Saturday means that the Wolverines can finally get their shot to snap the streak against MSU. After four very long years, does Michigan have what it takes to overcome the Spartans? I caught up with Mike Wilson, creator of The Little Brother Blog, and we exchanged questions about the upcoming game on Saturday!
TBHR: Filling a hole left by Kirk Cousins is not an easy task. In your opinion, has Maxwell lived up to your expectations or has he been disappointing?
LBB: I think the jury is still out on Maxwell. I also think too many are convinced he isn’t that good — which isn’t the case. Nevertheless, my expectations aren’t being met. I expected more from Maxwell, but part of what is hindering him is the wide receivers not developing as quickly and, frankly, the play calling has been lackluster often. His completion percentage is just more than 53% — slightly worse that Denard Robinson’s — but that figure would be much higher if not for drops, which were a major problem in the first five games of the season. Maxwell does do a good job taking care of the ball. He had a streak of 233 passes without an interception, from halftime of the Boise State game until double overtime against Iowa. Three of his four picks were either deflected, or drops, so the taking care of the ball part has been an impressive part of his game for a first-year starter.
TBHR: Still reeling from a tough overtime loss, how do you think Michigan State is going to respond against Michigan this weekend?
LBB: Not to be cliche, but it’s a rivalry game. That’s all the motivation any player needs on either side. There has to be high intensity and I think there will be. Lose this, and there is absolutely no chance of the Big Ten Championship Game — even though there is little chance already. Lose this, and Michigan fans are given reason to think MSU can’t maintain success and that is all they will hear. Unfortunately for MSU, it seems the teams are headed in opposite directions in this season. The flow has been UM on the up and MSU on the down since the season started. But, I think that does kind of get thrown out the window when it comes to a rivalry game because within it, anything can happen.
That said, I think the Spartans show up aggressively and really show something — even if it is in a loss, they need to show a lot of effort and drive because lately there hasn’t been much.
TBHR: IF Michigan State were to lose this Saturday, and considering this season hasn’t been going the way Spartan fans would hope, what do you think will be the mindset of Spartans fans across the country?
LBB: Oh, it would be a sad day in Mudville, Er, no, a sad year. At this point, a win against Michigan lifts what seems to be a mediocre season in the making into something a little better — maybe a decent one. The questions certainly would start flowing about can Mark Dantonio recruit and develop well enough, can the coaches keep this team at a high level, were the past two years or more a fluke … all those things come out. The current perception from Spartan fans, and other fans, is that this program can stay competitive and near the top of the Big Ten, but this edition of the team isn’t giving much credence to that thought. This is their chance to change the mindset for the better, because right now this season has a feel of the dreaded Same Old Spartans — which will be the thought if MSU loses this weekend in ugly fashion.
TBHR: How do you think Michigan State can beat Michigan? What can they exploit against the Wolverines that shock the folks in Ann Arbor on Saturday?
LBB: Make Denard Robinson pass. That has been the MSU formula for success against UM of late by taking away the running lanes and playing sideline-to-sideline, they make him make mistake in the air. As you saw last year, MSU will bring plenty of pressure — as they know Robinson has a strong tendency to throw the ball up for grabs in those circumstances. I do think UM will try to use misdirection like Notre Dame did to exploit the aggressiveness of the MSU defense, but if MSU is going to win, it is going to be because of the defense. As far as shocking anyone in Ann Arbor … I don’t know if there is much of that to be had. MSU will do what it does and stick with it … even if that means its formula runs the team straight into the ground. Defensively, A-gap blitzes. Offensively, run the ball. Everyone knows the fact that the team that runs the ball for more yards almost always wins this game. Run-based offense for MSU and a monster back in Le’Veon Bell — run the ball. I am sure UM will show plenty of the bear front like last year, but MSU has to run the ball with Bell to be successful, that is how they have won games this year and it is how they will have to try to win this one. I also expect Aaron Burbridge to continue to be a focal point at the wide receiver position, because at some point the ball has to move downfield in bigger chunks.
TBHR: In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest x-factor or storyline in this game?
LBB: Can the Spartans find some leadership and heart to win this game. It has been hard to watch MSU at many points this season because there seems to be a lack of heart, or a sense of complacency. It needs to turn around here for MSU. If they can’t find heart and passion to go against their biggest rival, this team doesn’t have much going for it. Can this team flip the direction this season seems to be going? This is kind of the final chance to really turn the perception around that this team might be going nowhere. But what it does have going for it is four wins in a row against Michigan. Even with MSU’s struggles this year, that momentum somewhat remains because it is in the heads of everyone on the Michigan side. Despite only being one number apart, in a win streak in college football, the difference between four and five is huge — especially given that MSU has never won five in a row against UM. That, to me, is the biggest storyline from the MSU side.