Throw away the records. Throw away the rankings. Throw away Michigan”s national title hopes, at least for one day.
None of that will matter tomorrow afternoon when Michigan (4-0 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) squares off against the Spartans (2-2, 4-2) in East Lansing.
If the past is any indication, it won”t matter that Michigan State is hampered by injuries to its secondary. Michigan”s momentum coming in should be nullified. And Marquise Walker, Michigan”s superstar wide receiver, will be just another soldier on the battlefield of Spartan Stadium.
“Emotions are real high right now,” Michigan quarterback John Navarre said. “I think it is a little bit higher because it is Michigan State week. Obviously it”s a big game and emotions are high this week.”
The intrastate rivalry always provides for a big game. Michigan State”s surprising win two years ago in East Lansing was countered by a shutout last year from Michigan”s notoriously poor defense. Sure, the Spartans have won three of the last four matchups in East Lansing. But as center Kurt Anderson put it, the past is just that.
“What they did two years ago has no effect on me because we have a different team,” Anderson said. “One thing that won”t change is that it”s Michigan and Michigan State. Years past have no bearing on this year”s game.”
For three hours tomorrow, the state”s collective eye will be focused on Spartan Stadium.
It will be watching Jeff Smoker, the Big Ten”s most efficient quarterback, who will lead the upset-minded Spartans into the game. Michigan”s pass rush may be good far better than last year but Smoker has a security blanket this time around Charles Rogers.
“(Charles) Rogers is going to be one of the all-time great (receivers),” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. The Saginaw native is averaging just under 100 yards per game, and has scored five touchdowns.
While the Michigan defense is stronger than in recent years, a distinct weakness still lies in its secondary. The only way to stop Rogers is to make sure that Smoker doesn”t have time to find him.
“We always want to put pressure on the opposing quarterback,” said Michigan defensive end Shantee Orr. “We all need to step up and put a good pass rush on to try and make the opponent to be one dimensional.”
Forcing the Spartans to run, though, might not be the best thing. T.J. Duckett is one of the nation”s finest running backs, and has the speed and power to run all over opponents.
But Michigan counters with the nation”s best rush defense.
Michigan is looking to Walker, who will be going up against the Spartans depleted secondary. The senior, whose name is starting to draw Heisman Trophy acknowledgement, will need to be huge if Michigan can win the battle.
“They present a lot of problems No. 1, us being able to match up with their receivers in the passing game,” said Michigan State coach Bobby Williams. “We”ve lost several defensive backs already this year so we”ve been forced to make some personnel moves.”