State still ahead.
Despite Michigan winning last season’s game, 12-10 in Ann Arbor, the Spartans have controlled the recent series between these two. Michigan State has won four of the last five and covered the spread in five straight meetings with Michigan.
Coming into this game, Michigan State is a 4.5-point favorite, which I think is fair. I think on paper, this is a bad matchup for Michigan, largely due to Michigan State’s defense. Devin Gardner is going to have to play a smart game on Saturday for Michigan to win and avoid turning the ball over, which has been a big problem for him this season.
Conversely, Michigan’s defense has been shaky, but so has MSU’s offense. However, Michigan State’s offense has trended toward improvement in three of its last four games. You can’t say the same for the Michigan defense. It is entirely possible that Connor Cook could fold under the pressure and have an off day on Saturday, but it is also possible he could play like he did against Illinois and allow MSU to control the ball.
I’ll give my prediction later in the week, but this game certainly feels a bit bigger than I expected it to be when the season began. While I felt it would be an important game in the Big Ten race, I thought Michigan would be a much better team than it is at this point, and I didn’t expect the Spartans to be playing as well as they have on offense in conference play.