There’s a large contingent of people who have yet to come to terms with the fact that MSU is a team worth worrying about and there’s a long history of dominance from the Eastern side of the state to foster that idea. Recent history has changed the landscape of football in Michigan and while the recruiting end of things indicates that there are changes to come, MSU is a foe worth worrying over.
Their defense is good enough to keep them in 99% of games (I think they’d have a hard time with Oregon and Ohio State, but that’s a digression) and while their offense is sub par it’s good enough to exploit bad defenses and it never hurts when they get the ball in optimal position thanks to their defense.
Does that mean they’re unbeatable? Does it mean that Michigan shouldn’t even show up on Saturday? No, not even close. If the question was to simply name a quick and succinct way to beat them, the answer would be to beat them at their own game. Be physical and don’t leave anything in the tank. But that’s way too simplistic and why would you be reading this if the answer of how to beat MSU was to play great?
Here are a couple areas of how to take advantage of Michigan’s offensive weapons and Michigan State’s tendencies.
1. Spread the field out.
With Funchess and Gallon experiencing great success split outside, it becomes more paramount that they continue to pull pressure away from the middle of the field. Chesson, Dileo, Norfleet, and Jeremy Jackson are going to have to take advantage and eat up yards. Even if it’s five or six yards at a pop, keeping the offense on the field will tire State’s defense and will pay dividends beyond the score. It will also present another opportunity…
2. Let Gardner loose.
There are two types of Devin runs: the planned run and broken play scramble. There needs to be a good number of the first and hopefully not too many of the second. If the offense succeeds in spreading the field there should be ample opportunity for Devin to hold off a couple breaths and then scoot up the middle of the line. As with the first point, Gardner being able to gash the defense for fifty to seventy five yards will make it much easier for the wideouts and for the running backs to get some yards of their own.
3. Speaking of the running backs. Have a positive impact.
I’m not expecting Fitz and Derrick Green to go off for a record breaking day, but there needs to be some production. Some of that is going to rest on the OL’s shoulders but once again, I just want to see some ball security and positive yards when it is needed (like a 3rd and 1 when the game is on the line or M needs to ice the game). If the field does get spread and MSU’s defense is on the field longer than they’re used to, there should be some holes that will open later in the game. Also, show up in a way that isn’t seen on the stat sheet. Block Gardner’s blindside. Every additional second that DG has to wait for someone to miss an assignment will help.
4. Exploit MSUs penchant for physical play.
Michigan needs to be physical right alongside the rough and tough play of the State cornerbacks and front four. Fight thru the hand checks and bump and runs and at worst the refs will have to throw yellow. In regards to the line, put ’em on their butt. Lewan needs to show Calhoun and Rush why he’s regarded as a top draft pick and Schofield has a great opportunity on a national stage to bump up his draft stock.
5. Get in their faces in a close and intimate fashion
Michigan State thrives on physical play, shutting down the running game and exploiting quarterbacks with quick and rough secondary play. Michigan needs to do the same. Keep Langford bottled up and force Cook to beat you with his arm. The pundits say Cook had a great game against Illinois, but I tend to disagree. The touchdown throw to Fowler should never have been thrown and most of his completions came on easy short to medium range throws across the middle. Force Cook out of the pocket and make him errant in his throwing. If Michigan can get to Cook (even if it’s loading the box) they need to bring him down for negative yards. Third and longs are going to be the death of MSU (if Mich can then get off the field).
6-10. Win the turnover battle.
This area is void of explanation for fear of redundancy.
If Michigan does all this, does it mean they’re a shoe in for a plus one in the win column? No, but I do think it goes a long way in paving the road to both winning on Saturday and getting to the B1G championship game.