This week's inner-state matchup between Michigan and Michigan State has a lot of implications for both teams coming into week five. For Michigan this proves that, even though MSU suffered at the hands of Central Michigan and Notre Dame, they can beat a solid team and that Notre Dame wasn't a fluke and Indiana was a hiccup.
For MSU, a win against an undefeated Michigan, their biggest rival, would pull them out of a three-game losing streak and maybe take some heat off their embarrassing loss to Central Michigan. Let's examine some of the key points to this upcoming game.
Michigan State's Offense vs Michigan's Defense
As is usually key in the Michigan Program, even one under new leadership, defense is what is going to win the game for the Wolverines. After an embarrassing display of blown coverage and missed tackles, the Wolverines secondary is going to have its work cut out for it.
I harbor no doubts that Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol are spending a lot of time watching video of the Michigan-Indiana game and are planning on how to exploit Boubacar Cissoko, who seems to be opposing quarterback's target of choice.
Last week against Indiana, the Michigan secondary really only had one major threat at Wide-out to contend with in Tandon Doss and they struggled to contain him; Doss racked up 5 catches for 104 yards including a 54-yard bomb from Ben Chappel and 3 rushes for 41 yards.
Michigan State will be fielding BJ Cunningham, Blair White, and Mark Dell who combine for 53 catches, 790 yards, and 8 TD's compared to Michigan's top three receivers combining for 20 catches, 266 yards, and 5 TD's. Each and every player in the Wolverines secondary is going to have to step up or they will find themselves getting torched on the big plays all afternoon.
The defensive front is going to be looking to get pressure on MSU's two quarterbacks as early as humanly possible. Seventy-four percent of MSU's total yards on the season and 55 percent of their plays have come out of the air. If they can, Michigan wants to play to their strengths and pressure the passing game early, forcing MSU to run and keep the ball out their wide-outs hands.
Kirk Cousins, who has been getting the majority of playing time for MSU's quarterback duo, will be looking to spread the ball around early and I fully expect MSU's first offensive play of the game to be a shot at Boubacar Cissoko, who seems to be the wolverine's weakest link on defense so far this year.
Like Michigan, MSU will want to play to their strengths and go to the air as much as possible, their backs totaling for roughly half of what the wolverine's have racked-up this season and none having more than 150 yards on the season.
The MSU offensive front needs to hold against Michigan's 3-4 defense and keep Brandon Graham out of the backfield and give Cousins enough time to go through his progression. The key to MSU's passing attack is distribution and they want to keep the wolverines on their heels and much as possible and maintain long, sustained drives.
Essentially, Michigan State's offensive game-plan is the exact opposite of the Wolverines defensive game-plan. Each team needs to play to their strengths and whichever unit does so longer and more efficiently will come up on top of this matchup.
Michigan's Offense vs. Michigan State's Defense
"May the Forcier be with you," seems to be Michigan's mantra in close games, which this one very well may be. Tate Forcier has come up big in the last seconds of two games, most notably against Notre Dame where he led a last minute drive capped off by a five-yard touchdown to put the Wolverines up by four with 11 seconds on the clock.
Forcier has been the x-factor in big games, a true freshman who repeatedly denies getting nervous while playing.
Michigan will be looking to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers on offense. Brandon Minor will most likely get the start at tailback but expect to see Carlos Brown, who has shown explosiveness and "bigplayability" get a lot of reps as well. Up until last week's game against Indiana, Michigan had the fourth ranked running game in the country and will most likely stick with that game-plan to start.
If it's not broke, why fix it? If MSU is able to shut down the running game, Michigan will then look to keep the ball in Forcier's capable hands and pick apart the ninth ranked passing defense in the Big Ten.
The thorn in Michigan's side is their lack of depth of the offensive line, which showed greatly against Indiana. Converted center David Moosman, playing for the injured David Molk had five bad snaps last week, three of which resulted in a loss of 10 yards or more and one pushed the Wolverines out of field-goal range. Molk won't be returning any time soon, so this is an issue that needs to be addressed by Rodiguez's coaching staff.
Michigan State's defense will have its hands full containing Michigan's multiple threats on offense and their first priority should be putting an extra man in the box to try to stuff Minor and Brown, as well as contain QB's Forcier and Denard Robinson, both of whom are proven runners, especially Robinson who is Michigan's second leading rusher with 179 yards and 3 TD's.
MSU has one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten and they have to make Michigan play a one-dimensional game, if they hope to keep them from putting up big numbers in both the rushing and passing game.
If Michigan State, who is near the top of the Big Ten in the sack department, can get pressure on Forcier, they may be able to create turnovers and turn the game around.
Forcier has been known to try to force balls and make bad decisions when he is in trouble and if MSU can take advantage of this and get the ball back into the hands of their capable offense, Saturday's game should be a lot closer than it appears on paper.
After last season's 3-9 debacle no Michigan fan is ready to write off any game this season, even against a 1-3 Michigan State. A squeaker against Indiana and an upcoming "road game" against the Spartans who are hungry for a win has the Wolverines cautiously looking over their collective shoulders.
I look forward to this matchup every year but this particular game has big implications for both teams and possibly the Big Ten.
As it stands right now Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin are the only undefeated teams in the Big Ten and MSU would love to spoil Michigan's rebound season.