Michigan Football: Will Paul Bunyan Return From His Vacation to East Lansing?

Josh DittonCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Shaw #20 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for yardage against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Going past Schembechler Hall, part of the practice facilities at Michigan, I sometimes wonder "Does Paul Bunyan miss his home?" or "Is Paul Bunyan enjoying his vacation in East Lansing?"  The most pressing question I find is, "What in East Lansing is worth staying there for two years?"

So now that Paul Bunyan has had a chance to avoid going stir crazy from his relatively uninterrupted presence in Schembechler Hall in Ann Arbor, can the team do enough to bring him back to Ann Arbor?

After all, the world watched a floundering Michigan secondary get absolutely torched for 480 yards as the defense gave up 35 points. 

And while it appears that Michigan's defense is alright against the run, it remains to be seen whether or not Michigan can actually defend the run OR if Michigan's opponents are just aware that Michigan's secondary will make any QB look like a Heisman candidate, so they completely forget about the option to run and attempt to move the ball almost exclusively through the air.

Speaking of Heisman, Denard Robinson has cemented himself as the frontrunner with his 494 yard performance against the Hoosiers.  He went 10 of 16 for 277 yards (a career high) and 3 TDs.  He also added 217 yards on the ground and 2 additional TDs.  While his rushing has always been the more eye-popping statistic, did anyone see that Robinson has quietly slipped into position as the nation's third most efficient passer?

One might think that the stats, hype, and sensationalism of the media would go straight to his head - but Denard doesn't hear it.  Instead of worrying about where he placed in the Heisman race, how his stats stacked up against everyone else, etc., Robinson was busy handing out compliments to his outstanding offensive line and the playmaking ability of the receivers.

And still, his humility might be his greatest asset.

"God was with us," Robinson said. "God engineered us to win."

But I digress, there are Spartans coming, and it might take a little bit of God for the Wolverines to down them!

The undefeated teams and national rankings give this game a flavor we haven't seen since 1999, when Nick Saban took the No. 11 Spartans and edged No. 3 Michigan at home.

Alright, so perhaps the national implications aren't quite that big, but the one guarantee I can give you is that this game, and not Alabama vs. South Carolina, will be the game of the week.

Michigan's Rush Attack vs. Michigan State's Rush Defense

Michigan boasts the nation's No. 3 rushing attack (324 yards per game) lead by the nation's leading rusher Denard Robinson (181 yards per game).  Joining him this week is junior running back Michael Shaw, who, when he is healthy, can wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

Michigan State comes in the 20th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing a stout 101 yards per game on the ground—but the competition hasn't really tested them.  Northern Colorado is a mid-tier FCS school, Florida Atlantic ranks 118th (of 120) in rushing offense at 72 ypg, Notre Dame ranks 97th in rushing offense at 111 ypg.  Their shining point is holding Wisconsin, who usually rushes for 239 yards a game, to only 165 rushing yards.

Is Wisconsin worse than advertised, or is State's defense better than advertised?

They do have an all-American linebacker Greg Jones standing between Michigan and the end zone, but this should be one of the most interesting matchups of the day.


Michigan's Pass Attack vs. Michigan State's Pass Defense

Denard has been increasingly impressive with his arm as the season continues - and despite overthrowing an open Junior Hemmingway a couple times, Robinson had a career day, going 10 of 16 for 277 yards (career high) and 3 TDs (career high).  His pass efficiencies have looked something like this through the first 5 games:  172, 119, 249, 226, 270.

This comes against a relatively weak Michigan State secondary (not Michigan-weak, but weak nonetheless).  Michigan State comes in at 79th, allowing 227 yards per game.  If Michigan ends up not being able to get it done on the ground, perhaps the air will be more kind.


Michigan State's Rush Attack vs. Michigan's Rush Defense

Michigan State has a triumvirate of running backs—Larry Caper (who's overtime touchdown run Michigan hasn't forgotten), Le'veon Bell, and Edwin Baker.  Michigan's defense has done well against the run, but admittedly against inferior competition.  Michigan is allowing 125 yards per game on the ground, good for 37th in the nation, and I suspect that State will take advantage. 

Outside of Mike Martin the defensive front is alright—not stellar, but alright.  If they can limit State to fewer yards on the ground than Michigan gets, things would be looking alright, but it's a toss-up for me as to whether Michigan's porous defense is up for the task.


Michigan State's Pass Attack vs. Michigan's Pass Defense

Well, not much to say here, considering Michigan's secondary allows the opponent to light up the scoreboard.  Ben Chappell looked every bit like a Heisman QB last game, completing 45 of 62 attempts for 480 (!) yards and 3 TDs.

Michigan State is going to pass, and pass quite often.  The only good news for the Michigan defense is that the more Cousins throws, the more likely he makes a mistake.  If Michigan's defense can pressure Cousins into making errant throws and capitalize on mistakes, that will be the only way Michigan's defense will slow Cousins down.

Expect State to move the ball down the field with relative ease through the air.


Special Teams

Michigan's punting looked better—Hagerup averaged 48 yards/punt against the Hoosiers, so that is heartening, but outside of that we learned nothing more on field goals and the kickoff/punt coverages looked average for the Wolverines.

Michigan State, however, is coming off a game in which Keshawn Martin just returned a punt.

If this game comes down to special teams, Michigan State will win.


An overview...

This game can go many different ways, and may very well come down to who has the ball last [as I suspect many of Michigan's games will come down].  It will be most interesting to see if Michigan's offense can keep up it's insane pace against an elevated defense, such as Michigan State's.

Michigan's key to victory will be to control the clock.  If Michigan can make long, sustained drives that end in touchdowns (think of eating eight minutes off of the clock), then that will put Michigan in excellent position for the game.  Don't expect the offense to be able to hold the ball for only 18 minutes and win this game.

Michigan's best defense, at least for this year, is a good offense.  And the offense so far has been prolific.

Michigan needs the victory more, they have come through in adversity, and Sparty's getting cocky after beating Wisconsin.  That, coupled with the game being at the Big House, makes me think that this game will go ever so slightly in Michigan's favor.


, MSU 31

(But I can easily see it going numerous other ways)