Jim Miller: Rivalry Gut Check Time
For the 105th time, Michigan State and Michigan will square off this weekend in Ann Arbor. It’s gut check time for the 23rd ranked Wolverines because they are trying to avoid a fifth consecutive loss to the Spartans. The Wolverines have not only lost 4 consecutive times to Michigan State, but during the last two meetings, they were physically embarrassed.
Michigan State’s gut check is re-evaluating their goals within the Legends Division after coming off a gut wrenching, 19-16 double over time loss to Iowa last weekend. Furthermore, Michigan State has no time to waste feeling sorry for themselves as they are about to continue the most difficult stretch of their schedule.
Going into the season, I had Iowa (10/13), at Michigan (this weekend), at Wisconsin (10/27), then Nebraska (11/3), as Michigan State’s toughest stretch which would ultimately define their season. A loss to Ohio State would be irrelevant for Michigan State because destiny would be in their control if they took care of business during this difficult 4 game stint. But now, this Michigan State/Michigan rivalry game this weekend has added significance for Michigan State as they attempt to salvage their season. This game is more than Michigan State checking their gut. MSU needs to come out of the “Big House” this weekend with a “W” checked in the win column.
KEYS TO THE GAME
As good as Michigan State’s defense has been this season, they have also given up big plays at inopportune times, contributing to the 3 losses. Remember Notre Dame’s long bomb for a touchdown during the first half? How about Ohio State’s quarterback, Braxton Miller, hitting Smith down the sideline for Ohio State’s big long score? Or, how about last week when Iowa’s running back Marc Weismann ripped off a huge 37 yard run to set up Iowa’s late TD to send the game to overtime?
The loss to Ohio State was made more difficult by not containing quarterback Braxton Miller’s running ability. Michigan’s quarterback Denard Robinson - while not as talented as Miller - presents a similar challenge for Michigan State’s defense. Both players currently rank second and fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, respectively. Miller has 129 rushes for 912 yards averaging 130.3 yards a game with 9 TD’s on the season. Robinson’s numbers are almost as gaudy with fewer attempts (101) and less yardage (804), but a higher yard per game average of 134 yards with 6 TD’s on the year.
When passing the football, each quarterback takes “shot” plays, which means they take deep shots down the field. If you study the Big 10 statistics, Michigan has two receivers ranked in the top 10 for big plays. Wide receiver, Jeremy Gallon, is fourth with a 19.1 yard per reception and Drew Dileo is 9th with a 20.7 yard average. Both have huge plays for touchdowns of 65 yards or more.
Michigan State must:
1. Contain Dennard’s rushing ability. MSU has done so brilliantly the last two contests along with forcing Denard to throw interceptions which he has the propensity to do.
2. No big plays for scores which have cost MSU dearly this season.
3. Effectively run the ball with Le’Veon Bell to open up the passing game for the growing group of receivers, led by freshman Aaron Burbridge. They MUST make big plays!
Is your gut hurting yet just thinking about this?