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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Maxwell’

2013 opponent preview: Michigan State

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


Our opponent preview series has boiled down to the final three, and not so coincidentally they are the three rivals. Today, we take a look at who we feel will be the third-toughest opponent on the schedule, the Michigan State Spartans. Previously, we previewed AkronCentral MichiganUConnMinnesotaIowaIndianaPenn State, Northwestern, and Nebraska.

Overview

After back-to-back 11-win seasons and the league’s top defense intact, Michigan State entered 2012 with expectations of winning the Big Ten. Instead, the Spartans struggled to find an offensive identity and win close games. A 7-6 finish was embarrassing, but a closer look reveals just how close Mark Dantonio’s squad was to a better record. Five of the six losses were by a combined 13 points – one of them in overtime – and none by more than four points.

Dantonio shook up the coaching staff, hiring former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman to guide the offense along with Dave Warner, who spent the past six seasons coaching the quarterbacks.

Offense

Andrew Maxwell won't have the luxury of handing off to Le'Veon Bell 30 times a game this season (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

Bollman and Warner hope quarterback Andrew Maxwell can take a step forward in his senior season after a rocky 2012 in which he completed just 52.5 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. But Maxwell will be pushed by sophomore Connor Cook, who led the Spartans down the field for the game-winning score in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor, and incoming freshman Damion Terry.

The Big Ten’s leading rusher last season, Le’Veon Bell, is gone, and his replacement will likely be a committee. No back on the roster gained more than 50 yards a year ago. Nick Hill is the only back who found the end zone and will be the leading candidate for playing time, but the 5’8”, 190-pound junior carried the ball only 21 times for 48 yards. The most intriguing option is Riley Bullough, who converted from linebacker to running back to fill the need. The big redshirt freshman led all backs with 46 yards in the spring game.

The one area the Spartans have the most experience offensively is receiver. Bennie Fowler, Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett combined to catch 119 passes for 1,431 yards and seven touchdowns. Aaron Burbridge and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett are promising youngsters that will find their way into the mix. Tight end Dion Sims is gone, so Dantonio will have to find a replacement for him among the group of Paul Lang, Andrew Gleichert, Evan Jones, and Josiah Price.

The offensive line is also extremely experienced, returning three starters and getting two back from injury. Senior Fou Fonoti had started 13 straight games at right tackle before a foot injury ended his season after week two. He was slated to move over to left tackle so Skyler Burkland, who filled in for him, could retain his spot on the right, but Burkland left the team in late May. The offensive line shuffle may send Fonoti back to right tackle and keep Dan France, who was going to move inside, at left tackle. Either way, that leaves an opening. Blake Treadwell has started 10 career games at left guard and center.

Defense

Only six starters return on defense, but it should remain a strong squad. Pat Narduzzi is considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the conference and still has some stars to build around.

Senior middle linebacker Max Bullough – Riley’s brother – recorded 111 tackles and 12.5 for loss last season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, and will likely be one of the leading Butkus Award candidates heading into 2013. Senior Denicos Allen has started 26 straight games and has 14 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss. The newcomer to the starting lineup is junior Taiwan Jones who played in all 13 games last season, starting four, and recorded 38 tackles. Pat Rhomberg and Darien Harris will also be in the rotation.

The line has the most to replace, returning only defensive end Marcus Rush, but there is a lot of talent waiting in the wings. Sohpomore Shilique Calhoun figures to fill the vacancy left behind by William Gholston’s early departure for the NFL. Calhoun played in all 13 games last season and recorded a sack in the bowl game, but his spring performance has Michigan State coaches expecting big things from him this fall. With a superior pass rush ability, he may be able to live up to the hype Gholston was supposed to.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 7 South Florida
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 @ Notre Dame
Oct. 5 @ Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 @ Illinois
Nov. 2 Michigan
Nov. 16 @ Nebraska
Nov. 23 @ Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

The middle of the line will feature Tyler Hoover and Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge, but rising sophomore Lawrence Thomas will make a strong push for the starting job. The former five-star recruit started at fullback last season, but is moving back to the defensive line. Senior Micajah Reynolds will provide depth at the position with six career starts to his name.

The secondary is led by All-Big Ten cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who may be a first round draft pick next April. On the other side, Trae Waynes will replace All-Big Ten cornerback Johnny Adams, who is now in the NFL. Waynes performed well in place of Adams in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Narduzzi hopes he will continue to get better. Senior Isaiah Lewis and junior Kurtis Drummond are both back at strong and free safety, respectively. Lewis is a third-year starter and was All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. Former four-star recruit Demetrious Cox will push Drummond for his spot, while R.J. Williamson will provide depth.

Special Teams

Kicker Dan Conroy is gone, leaving a three-way battle for the job between senior Kevin Muma, redshirt freshman Kevin Cronin, and incoming freshman Michael Geiger. The latter was the top kicking prospect in the country. Punter Mike Sadler is back from an impressive season that saw him lead the Big Ten with an average of 43.3 yards per punt.

Outlook

In order to improve on last season’s record, the offense will have to be better, which could be hard without Bell in the backfield. The defense will be strong, but may not be able to carry the Spartans again. The good news is Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are all off the schedule, and the Spartans get Michigan at home, so the schedule sets up nicely. They do have to travel to South Bend, however.

What it means for Michigan

The main reason I have this game ranked “easier” than Notre Dame is because Michigan gets the advantage of a bye week before heading to East Lansing. That means Hoke and Co. have two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. But as long as Dantonio is in East Lansing, beating State will never be easy. Dantonio prepares for Michigan with a manic obsession and will be looking for revenge after last season’s last-second Michigan win.

The good news is now that Michigan got that monkey off its back, the Wolverines will be much more confident for this year’s matchup. In addition, Jake Ryan should be back from injury by then. This is the start of a brutal five-game November, and there’s a decent chance both teams could be unbeaten coming in. The winner could be in the driver’s seat for the Legends division.

Rival Rewind finally gives Notre Dame some credit

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012


Michigan has the unique position of having three big rivals. Most teams only have one rival to get up for, but year-in and year-out, Michigan has three. While we, as fans, hate each of these teams, we carry some respect for them. Michigan State and Ohio State carry conference affiliation ties while Notre Dame, well, we all just put up with them. All season long, it’s fun to keep track of how each of them is doing, but there’s only so much time on Saturday to watch games. More often than not, they play at the same time Michigan does so you don’t get a chance to do your “advanced scouting.” Well, don’t fret because we’ve got you covered. This weekly feature will give you an overview of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State’s games the previous weekend and a look ahead to the upcoming one.

#5 Notre Dame 30 – #8 Oklahoma 13
Record: 8-0
This Week: Home vs. Pittsburgh (4-4, 1-3 Big East) | 3:30pm | NBC

I did not expect Notre Dame to win Saturday night, nor did I expect it to be as wide a margin as it was. Yet, the Irish are now sitting at 8-0 with USC the only remaining opponent of note. The score might lead one to think the game wasn’t very close but up until the latter half of the fourth quarter it was anyone’s game.

Boomer Sooner was no match for the Irish (photo by Wesley Hitt, Getty Images)

The game was back and forth for the first three plus quarters before Notre Dame pulled ahead with 17 unanswered. The Irish dominated on the ground, taking advantage of Oklahoma’s weak rush defense to the tune of 215 yards. No single player went over 100 yards but Riddick, Wood and Golson all found the end zone. Landry Jones was 35-for-51 for 356 yards, exposing the Irish secondary, but he failed to put the ball in the end zone and was picked off by Manti Te’o late in the game.

Oklahoma tied the game at 13 with just over nine minutes remaining in the game on a Blake Bell run, and it looked like this one was going to go down to the wire. The Irish, however, had other ideas as Everett Golson capped off a 73-yard drive with a touchdown run. Manti Te’o sealed the Irish victory as he picked off a Landry Jones pass with 4:27 remaining. Notre Dame added a field goal and the Sooners turned the ball over on downs on their own 20, leading to another Irish touchdown.

The Irish defense stifled Oklahoma on 3rd downs (5-of-14) and have yet to allow more than 17 points in any one game. I think it’s safe to say the Irish are making their way back to national relevance, but I will hold off any praise until I see a BCS bowl appearance in back to back seasons of at least 10 wins.

This Week:

The Irish head back home to take on an average Pitt team. I expect to see more of the same solid Irish defense we have seen thus far as Notre Dame continues its quest towards the BCS title game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27 – Pitt 12

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Michigan State 16 – Wisconsin 13 OT
Record: 5-4 (2-3 Big Ten)
This Week: Home vs. #20 Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) | 3:30pm | ABC

Wisconsin, barring a complete collapse and some miracles, is heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. They experienced a little hiccup Saturday as Michigan State stunned them in overtime, giving the Badgers their first home loss since 2009, snapping a streak of 21 straight.

MSU celebrates the fact that it's no longer in danger of missing a bowl (photo by Andy Manis, AP)

It was a typical Big Ten battle as the Spartans bottled up Montee Ball and held the Badgers to 190 yards of total offense. Michigan State was nothing special on offense as their normally stout rushing attack was held to 61 total yards. Neither team looked good in this one but MSU managed to get the game into overtime and won on an Andrew Maxwell touchdown pass.

It was a bit surprising to see Montee Ball held to such a low total but the Spartans have proven to be solid against the run. William Gholston and Max Burrough combined for eight tackles for loss as they again led the Michigan State defense.

This Week:

Sparty heads back home to take on a Nebraska team fresh off its upset win over Michigan. I was not that impressed with Nebraska last week, despite their win, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see MSU frustrate Taylor Martinez into some bad decisions and come away with the win, which would be great for Michigan. But we shall see what happens.

Prediction: Michigan State 24 – Nebraska 21

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Ohio State 35 – Penn State 23
Record: 9-0 (5-0 Big Ten)
This Week: Home vs. Illinois (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) | 3:30pm | ESPN

Braxton Miller exploded – surprise surprise – for three touchdowns as Ohio State ran away with the game against Penn State. His passing left something to be desired as he was only 7-for-19, but his legs got the job done again with 25 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

OSU won the "Probation Bowl" or the "Ineligibowl" as some were calling it (photo by Gene J. Puskar)

The outcome was never in doubt after half as OSU rattled off 21 points in the third, kicked off by a pick six from Ryan Shazier. Penn State attempted to come back but couldn’t close the gap. Once again, Ohio State gave up a ton of yards through the air as Matt McGloin went 27-for-45 for 327 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

The Buckeyes used their ground game to pound Penn State into submission, racking up 234 yards and three touchdowns.

This Week:

OSU looks primed to win its next two games against Illinois (on Saturday) and at Wisconsin, setting up a great game against Michigan. Michigan will be fighting for a shot at the Big Ten title game and OSU will be playing its last game of the season. Michigan’s defense has been stout against the run and pass but its offense has been incredibly one-dimensional. We’ll touch more on that as the game approaches, but needless to say it should be a great game. Illinois won’t put up much of a fight, and OSU should win easily.

Prediction: Ohio State 42 – Illinois 17

MMQ: win over Spartans shows Denard’s maturity

Monday, October 22nd, 2012


Well, it wasn’t pretty, but Michigan got the victory against its in-state rival in what can best be summed up as a defensive battle. The stat lines were essentially the same for each team. Michigan was extremely balanced offensively, rushing and passing for 163 yards apiece (326 total), but probably not because it wanted to be. If you asked the coaches, they would likely tell you that if they could have more yards on the ground, they would have been ecstatic. MSU totaled 304 yards behind a good performance from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who was 21-of-34 for 192 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The similarity in statistics goes even further: each team had the same number of first downs (16), same number of turnovers (one), same number of punts (seven), and almost the same number of penalties (six versus seven) and time of possession (28 minutes to 31).

Credit Denard for making the plays to win (AP photo)

So what we saw on Saturday were two pretty evenly matched teams. Michigan came out looking to contain MSU running back Le’Veon Bell, which it did to the tune of only 2.6 yards per carry, matching his lowest of the season. The plan was to force Maxwell to throw the ball to a group of young receivers and pressure Maxwell into making mistakes.

The MSU defensive game plan was similar – contain quarterback Denard Robinson and keep him from making big plays with his feet, and put pressure on Denard while keeping him in the pocket, hoping that he would throw some bad passes which the MSU defense could capitalize on. If you remember, this is what MSU head coach Mark Dantonio did last year. And the year before that. It’s also what he tried to do this season against Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, except Miller threw the ball well that day. In fact, if you look at Miller’s passing stats from that game (16-of-23 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception), they almost mirror Denard’s on Saturday (14-of-29 for 163 yards and an interception).

So what is the point? While it didn’t appear to the average fan as if Denard played that well yesterday (because he wasn’t running all over the field at will like he did in every game besides the Alabama game against below average defenses), he did what he needed to do to direct the offense down the field against the second best defense Michigan has seen this season. Denard’s only turnover was a meaningless interception on the last play of the first half. He did a nice job of not getting frustrated when the read-option didn’t open up for most of the game. A younger, less mature Denard would have tried to make a play himself by keeping it even when the read said that he shouldn’t. The less-polished passer in the Denard of even a year ago would have rushed his throws or not carried out a quality fake on the play-action passes which Michigan had success with. MSU wanted Denard to lose the game for his team, but that is not the type of guy who is behind center for this Michigan team. Give credit to offensive coordinator Al Borges for not giving up on the game plan and staying with the offense that he has had success with all season. Unlike last year, Borges stayed with Denard and his abilities and called the plays that complimented Denard’s skills.

Mark Dantonio is happy he doesn't have to face Denard again (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

Earlier in the year, I talked about Denard’s improvements as a quarterback and how hard he worked to become the player that he is today. Games like the one against MSU are why we can be thankful that Denard is the way he is: a leader, a worker, and a quarterback.  Over the last four years since Denard’s arrival, in a time when Michigan football experienced one of its worst periods in history, Denard provided a reason for Michigan fans to be excited about Saturdays. He’s not ever going to be compared to the great Michigan quarterbacks of old for the number of touchdowns he threw or the number of yards he passed for. What he should be remembered for is how he led this team threw the adversity. Adversity like the Wolverines faced this weekend. Denard didn’t do anything real flashy, but he made plays when he needed to and kept his team in the game the entire time. One guy who is happy that he won’t have to face Denard again is Dantonio, who said after the game, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Denard and the Wolverines will face more adversity next weekend in a night game in Lincoln, Neb. The infamous ‘Blackshirt’ defense is no longer what it was in the 1980s and 90s, as the Cornhuskers are giving up almost 28 points per game and have been hurt by athletic quarterbacks this season (see OSU and Northwestern). Denard’s leadership this week will be important as the team gets ready. Not because Nebraska presents an impossible challenge, but because they have to go on the road into a hostile environment after winning an emotional game against their second biggest rival. It’s a classic ‘let-down game’ scenario and one in which Denard and the team will need to avoid falling prey to if they want to keep their hopes alive for a Big Ten championship.

Michigan 12 – Michigan State 10: Order restored as Bunyan returns

Sunday, October 21st, 2012


For the past four years the Paul Bunyan trophy has resided in East Lansing. Tonight the rightful owners of this storied trophy have brought him back to Ann Arbor, where he belongs. Michigan State has recently enjoyed the upper hand in the rivalry, though wins against Rich Rod’s inept ‘defenses’ don’t really count in my book, but Michigan has regained some of its swagger and put Little Brother back in its place.

#23 Michigan 12 – Michigan State 10
Final Stats
12 Final Score 10
5-2, 3-0 Record 4-4, 1-3
326 Total Yards 304
163 Net Rushing Yards 112
163 Net Passing Yards 192
16 First Downs 16
1 Turnovers 1
6-55 Penalties – Yards 7-50
7-295 Punts – Yards 7-290
28:34 Time of Possession 31:26
5-of-15 Third Down Conversions 6-of-17
0-of-0 Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1
1-10 Sacks By – Yards 0-0
4-for-4 Field Goals 1-for-2
0-for-0 PATs 1-for-1
2-for-2 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-for-2

If you had told me last week that Michigan would not put the ball in the end zone, I would have told you there is no way they win. Yet, that is exactly what happened. A classic Big Ten defensive battle that ended with a Brendan Gibbons game winning field goal with only seconds remaining. Drew Dileo was the unlikely hero, having his hands on all 12 Wolverines points, as he is the holder for field goals. He finished with four catches for 92 yards, the final yards coming on a 20-yard reception to set up the game winning field goal on a second and long attempt as time was ticking away.

Michigan State played better than expected on offense and kept the Wolverines on their heels, mostly with the passing game. Andrew Maxwell played well, hitting 21-of-34 passes for 192 yards, adding a pick and a touchdown. Le’Veon Bell toted the rock 26 times for 68 yards, a lowly 2.6 yards per carry average. Freshman Aaron Burbridge has stepped up recently and continued to be the de facto number one receiver for Maxwell. He led the Spartans with six catches for 51 yards.

Denard Robinson looked bad on the ground for most of the game, but came up with plays when he needed to. He was just shy of 100 yards rushing and added 163 in the air. He did throw a pick, but it was meaningless as it was the final play of the first half. Fitz Toussaint was bottled up most of the day and finished with 52 yards on 10 carries. However, 38 of those came on one big run early in the second quarter which set up their first score. Surprisingly, Thomas Rawls did not see any action.

Sparty’s plan all game was to focus on shutting down Denard – shocking, I know. But the way they did it makes me concerned for the rest of the season. They simply forced Denard into keeping the ball on the zone read but spying him all along and leaving him no room. Aside from a 44-yard burst, he was kept in check.

The two teams battled back and forth, and with Michigan up 9-7 early in the fourth quarter, MSU fumbled the ball on a Le’Veon Bell carry. The Spartans recovered but it seemed as though they were all but dead as they were forced to punt. Mark Dantonio, however, had different plans as he faked the punt and MSU continued to march down the field. Eighteen plays, 90 yards and almost eight minutes later, the Spartans added a field goal to go up 10-9.

Brendan Gibbons nailed the game-winner with five seconds left (photo by the Detroit News)

Michigan got the ball back and looked to be in business as Denard busted off his 44-yard run on second down, but then things went downhill. Toussaint lost a few on a run play, then two consecutive penalties put the Wolverines in a 3rd-and-22. Michigan punted the ball away with just over three minutes to go. If the Spartans added even just a field goal, it would force Michigan into needing a touchdown to win.

Thankfully, Sparty threw two incomplete passes then Jake Ryan forced a fumble on third down. MSU did recover but was forced to punt. Michigan got the ball on its own 38 with two minutes to play – plenty of time for Denard to work some late game magic, and he did just that. After moving the ball to the State 41, Michigan was facing a 2nd-and-11. Denard found an open Dileo for a 20-yard strike to set up the game winning field goal, a 38-yarder from Gibbons. Sparty attempted a Stanford-Cal moment in the final seconds but they were not so lucky.

Michigan ended its losing streak to Little Brother and added win number 900 in the process. Not a bad way to reach that milestone. Michigan stands atop the Legends division and controls its own fate going forward. Every other team has one loss, and unless something crazy happens, Michigan should be looking at a match up with Wisconsin in Indianapolis come December.

That said, Michigan does have to travel to Nebraska next week and ends the season in that city in Ohio which is a tough place to play. Regardless, this team takes it one week at a time and they know Nebraska will be looking to avenge the blowout loss to Michigan in 2011.

Nebraska is an interesting team, having lost to UCLA, beaten Wisconsin and got throttled by Ohio State. This weekend, the Cornhuskers rallied to beat Northwestern 29-28 behind Taylor Martinez’s 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. They are, however, a run heavy team, averaging a monstrous 292 yards rushing per game and putting up almost 44 points per game. Martinez has been known to be either hot or cold so who knows what we’ll see next week in Lincoln. But rest assured, Michigan had better bring its A-game to stop this rushing attack.

Michigan is a talented team but they haven’t shown particularly well against tough, physical teams lately. It wouldn’t surprise me if they ran away with the Big Ten title or if they suffered a couple more losses going forward. Al Borges’ play calling hasn’t instilled enough confidence in me to choose one way or the other. But what I do know is that this team has a lot of heart and they are not going to quit when things get tough, and I guess that’s all you can ask of any team, to give it their all every game.

The last time Michigan played an away night game it was an epic game. This may not be as down to the wire, but it should be a good one nonetheless. Michigan should win, and I’ll give a score during our weekly staff predictions next Friday.

M&GB Pick’em: Michigan State staff predictions

Friday, October 19th, 2012


Last week, we were all pretty close to Michigan’s score, but none of us thought Michigan would pitch a shutout. But that’s precisely what it did. Josh was the only one to get Michigan’s point total of 45 exactly right and he was also the closest to zero for Illinois’ score, so he took home his second win of the season. Now, Michigan faces its second rivalry game of the season against a Michigan State squad that has a good scoring defense but a bad scoring offense. Michigan’s defense has improved all season and the offense is finding its stride. So what will give?

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY
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Justin: Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13
Chris: Michigan 30 – Michigan State 13
Josh: Michigan 28 – Michigan State 17
Sam: Michigan 36 – Michigan State 10
Katie: Michigan 28 – Michigan State 21
Matt: Michigan 41 – Michigan State 27

___________________________

Average: Michigan 31 – Michigan State 17

Justin: While Michigan State isn’t as good as most expected before the season started, I don’t think this will be an easy win by any means. With three losses – two in the Big Ten – Michigan State is essentially playing to save face tomorrow. The Big Ten title is likely out the window, so similar to what Michigan will see at season’s end against Ohio State, the Spartans would love nothing more than to spoil Michigan’s chances.

The Spartan defense is formidable, but the guys in the interior are nowhere near as talented as Jerel Worthy was, which is a big reason the ends, Will Gholston and Marcus Rush, haven’t produced as well as they did last season. Gholston is fast and can chase down the ball carrier, but is not good when teams run straight at him, which is precisely what Michigan should do. The linebackers, led by Max Bullough, are some of the best in the conference, so Al Borges will need to keep them off balance with play action and well-timed screens.

On the other side of the ball, State’s offense has been anemic for most of the season and Michigan’s defense has been steadily improving. The past two weeks, Michigan didn’t exactly face a downfield passing game, so it will be interesting to see how the Michigan secondary holds up against a passing offense that has six guys with 15 or more catches and five with 200 or more receiving yards. But the bread and butter of the Spartan offense is running back Le’Veon Bell who already has 200 rushes and is about to eclipse 1,000 yards. Ohio State held him to just 2.6 yards per carry, and while Michigan likely won’t limit him to those numbers, the defense certainly can slow him down.

Expect Greg Mattison to dial up some blitzes to confuse and put pressure on Maxwell while stuffing the run on obvious run downs. With a similar offense as we saw the past couple weeks, Denard should be able to get his yards while the combo of Fitz and Thomas Rawls will pound away. As long as Denard doesn’t make the passing mistakes he made against Notre Dame, which I don’t think he will because the passing game will be much more controlled, Michigan will win.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13

Chris (1): Here we go folks! Time for the Wolverines to make up for four years of frustration against their in-state rival. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Andrew Maxwell has thrown twice as many passes as Denard this season (photo by Darron Cummings, AP)

MSU enters the contest at 4-3 overall, 1-2 Big Ten. The season so far can best be summed up for the Spartans as a disappointment. A lot of people in the media and across the country had the Spartans pegged win the Legends division and go on to become Big Ten champs. Things changed early in the season, however.  In the first game against Boise State, many witnessed a serious flaw in the MSU offense. That was the lack of a passing game, as MSU was breaking in a new quarterback in Andrew Maxwell and a group of inexperienced receivers.  Running back Le’Veon Bell has essentially been a one man show, however, one player can’t win football games on his own and defenses have attacked MSU by stopping the run and forcing Maxwell to win games. This has resulted in a lack of scoring to the tune of 21 points per game.

The MSU defense, which was came into the season as the strength of the team, has actually been alright. They are the 14th-ranked scoring defense at 15.7 points and feature eight returning starters, led by defensive end William Gholston and linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen.

On Saturday, I believe the key to a Michigan win will be the ability of the Wolverines offense to stay balanced and mix up the play calling to keep the MSU linebackers from flying all over the field and making plays. This means using play-action passes and running a variety of inside and outside running plays. Al Borges would be wise to keep Denard in the shotgun to give him so time to react to what will be a tough upfield rush to stop the run and put pressure on Denard when he passes. In last season’s game in East Lansing, I thought that Denard missed a lot of opportunities to scramble when the protection broke down, as the MSU defensive line rushed hard upfield and left running lanes open. At that time, Borges was still trying to make Denard into a pocket quarterback, so Denard hung in the pocket and either took sacks or forced bad passes.

With the struggles that the MSU offense has had this season, you have to think that the Michigan defense has a serious edge here. Especially with the way they have looked over the past two weeks, albeit against lesser competition. However, Greg Mattison has done an excellent job with the guys on his side of the ball and I expect this to continue on Saturday.

The one thing that MSU has in their favor here is that they will be coming into this game looking for a statement win to re-establish their season. I don’t think that will be enough. Certainly not in Ann Arbor after Michigan has lost four straight in the rivalry and is still very much in the hunt for a Big Ten title. I like Michigan to win.

Michigan 30 – Michigan State 13

Josh (2): Little Brother has won four games in a row against Michigan. Granted, three of those were against the Rich Rod regime and don’t really count in my opinion, but they are not the dominant program in the state of Michigan or in the Legends division, and it is time to put them back in their place.

Expect a good dose of Rawls tomorrow (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

MSU has struggled mightily thus far, losing to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Iowa, and almost lost to bottom feeder Indiana. Their defense is only allowing 16 points per game but the offense is only putting up 21. Andrew Maxwell has been improving as a passer but Sparty has yet to find a true number one receiver. Le’Veon Bell is a workhorse back and he is capable of gashing any defense. If Maxwell can take some pressure of Bell with the passing game this could be a long afternoon for the Wolverines.

Unfortunately for State fans, I just don’t see that happening. Despite what the media is saying about Team 133, the fact is that they’ve only lost two games. Alabama, the undisputed No. 1 and probable BCS Champion, and Notre Dame. They may be overrated but the truth of the matter is they’re No. 5 in the BCS poll and Michigan barely lost to them despite six turnovers. Those losses are about as respectable as you can get. Michigan has beaten the teams it should beat, and beat themselves against a good team in South Bend.

Al Borges has recently trimmed the playbook and opted for a more run-friendly approach, and it has paid off. Michigan is running the ball for 232 yards per game (16th in the nation) and has exploded for almost 330 yards per game over the last two. Fitz Toussaint is slowly getting back in a rhythm but Thomas Rawls has been nipping at his heels. According to Borges, Rawls has earned the right for more touches and when he gets them he makes the most of them. I expect to see Rawls with a much larger role moving forward and it starts Saturday in Ann Arbor against MSU. It’s no secret that I like Thomas Rawls, a lot. But even if Fitz still gets the lion’s share of the carries it just means we have three running threats, something no team wants to game plan against.

Much like Team 132’s seniors against OSU, these seniors will not leave Michigan having never beaten a hated rival. I expect Jake Ryan to continue to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield and Raymon Taylor will continue to play well in the secondary as they keep Andrew Maxwell in check.

Throw out what both teams have done up to this point, it doesn’t matter. Both teams will bring their A-game and it should be a great game. At the end of the day Michigan will have reclaimed Paul Bunyan and solidified themselves as not only the favorite in the Legends division but in the Big Ten conference.

Michigan 28 – Michigan State 17

Matt (2): This Saturday at 3:30, Michigan will host the Michigan State Spartans in the Battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy. This may be the most exciting week leading up to a game except for that one game on the last Saturday of November, but we’ll get to that.

The Wolverines have lost the last four they’ve played against Michigan State, including a heartbreaking loss in overtime. Just thinking about it hurts.

This Saturday, the Wolverines are a 9.5 point favorite – something that we wouldn’t have expected before the season started. Back then, it seemed everyone thought that Wisconsin and Michigan State were going to repeat, and go to the Big Ten Championship for the second straight year. Oh how things have changed.

Michigan State’s rushing game has been down this season, and so has their defense. Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense has took a huge jump since the beginning of the season, and has been making scoring points seem pretty easy.

Last week, Michigan gave Illinois quite the beating, winning 45-0. Michigan out-passed them 174 yards to 29, and out-rushed them 353 to 105. Now, do I think Michigan State is a better team than Illinois? Yes I do. Do I think Michigan State will be able to score some points on the Wolverines? Yes. But, the biggest question is, whether I think Michigan State can beat Michigan.

This is a rivalry game. In many rivalry games, you can throw all records and all stats out the window. It’s who wants it more. It’s hatred, it’s trick plays. It’s pulling out all the stops. We’ve seen Michigan State pull out some crazy plays. We’ve seen fake field goals for game winning passes, among other things. I’ll admit, I’ve seen the Spartans pull out some nailbiter games, with some awfully clever and risky plays.

However, Brady Hoke and his coaching staff have been incredible. We have seen this team get better and better. Hoke, Borges and Mattison obviously know what they are doing. They are great coaches. I doubt we will see a whole lot of trick plays this Saturday, but these coaches don’t seem to need trick plays. They seem to do just fine with what they have. With what they teach these players. I think this Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines are going to snap this losing streak to Sparty. We’re going to bring the Paul Bunyan trophy back home to the Big House, and we’re going to show the world that we belong at the top of the Legends division of the Big Ten!

Sorry, got ahead of myself a little.

Michigan wins, with a dominating performance against Little Brother.

Michigan 41 – Michigan State 27

Sam (1): With a 45-0 pounding of Illinois last weekend, Michigan is riding high and sitting at 2-0 (4-2 overall) in the Big Ten. The Spartans of East Lansing, on the other hand, couldn’t be lower, sitting at 1-2 (4-3 overall) in the conference after an ugly 19-16 double overtime loss at home to Iowa. This week, Michigan State takes a short trip east on 96 and a quick hop south on 23 to Ann Arbor to face their biggest rivals, poised to put forth their best effort. One thing is certain – they’re going to need it.

Braxton Miller found plenty of running room against the Spartan defense. Can Denard? (photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

The Wolverines come into this weekend blazing hot on both sides of the ball. They have scored 44 or more points in three of their past four games and have only given up a combined 19 points over their past three games. Denard Robinson (surprise!) has been the name of the game lately, rushing for 363 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions over the past two weeks.

Obviously Robinson is a special talent, often making plays out of nothing, but a lot of credit needs to go to the offensive line, which has paved the way for the running game and admirably protected their quarterback on passing plays.

If one thing is going wrong for Michigan offensively, it’s the play of their running backs. Fitzgerald Toussaint continues to struggle to make the right cuts and pick the right holes, and it appears that backups Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, and possibly Vincent Smith will see a number of carries from here on out as Al Borges likely deploys a platoon system.

For Michigan State, again, the opposite couldn’t be truer. First-year starter Andrew Maxwell’s play has steadily declined despite not turning the ball over too often, as he managed just 179 yards (with no touchdowns and one pick) on 12 of 31 passing last week. The banged-up offensive line seems to cave on every passing play and has struggled to create holes for the running game, in stark contrast to Taylor Lewan and the rest of Michigan’s front.

The lone bright spot? Junior running back Le’Veon Bell, who has carried the ball a whopping 200 times in seven games for 916 yards and eight touchdowns, good for averages of 28.5 carries per game and 4.6 yards per carry. To make these numbers even more impressive, consider the fact that he weighs nearly 250 pounds and defenses have keyed on him in just about every game.

If Michigan State is to have a chance this Saturday, Bell will have to have a tremendous game, yes, but Dan Roushar will also have to keep the Wolverines defense on its heels by mixing up the calls a little bit. No running back will be good enough against this Michigan defense to win the game by himself.

Speaking of Michigan’s defense, watch for redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan, who represents Bennie Oosterbaan with his number and legacy patch, to continue his destruction of quarterbacks and running backs at large. Ryan has been racking up sacks and tackles this season like he’s being paid to do it. To put it simply, he has been unstoppable. He registered some 11 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss to go along with a forced fumble on a play in which he fell down and later ran down the quarterback last week alone. Kenny Demens has been great as well, partially due to strong fundamental tackling and partially due to a stout defensive line that has really seemed to hold its own lately.

Aaron Burbridge has stepped up for the MSU receiving corps the past two weeks (photo by Darron Cummings, AP)

Maxwell is going to have to throw the ball well this Saturday and hope that reliable tight end Dion Sims will be back from his ankle injury to give coach Mark Dantonio hope. True freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged as a go-to target two games ago against Indiana, and he will be an X-factor in this game as well, as he figures to match up with the still relatively-untested Raymon Taylor. The other Spartan receivers have really struggled to catch the ball; if Michigan State continues to shoot themselves in the foot, they might as well save their gas and ship Paul Bunyan via FedEx to Ann Arbor.

Michigan State will certainly want to keep this game low-scoring, as their defense is certainly the strength of the team. The Spartans have yielded 20 points only twice this season – 20 to Notre Dame in a game in which the offense was anemic and 27 to Indiana, all in the first half. If they hold Michigan under 20 by containing Robinson with their strong front seven, this will be a one-possession game.

There is absolutely no denying that Michigan State has owned this rivalry over the past four seasons; sure, the games have been pretty close, but four wins in a row is four wins in a row. The last time that happened, my parents had lived less than a year combined (not to make anyone feel old here though). A win for the Spartans would give them their longest-ever winning streak over Michigan, and something tells me that this game will be closer than what most expect. Michigan State has been Michigan’s first loss the past three seasons, and while neither of these teams comes into this weekend undefeated for the first time since 2008, the stakes certainly remain high.

Something else tells me, however, that Brady Hoke is going to want to send a message to his in-state brethren that the tides are turning in the state of Michigan. Both teams are going to give it their all, but one team’s all has proven to be much better than the other’s this season. Denard Robinson will shake the cobwebs off from last season’s 28-14 loss with a monster four touchdown game, and though Michigan State will put the first points on the board (with a field goal), Michigan will score the next 20 on its way to a blowout.

Michigan 36 – Michigan State 10

Katie: I think it’s safe to say that the Spartans have not gotten off to the start they had wished for in the preseason. Being 1-2 in Big Ten play also doesn’t help matters. With a loss to Michigan the Spartans will lose all hope of playing in the conference championship, but even now with a couple of losses to Ohio State and Iowa, their chances aren’t looking favorable.

As for the Wolverines, after the two losses to non-conference teams they have beaten both Purdue and Illinois, though it must be said that those teams combined Big Ten records make them 0-5. Michigan State will be Michigan’s first Legends division opponent, and as an instate rival the Spartans pose a distinct threat. Rivalry games have been known to throw rankings, and well thought out predictions out the window. So while it would seem that Michigan should be able to end their four game losing streak, it’s also possible that State will take last week’s loss to Iowa to heart and fight to remain afloat in the division standings. Now for the analysis.

We've missed you, Paul

Michigan’s starters include six seniors and five juniors, while the Spartans have five upperclassman to their six with less than two seasons under their belts. Offensively, it seems that the matchup will be between Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell and Michigan’s Denard Robinson. Whoever can get their offense up to speed and gain enough pace to prevent idling should be able to eat the clock and take home the win. Considering the Spartans have had to punt twice as many times as the Wolverines I’m giving the advantage to the home team here.

As for the run game, Le’Veon Bell is a force and is easily within range of a 1,000-yard season. Of course, Michigan’s Robinson is known for his scrambling abilities and fleet footedness. Who has the better game? It’s a tossup. As for the pitch and catch side of things, the edge goes to the Spartans whose receiving core of Mumphrey and Sims both have over 300 yards, and that’s not including the three other players over 200 yards on the season. Michigan has just two receivers over 200 yards. And while Maxwell and Denard have roughly the same passing percentage, Robinson has two times the amount of interceptions, and is the senior and captain of the team. Maxwell came into the season having only 50 passing attempts in his career.

If the Wolverines want this game to go as smoothly as possible they need their quarterback to play smarter football, and receivers Roundtree, Gardner, and Funchess to step up and make big time catches. If it hits you in the hands you have got to come down with it. But as much as the offense needs to do for both teams the defense needs to slow their resolve.

The starters on defense for both teams are pretty evenly matched. The Spartans have two tremendous linebackers in Allen and Bullough, and a playmaker at safety in Isaiah Lewis. They have five picks on the year, the same as Michigan. But Michigan State also has a formidable defensive end in William Gholston, whose specialty is pass defense. So while the Wolverines have 400 total tackles on the season, 20 less than the Spartans, they lack the defensive standout. However, since the total points allowed category is slightly in Michigan’s favor at 105 vs State’s 110 if Michigan stays balanced they could very well hold the Spartans to under 21 points, which would mean that the offense would have to score one touchdown per quarter, a manageable feat for Michigan.

I think this will be a hard fought game, but one which will end the Wolverines disappointing streak against the Spartans.

Michigan 28 – Michigan State 21

Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 19th, 2012


We all know the well-worn refrain about little brothers by now. Whether the statement made by Mike Hart following Michigan’s win in 2007 had anything to do with the following four years or not, the simple fact of the matter is that Michigan State has controlled the rivalry since then. It has certainly been quite a ride for our brethren to the northwest to the point that our green friends starting to forget that the first 100 years of the rivalry even occurred. But they did and Michigan hopes this is the year things get back on track.

Michigan State comes limping into Ann Arbor following a 19-16 double-overtime loss to Iowa, the Spartans third loss of the season so far. Their Big Ten title hopes are slim to none at this point and a loss to Michigan would essentially eliminate them from contention.

Michigan Stadium  –  Ann Arbor, Mich.
3:30pm EST  –  Big Ten Network
______________

Michigan State Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (6th season)
Coaching Record: 48-25 (at MSU), 66-42 (Overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dan Roushar
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi
Returning Starters: 13 (5 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 11-3 (7-1)
Last Meeting: Michigan State 28 – Michigan 14 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 67-32-5
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 48-20-3
In Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 33-18-3
Current Streak: Michigan State 4

On the other hand, Michigan won its first two conference games in convincing fashion, outscoring Purdue and Illinois 89-13 and outgaining them 936-347. That Michigan’s defense has stepped up since the first two weeks of the season (it gave up 66 points to Alabama and Air Force but just 32 in the four games since) doesn’t bode well for Michigan State’s offense which ranks 104th nationally, and second to last in the Big Ten, in scoring.

So will Michigan end State’s four year run or will it continue? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Michigan State has the ball

The Spartans average just 21 points per game despite playing three teams (Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Indiana) that rank 92nd or worse in scoring defense. The 23 points State scored on Eastern Michigan are fewer than Ball State, Illinois State, Purdue, Kent State, and Toledo each scored on the Eagles.

Despite the offensive ineptitude, quarterback Andrew Maxwell has shown flashes of promise. Against Indiana, he completed 24-of-40 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. But he’s also been inconsistent. Last week, he completed just 12-of-31 passes for 179 yards and an interception. On the season, he’s completing 54.3 percent of his passes (half a percentage point worse than Denard Robinson) for 1,607 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. He has thrown the ball an average of 37 times a game, compared to Denard’s 21.

One of his main problems has been inconsistency from his receiving targets. The leading receiver is Keith Mumphrey who has 25 receptions for 330 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Dion Sims is close behind with 24 for 313 and two touchdowns. Sims is listed as questionable with a left ankle injury, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say he’ll play. Bennie Fowler (20, 257, 2), Aaron Burbridge (15, 237), and Tony Lippett (19, 205) all have over 200 yards as well. Burbridge has been a pleasant surprise for Maxwell the past two weeks, catching 13 passes for 223 yards against Indiana and Iowa.

LeVeon Bell is the Spartans' workhorse that Michigan will need to stop

Of course, the running game is where the Spartans want to do the most damage and they have one of the best backs in the conference in LeVeon Bell. He’s been a workhorse so far this season, carrying the ball 200 times for 916 yards and eight touchdowns, an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He was a one-man show against Boise State and Eastern Michigan, toting the ball 80 times for 463 yards and three touchdowns in those two games alone. Michigan held him to his lowest total of the season (seven carries for 20 yards) last year, though his then-backfield mate Edwin Baker did the damage.

The offensive line has been a MASH unit for most of the season. Center Travis Jackson broke his leg and right tackle Fou Fonoti has a stress fracture. Guard Blake Treadwell is also recovering from an injury. It’s a unit that’s starting five won’t be solidified until gametime and will have the task of dealing with Michigan’s emerging defensive line.

When Michigan has the ball

Michigan State’s defense was expected to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten this season, and possibly one of the best in the country. Through the first seven games, it has been very good, but not nearly what everybody expected. The loss of tackle Jerel Worthy leaves the defensive line without a proven anchor. James Kittredge and Anthony Rashad White have been okay at the position, but haven’t had near the impact Worthy did. The pair has combined for 22 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Even so, the Spartans rush defense ranks eighth nationally, allowing just 91.3 yards per game.

The defensive ends and linebackers are the team’s strengths. Every Michigan fan is well aware of end William Gholston, but more for his hype and dirty antics in last year’s game than for his actual performance. So far this season, the junior has just five tackles for loss and one sack. His counterpart, Marcus Rush, has similar production with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack. That’s not great production for a front four that was dominant last season.

I mentioned a minute ago that the Spartans rush defense has been stout this season, but against Ohio State, a similar offense to Michigan’s, State gave up 204 yards on the ground. Braxton Miller accounted for 136 of those on 5.9 yards per carry. The main reason State was so successful defensively last season is Worthy’s presence in the middle, allowing the rest of the front seven to get into the backfield, harass the quarterbacks, and make plays resulting in negative yardage. In last year’s matchup, MSU recorded seven sacks for 62 yards, keeping Michigan on its heels. So far this season, State has recorded just six sacks through seven games.

The linebacking corps is a good one though, led by junior middle linebacker Max Bullough who leads the team with 58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and Denicos Allen who ranks second in tackles with 42 and also has a sack. Chris Norman, who started last year and began this season as a starter, was benched in favor of Taiwan Jones.

The secondary has three returning starters from last season, most notably corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. Neither has an interception yet, but both are solid corners. Safety Isaiah Lewis also returns,while Kurtis Drummond will get the start this week at the other safety spot. While State’s rush defense is stout, its pass defense is pretty good too, ranking 17th nationally.

The other third

Rushing Yards: 146 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 80, he could pass Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (2007-10) for 3rd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Passing Attempts: 6 – Denard will pass Tom Brady and Todd Collins for 4th in career passing attempts.
Pass Completions: 37 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Total Yards: 190 – Denard will pass Iowa’s Chuck Long (1981-85) for 7th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Mike Lantry and K.C. Lopata for 8th in career field goals made. With 5 he will tie Hayden Epstein for 7th.

Kicker Dan Conroy is as experienced as there is in the Big Ten. The third-year starter is 14-for-19 so far this season with a long of 50. He has made 79 percent of his field goals throughout his career. Punter Mike Sadler averages 43.9 yards per punt, which is second only to Will Hagerup. In the return game, MSU ranks around the middle of the pack nationally in both areas. Sophomore running back Nick Hill handles both duties, averaging 22.3 yards per kick return and 8.9 yards per punt return.

By comparison, Dennis Norfleet is averaging 23.6 per kick return, and that’s an area to watch on Saturday. Michigan State’s kick coverage unit ranks 111th nationally, giving up 26.23 yards per kick return.

Prediction

I actually have a good feeling about this one. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched most of every Michigan State game this season and haven’t been overly impressed. Maybe it’s because I watched Braxton Miller and Ohio State run all over them. Maybe I’m just overly optimistic this week. Regardless, this is going to be the year Denard finally breaks out and has a big game against the team that has bottled him up for the past two years. Look for a diversive offense aimed at taking advantage of MSU’s defensive aggressiveness. Screens like what we saw against Illinois last week can and will result in big gains.

Michigan’s pass defense will be tested by a downfield passing game for the first time since Alabama. We’ll get a chance to see how well the front seven has really improved at getting pressure on the quarterback, as well as whether the secondary that ranks in the top ten nationally is as good as its stats. But that’s not how State will try to beat Michigan. It will be with the run game and it will run Bell until he stops ringing. If Michigan can’t stop the run game, it will be a long day, but if the Wolverines are stopping Bell at the point of attack and forcing MSU to throw, it will be successful.

Michigan should be able to win the battle against State’s banged up offensive line, so I’m hopeful that Bell can be neutralized. So it will come down to whether Michigan can move the ball against State’s stout defense, and the success of OSU/Miller, as well as Iowa’s Weisman last week, gives me hope. If the weather forecast holds up without rain or wind, Michigan’s offense should be able to move the ball as it has all season. Hello 900 club, party of one.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 13

5-Spot Challenge: Week 7

Monday, October 15th, 2012



For the sixth time in six weeks we had a new winner. JustJeepGear.com edged out kfarmer16 by 14 points. JustJeepGear.com was just three off of Michigan’s rushing total (and so was previous winner bluwolf77) and four away from the longest touchdown. Maizenblu62 hit Michigan’s leading receiving total right on the nose, while last week’s winner, tooty_pops, was just one away from correctly predicting Denard’s rushing total. Nobody was very close to Illinois’ total yards. Kfarmer16 was the closest at 53 away.

Once again, nobody correctly predicted the final score, although both tooty_pops and kashkaav had Michigan scoring 45 points. However, kashkaav had Illinois scoring 36. Nobody picked Illinois to score fewer than 10.

Last week’s standings and the overall standings are updated on the right sidebar. We have a tie at the top. This week’s questions are below. Good luck and Go Blue!

Michigan State: first look

Sunday, October 14th, 2012


Read our preseason preview here.

There’s no denying the fact that Michigan State has had Michigan’s number the past few years. The Spartans were expected to be the class of the Big Ten once again this season with a dominant defense, but they enter this weekend’s matchup with three losses, two of them in conference. Those three losses were to Notre Dame (20-3), Ohio State (17-16), and Iowa (19-16 in double overtime). With the conference title likely out of reach, Michigan State will come to Ann Arbor looking to spoil Michigan’s chances. Can they? Let’s take a look.

Michigan State 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Michigan State Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 21.0 | 33.8 102 | 37 15.7 | 17.5 14 | 23
Rushing Yards 1,008 | 1,395 639 | 889
Rush Avg. Per Game 144.0 | 232.5 84 | 17 91.3 | 148.2 8 | 55
Avg. Per Rush 3.8 | 5.6 3.1 | 3.7
Passing Yards 1,654 | 1,116 1,252 | 804
Pass Avg. Per Game 236.3 | 186.0 59 | 104 178.9 | 134.0 17 | 3
Total Offense 2,662 | 1,575 1,891 | 1,693
Total Off Avg. Per Game 380.3 | 418.5 80 | 55 270.1 | 282.2 7 | 10
Kick Return Average 22.3 | 22.5 52 | 48 26.2 | 22.3 111 | 79
Punt Return Average 7.2 | 11.6 76 | 30 7.4 | 5.4 62 | 44
Avg. Time of Possession 33:41 | 30:59 6 | 46 26:19 | 29:01
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37% | 52% 89 | 9 28% | 35% 8 | 46
Sacks By-Yards 6-43 | 8-75 111 | 95 10-58 | 5-38 40 | 13
Touchdowns Scored 15 | 26 11 | 11
Field Goals-Attempts 14-19 | 7-9 11-11 | 9-13
Red Zone Scores (21-24) 88% | (21-24) 88% 26 | 27 (15-17) 88% | (14-17) 82% 92 | 64
Red Zone Touchdowns (13-24) 54% | (14-24) 58% (6-17) 35% | (8-14) 47%

Entering the season, Michigan State’s defense was expected to be the best in the Big Ten and one of the top nationally. Everybody knew the Spartans offense would regress a little bit with the loss of quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. Well, the offense has trouble scoring and the defense has been good, but not great.

Led by quarterback Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State ranks 102nd nationally in points per game with just 21. The Spartans have scored more than 23 just twice – 41 against Central Michigan and 31 against Indiana – and have been held to 20 or fewer points four times.

No words necessary

Maxwell has thrown the ball a lot in the first half of the season. His fewest number of passes in a game were 29 against Eastern Michigan and he has chucked up 40 or more passes three times. Despite ranking second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, Maxwell doesn’t make the top ten in pass efficiency. His completion percentage is a half percentage point worse than Denard’s (54.3) and he has just six touchdowns and four interceptions.

The running game is a one-man show with LeVeon Bell, who has rushed for 916 yards on 200 carries (4.6 yards per carry). In the season opener, he carried the ball 44 times for 210 yards, and in Week 4 against Eastern Michigan, he toted it 36 times for 253. Aside from those two games, whose rush defenses rank 66th and 120th, respectively, Bell has averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. He ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing average behind Denard, but has carried the ball 99 more times and accumulated just 112 more yards.

Defensively, Michigan State has been solid, but not nearly the level it was expected to be. The loss of defensive tackle Jerel Worthy has been felt more than anticipated as the Spartans have just six sacks, which is last in the Big Ten. But they’re still giving up just 15.7 points per game and have the conference’s top rush defense. State has held four of its opponents to 72 or fewer total rushing yards, but two of the last three (Ohio State and Iowa) have averaged 163.5 yards per game and featured 100-yard rushers in Braxton Miller and Iowa’s Mark Weisman – the most relevant being Miller who is similar to Denard. He carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards (an average of 5.9 yards per carry) and also completed 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. That along should give Michigan confidence heading into Saturday’s battle.

The defensive leader when it comes to hype is William Gholston. You will remember him for his dirty antics depicted above in last season’s matchup. However, he has just 28 tackles, five for loss, and one sack this season.

Last season, Michigan got the Ohio State monkey off its back, and this weekend, the Wolverines have a chance to end Michigan State’s four-game streak. It won’t be easy, but Michigan State has already lost three times this season and is more beatable than any of us thought they would be before the season started. Stay tuned for much more coverage the rest of the week.

Rival Rewind sees Ohio survive, ND thrive, and is Sparty alive?

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012


Michigan has the unique position of having three big rivals. Most teams only have one rival to get up for, but year-in and year-out, Michigan has three. While we, as fans, hate each of these teams, we carry some respect for them. Michigan State and Ohio State carry conference affiliation ties while Notre Dame, well, we all just put up with them. All season long, it’s fun to keep track of how each of them doing, but there’s only so much time on Saturday to watch games. More often than not, they play at the same time Michigan does so you don’t get a chance to do your “advanced scouting.” Well, don’t fret because we’ve got you covered. This weekly feature will give you an overview of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State’s games the previous weekend and a look ahead to the upcoming one.

#20 Notre Dame 20 – #10 Michigan State 3
Record: 3-0
This week: Home vs. #18 Michigan (2-1) – 7:30pm – NBC

Notre Dame and Michigan State made it easy on us this week by playing each other. The outcome was not even close to what I expected. In fact, it was just about the opposite. The Irish snapped a six game losing streak to ranked teams and had their best defensive showing against a top ten team since beating Texas A&M 28-3 in 1993, per ESPN. Oddly enough, 1993 is largely regarded as the last year ND football was actually relevant, but who’s keeping score?

Notre Dame deflated the Spartans and pumped the Irish hype to full volume (photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Notre Dame opened the scoring with Everett Golson rolling right and throwing across the field to receiver John Goodman, who one-handed it in the end zone. For those of you not keeping track, it was the first touchdown scored against the Spartan defense this season. Golson scored with his feet early in the second quarter to make it 14-0. Overall, Golson’s numbers were nothing to admire, 14-of-32 for 178 yards and one TD. As a team, the Irish pounded the rock for 122 yards on 34 carries. But the key was the return of Cierre Wood, a tough nosed runner who gave the Golden Domers some spark in the run game.

The big story of the night was the line play. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the vaunted State defensive front, made lanes for their running backs and gave Golson enough time to make some big plays. On defense, the Irish applied constant pressure (mostly without use of the blitz) on Andrew Maxwell, holding him to 23-of-45 for 187 and no touchdowns, while breaking up eight passes and sacking him four times. The Spartans had not given up a sack in their previous two games.

Perhaps an even bigger story than ND’s line playing so well against the Spartan d-line was the Irish defense stepping up and holding State to 50 yards rushing as a team, although Le’Veon Bell had 77 yards. But not all that glitters is gold, so to speak. Notre Dame was 1-for-14 on third downs, and while Golson made some big plays when he needed to, he was still held under 50 percent passing. Wood had a good game – he missed the prior two – managing 56 yards on 10 carries, which something he will likely build on going forward.

Were it not for some MSU miscues – such as a dropped pass in the end zone – and failing to stop Notre Dame on third down and later on a fourth down conversion, the Spartans may have come away with the win. Regardless, ND fans are pumped up and buying more and more into the delusion that they are a great team. The line play for ND was outstanding and it worries me a little bit heading into next week’s matchup, but more than anything I think last Saturday showed us that MSU is not the MSU of 2011 and that bodes well for Michigan’s Big Ten Title shot.

___________________________________________________________________________________

This week:

Notre Dame hosts Michigan. Stay tuned for our previews later in the week.

#10 Michigan State 3 – #20 Notre Dame 20
Record: 2-1
This week: Home vs. Eastern Michigan (0-3, 0-1) – 3:30pm – Big Ten Network

See recap above

This week:
This week MSU takes on Eastern Michigan in East Lansing and it shouldn’t be close. EMU is 0-3 and has given up over 560 yards in two of those contests. This should be a nice bounce back game for State as they prepare for opening the Big Ten schedule against the Ohio State Buckeyes the following week.

Prediction: Michigan State 37 – Eastern Michigan 9

___________________________________________________________________________________

#12 Ohio State 35 – California 28
Record: 3-0
This week: Home vs. Alabama-Birmingham (0-2) – 12pm – Big Ten Network

Devin Smith scored the game-winner with three minutes left (photo by Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

The Buckeyes were once again led by Braxton Miller, but the outcome was in question until the final minute of the game. After tying the game up at 28 midway through the fourth, Cal was looking like they were going to pull off the upset. Miller threw a pick on the Bucks’ next drive but Cal faltered and missed its third field goal attempt of the day. On the ensuing Buckeye possession, Miller capped a 72-yard drive with a touchdown pass to Devin Smith, and Ohio State intercepted Zach Maynard’s pass with just under a minute to go to seal the game. Miller had another big day, with 249 through the air to go along with 4 touchdowns and one pick, but was barely over a 50 percent completion rate. He added another 75 yards on the ground and another TD, accounting for all five Buckeye scores.

Cal running back Brendan Bigelow had a MONSTER game, rushing for 160 on 4 carries (two of them going for six), including and 81-yarder that was the longest in the history of the Horseshoe. Maynard torched the Buckeye secondary for 280 yards on 26-of-37 passing and a touchdown. Cal put up over 500 yards on OSU, 288 in the air and 224 on the ground, but couldn’t quite seal the deal. Three missed field goals and an inopportune pick at the end of the game was just enough for the Buckeyes to hang on and grab a win they didn’t really deserve. As they say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

This week:

Ohio State faces UAB this week in the ‘Shoe before heading to East Lansing the following week. UAB is fresh off a losses to Troy and South Carolina and is giving up 44 points per game, while putting up only 17.5. This shouldn’t be much of a test for the Buckeyes, but I thought the same thing last week and they almost lost. The Blazers don’t possess much of a rushing attack. They rank 114th in the country at 80 yards per game but could find some success against the Buckeye defense that has been getting torched thus far in 2012. In the end it will probably be the Braxton Miller show and he is going to be too much for the Blazers to handle.

Prediction: Ohio State  34 – UAB 13

Rival Rewind is still unbeaten, but not for long

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012


Michigan has the unique position of having three big rivals. Most teams only have one rival to get up for, but year-in and year-out, Michigan has three. While we, as fans, hate each of these teams, we carry some respect for them. Michigan State and Ohio State carry conference affiliation ties while Notre Dame, well, we all just put up with them. All season long, it’s fun to keep track of how each of them doing, but there’s only so much time on Saturday to watch games. More often than not, they play at the same time Michigan does so you don’t get a chance to do your “advanced scouting.” Well, don’t fret because we’ve got you covered. This weekly feature will give you an overview of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State’s games the previous weekend and a look ahead to the upcoming one.

Notre Dame 20 – Purdue 17
Record: 2-0
This week: At #10 Michigan State (2-0) – 8pm – ABC

Unlike last week, Notre Dame did not dominate its opponent this past weekend. In fact, the Irish were almost downed at home against an underrated Purdue squad. It took a near-last second field goal to surpass the Boilers, after being led down the field by backup quarterback Tommy Rees on the last possession.

Everett Golson got the nod as the starter but apparently Brian Kelly said if it came down to it, Tommy Rees would be their “closer.” His strategy worked this time, but whether he employs this method going forward is yet to be determined. Rotating quarterbacks has its benefits and its drawbacks, so we’ll keep an eye on this as well.

Golson played a great game, going 21-for-31 for 289 yards and a touchdown. The rushing game didn’t produce much as they only managed 52 yards for the game.

Down 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter, Purdue managed to tie up the game with just over two minutes remaining before Rees led the game winning drive. Purdue only managed 288 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice but they still look like a legit Big Ten team and not one we should overlook. They could be another “trap” game, as Michigan heads to West Lafayette the week after doing battle in South Bend.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

Something of note, perhaps, is that Notre Dame has only two turnovers so far this season, compared to the ten they had after two games last season.

This week:

Michigan State and Notre Dame square off in East Lansing this weekend in what could be a really good game. MSU’s stout defense will try to give Notre Dame all they can handle, and the Spartan rushing attack will try to take some pressure off a less than stellar Andrew Maxwell. The two-headed QB “monster” of Everett Golson and Tommy Rees look to lead the Irish to victory in hostile territory, perhaps employing another “closer” QB strategy for another game winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

On paper, these teams’ offenses are evenly matched. Michigan State enjoys a slight edge in the rushing category but both teams average over 170 yards. On defense, however, Michigan State is the superior team and could have a field day against the Irish offensive line that was pushed around by Purdue last week. Notre Dame will need to have a perfect game up front, on both sides of the ball, if they want to leave East Lansing 3-0.

Everett Golson will most likely get the starting nod again, but Tommy Rees has much more experience and ‘poise,’ and it wouldn’t surprise me if he came in much sooner than the fourth quarter. It is yet to be seen whether Tyler Eifert will be ready after suffering what was being called a mild concussion last week. Eifert’s status, and effectiveness, will be a huge part of whether Notre Dame can win this game. I expect Notre Dame to play a balanced game on offense and stack the box on defense and try to force Andrew Maxwell to beat them through the air. If they can force some third and long situations and make Michigan State pass the ball, they stand a good chance of pulling off the upset.

Michigan State will look to run the ball and run it a lot. I’m not sure they will give Le’Veon Bell another 40-plus carry night but he should tote the rock a lot more than he did last week. On defense, the Spartans will no doubt employ multiple looks and try to get after whichever quarterback is out there. After a subpar performance against the Purdue defensive front I’m not so sure Notre Dame can handle this Spartan front seven. If Michigan State controls the line and runs the ball well they will win. And I fully expect them to do so.

Prediction: Michigan State 24 – Notre Dame 14

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#11 Michigan State 41 – Central Michigan 7
Record: 2-0
This week: Home vs. #20 Notre Dame (2-0) – 8pm – ABC

The Spartans probably marched into Mount Pleasant not expecting much of a fight from the Chippewas, and they were right. MSU won the game convincingly, 41-7, scoring all 41 before Central scored on an interception return late in the game. MSU has yet to give up an offensive touchdown this season. Yes, it is early but it is something to keep an eye on nonetheless. The defense is definitely this team’s calling card and it will be interesting to see how they fare as the season progresses and their opponents become more formidable.

Photo by Rey DelRio, MSU

Showing that the Spartans are not a one-dimensional team, Andrew Maxwell threw for 275 yards on 20-for-31 with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. In total, MSU threw for 322 yards total and the rushing game added another 173 yards, led by Le’Veon Bell’s ‘meager’ 70 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Central Michigan couldn’t get anything going on offense and finished 17-for-38 passing for 173 yards and two interceptions.

I’m sure we all thought MSU’s defense would be dominant coming into the year but they’ve looked better than many, myself included, expected. The Spartans are clearly one of the favorites, along with Michigan, to contend for the Legends Division this year and look to be every bit as good on defense as they were last year. Thankfully, we get to play them in the friendly confines of the Big House.

This week:

See above
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#14 Ohio State 31 – Central Florida 16
Record: 2-0
This week: Home vs. California (1-1) – 12pm –
ABC

Ohio State battled Central Florida on Saturday afternoon, and up until the second half it looked like UCF might pull off the upset. However, OSU scored right before the half to go up 17-10 and scored two more touchdowns in a matter of minutes during the third, the second of which was set up by an interception from Etienne Sabino. Once again, it was the Braxton Miller show as he ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, while adding 155 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 18-of-24 passing.

On defense, OSU gave up 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-41 passing. They also intercepted UCF three times which made up for their one pick thrown and two lost fumbles. OSU is beginning to look rather one-dimensional as Miller is the only guy who can ever get things going, at least so far. As we know all too well, it is tough when your team relies to heavily on its quarterback to do everything for you. But they better turn it around quick or Urban Meyer might find himself needing more “family time” as he did at Florida when things got tough.

Photo by Jay LaPrete, AP

This week:

California travels to Columbus this weekend, and unless they find a way to get Aaron Rodgers and Desean Jackson back in Bears’ uniforms, I don’t think they’ll be leaving home with the win. After losing to Nevada in Week 1, Cal beat Southern Utah (FCS) 50-31 last week to even their record at 1-1. The Bears gave up almost 300 yards and four touchdowns through the air to the Thunderbirds, and 230 and 220 passing and rushing, respectively, to Nevada in their opener. Neither of these results bodes well for them against the Buckeyes. When a team gives up those kind of stats to an FCS team, and not even a good FCS team, it’s hard to give them any chance against a perennial Big Ten powerhouse like Ohio State.

Urban Meyer has vowed to not run Braxton Miller so much, but who knows if he will keep his word. Regardless, this game should once again be the Braxton Miller show. However, it will probably be his arm on display this week and another good game should cement his status amongst the early season Heisman contenders. With the injury bug hitting the Buckeyes’ running backs, this will be a good week for them to get other guys touches and some game experience. They only have one more cupcake after Cal before they begin the real season and Meyer knows they cannot rely on one guy, Miller, to carry them all season. As we saw with Denard Robinson two years ago, it is very tough for a running quarterback to make it through an entire Big Ten schedule unscathed.

Prediction: Ohio State 41 – California 10