Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner
After its first game this season, Michigan appeared poised to dominate the great lakes state, compete for a Big Ten title and be in line for a BCS bowl bid.
Michigan State, however, needed its defense to not only stifle its opponent, but score points as well. The Spartans appeared to be on their way to another mediocre season, after finishing 7-6 last year.
But headed into this week’s rivalry game, the Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) are favored while the Wolverines (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) need a win to stay atop the Legends division standings. Whichever team loses will fall behind the other and need help to capture the division.
Michigan remains unbeaten at home in Brady Hoke’s third season, but this game is on the road, where his team has struggled to find offensive consistency.
The Wolverines now return to East Lansing where they were smacked by the Spartans in Hoke’s first season, falling 28-14. The game on the field was not as close as the scoreboard indicated. Hoping for a boost, Michigan wore special uniforms. Unimpressed, the Michigan State defense proceeded to chase them back to Ann Arbor.
UM AD Dave Brandon & Coach Brady Hoke’s Words Hang in Michigan State Football Building To Remind Staff & Players pic.twitter.com/Y4ExAvCrra— Hondo Carpenter (@HondoCarpenter) July 31, 2013
This season, the Michigan offense has feasted on teams with bad defenses (Indiana, Central Michigan) but now faces the top defense in the nation. The challenge is daunting for a Wolverine offense that has shuffled and replaced players on its offensive line and finds itself completely dependent on quarterback Devin Gardner.
Gardner, the leading offensive player in the Big Ten (328.4 yards per game), will be targeted by the Spartan defense on every play.
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Can he successfully manage a road game in the most hostile stadium he will face this season?
He has shown that he can generate gaudy offensive statistics, but a Michigan victory over Michigan State may depend more on the passes that he doesn’t throw.
This game will be a key indicator on whether Gardner has learned from his struggles earlier this season. He has shown himself to be an explosive playmaker, but the Michigan State defense will make him pay dearly for any mistakes.