As the calendar turns to October, the temperature continues to fall, and the leaves turn color from green to yellow, orange, and red, one thing is left unchanged.
The University of Michigan football team continues to impress in the college football world.
The Wolverines (4-0, 1-0) have found an offensive leader in freshman Tate Forcier and have rallied around each other to pull off a couple clutch victories already in 2009.
They hope it continues this weekend.
Here are five keys for the Maize and Blue to come away with the victory in East Lansing on Saturday:
1. The Defensive Backfield
Much has been made of the Michigan secondary so far this season.
Jimmy Clausen was highly effective when picking apart the secondary earlier this year. Indiana went for a few big plays in the most recent game and the many have wondered whether Michigan has the defense to truly compete for a Big 10 title.
Much of that is still remained to be seen, but we may find out on Saturday.
Michigan State has the No. 1 passing offense in the conference and has already scored 13 touchdowns through the air in 2009.
The Spartans have a very good group of wide receivers led by Mark Dell and Blair White. Sophomore quarterback Kirk Cousins is still coming into his own, but should he find some open targets early, it could be another long day for the UM secondary.
Michigan has been burned by some good wideouts so far (Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Tandon Doss to name a few) and they need to take at least one of MSU's good receivers out on Saturday.
If Michigan is going to win the showdown in East Lansing, they need some big plays from the unit. That, and they need to prevent the big play. That, and well, they must, must step up.
2. Pressuring the Quarterback
Part of the reason Michigan's secondary is having trouble defending the pass is because the pressure up front hasn't been great either. For the most part, the opposing quarterbacks have been given time to throw the ball.
Michigan is tied for last in the Big 10 in sacks and they need to wreak havoc on Saturday. Getting in the face of Cousins should be at the forefront of the defensive gameplan. Defensive end Brandon Graham can't be the only threat, so someone else must step up to help pressure.
If the maize and blue can somehow break the line and disrupt the MSU passing attack, it would be a huge moral victory for UM.
3. Controlling the Clock/Success in the Run Game
These two things oftentimes go hand in hand.
Michigan has had a lot of success running the football this year due in large part to Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor, and the scrambling abilities of the freshman quarterbacks. That needs to continue in a hostile environment.
They have also had some issues regarding controlling the clock—somewhat due to the nature of the offense—and they need to sustain some long drives.
Doing this will help keep the UM defense fresh on the sidelines and also take the (mostly) MSU crowd out of the contest. Michigan has played in and won some shootouts this season, but they can't rely on winning all of them.
Keeping the Spartan passing game on the sidelines is just as important as scoring touchdowns.
Michigan easily leads the conference in rushing at a 240.2 yards per game clip and I expect the run game to again play a large role in determining the outcome of the game.
4. Road Environment
The college football season is already in Week Five, but this is Michigan's first game on the road.
Forcier, Denard Robinson, and others will find an unfriendly environment for the first time this season when they walk out onto the field in East Lansing this weekend.
How they respond and how they perform to the jeers from the Spartan fans is crucial this weekend. Forcier has looked spectacular at home, but he needs to be a road warrior as well. MSU has already faced some good quarterbacks (CMU's Dan LeFevour and UND's Jimmy Clausen) in 2009, so they should be ready for Forcier.
Forcier has said often that he doesn't get nervous, but I gather that even he will be a little tight before his first game against MSU.
5. Watch the Turnovers
Michigan had a bad habit last season of turning over the football.
So far this season, the squad has been much better.
But, in the game against Indiana, there were some glimpses that the Wolverines were heading back in the 2008 direction. Robinson had trouble hanging onto the ball at times and the center-quarterback exchange also gave cause for concern.
Coach Rich Rodriguez definitely worked to improve those problems within the past week and they must have conquered them if they are going to go into East Lansing and win the game.
Turnovers are extremely costly on the road and in such a high stakes game like this one.
Cousins finds success in the passing game and they go for some big plays against the Wolverines. Forcier looks good, but not great, in his first road game but isn't able to come away with another comeback.
Michigan falls short and loses its first game of the season while MSU evens its conference record with Michigan at 1-1.
Michigan State 34, Michigan 30