Rich Rodriguez Gets His First Crack at the Backyard Brawl

Jason BarczyCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2008

Michigan State Spartans (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan Wolverines (2-5, 1-2)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST at Michigan Stadium

Line: Michigan State -4

Enough with all the trash talk, let's get the 101st version of the Backyard Brawl going and we have a newcomer this year in first year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.

This does not bode well for the Wolverines as only one newcomer has won this game and it was Nick Saban in 1995 when both Saban and Lloyd Carr were rookie coaches so someone had to win.

But Rodriguez and current Spartans coach Mark Dantonio have squared off before when both were coaches in the Big East. Rodriguez won both matches in '05 and '06 in decided fashion dominating the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Rodriguez seems to have embraced the rivalry in newspaper reports going so far as to say that "you'd have to be clueless to not understand the rivalry."

It's going to be tough this year even though Michigan holds a six game winning streak over MSU. Like I've been saying the past couple weeks, teams like MSU are due to get a win against the Wolverines.

This year is Michigan States best chance to get that win and for the first time since 1990 get a win at the Big House.

Spartan fans know it too as evidenced by all the trash talk coming out of their mouths this week. Just take a look at my column "Michigan Dominance Over "Little Brother"" from a couple days ago and read the comments.

This game could go either way though. Michigan State should come out psyched and give the Wolverines its best shot but then again this is just the type of team Michigan loves facing off against.

Let's take a look at the matchups....


Michigan Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense

Steven Threet is expected to play Saturday after re-aggravating his injured elbow against Penn State last week.

He said that when it's aggravated his whole arm goes numb and he can't grip the ball which really worries me that it'll happen again and Nick Sheridan aka "Human White Flag" will come in.

If Michigan has any hope of winning this game Rodriguez cannot put Sheridan in the game. I'd rather see David Cone come in if he's still uncomfortable putting Justin Feagin in the game.

Threet's passing efficiency is 107.81 compared to "Human White Flag's" 82.05. The Wolverines cannot afford to see Sheridan in the game.

Michigan State's passing defense hasn't been too impressive ranking 71st in the country allowing 213 yards per game and 6.22 yards per attempt.

Senior safety Otis Wiley leads the Spartans with four interceptions and seven pass breakups. MSU has nine interceptions and 13 sacks this season so they're more than capable.

Wiley will most likely be shadowing Martavious Odoms or Greg Matthews who are only real threats in the receiving corps.

Kevin Koger has been emerging as a pretty good tight end and from what I understand James Rogers will see more playing time, probably over Toney Clemons.

Dan Fortener is another Spartan to watch out for in the secondary. He has two interceptions and five pass breakups.

If "Human White Flag" enters the game expect MSU to eat him alive much like Penn State did.

Advantage: Michigan State


Michigan Run Offense vs. Michigan State Run Defense

I said last week that if Michigan had success on the ground they'd have a chance to upset Penn State.

Well the same applies this week although this time Michigan has a better chance to sustain that success.

Michigan State is ranked 69th in rushing defense allowing 145 yards per game and 4.39 per carry while Michigan has the 66th ranked rush offense getting 140.8 yards per game and 3.85 per game.

Rodriguez finally realized Brandon Minor was his best back last week and sparingly used Sam McGuffie.

McGuffie goes down too fast on first contact but if he gets into open space then watch out. Same thing with Minor only Minor can push through and get extra yards on short yardage situations.

Michigan State's leading tackler is sophomore linebacker Greg Jones who has 65 tackles and eight for a loss.

Michigan has to be able to control the ground game so to keep Javon Ringer off the field but the Wolverines need to do it for four quarters and not one and a half.

Junior linebacker Adam Decker is also all over the field with 48 tackles including six for a loss.

Minor is averaging over five yards a carry and going up against a defense that gives up over four should be really nice for him to see.

Advantage: Michigan


Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Brian Hoyer is not that good evidenced by his 49.5 completion percentage and this is where Michigan State shows that it is one dimensional.

"Hoyerable" has thrown for 1341 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions giving him a 117.09 efficiency rating.

His best wide receivers are Mark Dell and Charlie Gantt. Dell is the real deal who averages over 20 yards per catch and has 446 yards thus far along with two touchdowns.

Gantt is also a real threat who puts up over 17 yards per catch along with three touchdowns.

Michigan fans have been waiting for Donovan Warren to have a true breakout performance and with recent injuries this might not be it but maybe he's well rested enough to have a big game.

Morgan Trent could put to rest any and all criticism if he comes out and shuts down Dell and Gantt.

The Wolverines also need to watch out for Ringer catching out of the backfield. He hasn't had a big receiving day but has caught 15 passes this season so that tells me that MSU likes to go to him once in a while.

I'm particularly worried that if Ringer gets hot in the running game that Hoyer will be able to exploit Michigan with the play action pass which most teams have had great success with this season against Michigan.

But then again, it is Hoyer the Wolverines are facing.

Advantage: Michigan


Michigan State Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

This is the game right here isn't it.

We all know about Javon Ringer and his 1,179 yards this season on 147.4 per game, 4.5 per carry and 14 touchdowns.

All that has earned Michigan State a 52nd ranking for rushing offense.

Michigan's big strength is suppose to be the defensive line and Terrance Taylor could very well shut down Ringer much like Ohio State did last week.

Dantonio is a hard nosed coach who will try to stuff right down our throats but Taylor, Will Johnson, Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham will be right there to shove back.

Michigan has the 41st ranked rush defense allowing just 120.9 yards per game and 3.25 per carry.

Graham made a bold statement and Taylor is backing him up. Probably because Taylor wants to go out as a senior who never lost to Michigan State.

But the defense has to hold up and not give up nearly 10 yards per carry like they did against the Nittany Lions.

But this isn't Penn State, it's Michigan State and the Spartans are not in Penn State's class.

More like Wisconsin's and we all know what Michigan did to them.

Advantage: Even


Special Teams

Michigan State doesn't have a real return threat (have they ever?) so as long as Zoltan Mesko doesn't get blocked the Wolverines should be alright there.

Michigan returners lately haven't fumbled lately so maybe they've finally solved that problem but we'll see.

K.C. Lopata needs to be on point in this game because it just might come down to field goals like it did in 2005. But he's just 5-for-8 this season and is killing me slowly

Brett Swenson is 15-for-16 for Michigan State with a long of 48 yards. His lone miss came from 39 yards out.

Advantage: Michigan State


Final Thoughts

This is exactly the type of game Michigan loves to play. The hard nosed punch 'em right in the mouth as opposed to the spread game.

The defense should hold up in that aspect but with the offense still adapting and the players still learning it'll be tough.

Rodriguez really needs this game to get the doubters off his back but like I said before rookie coaches in this game don't fare well.

The x-factor is Michigan State's psyche in this game. Much like Penn State I expect they'll be up for this game more than any other in their lives.

Prediction: Michigan State 23, Michigan 20 OT


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