Political football 101: offenses, with Michigan linebackers coach Steve Szabo.

Angela Cesere
Junior Terrance Taylor has been a force on the defensive line, often taking on two blockers. (EMMA NOLAN-ABRAHAMIAN/Daily)

When you see spread, think red.

“I call that Communist football,” Szabo said. “I’m so tired of it. Good, red-blooded Americans snap the ball, hand it to the guy and have a normal run game or pass game.”

Szabo and the rest of the Michigan defense will finally get a break from the spread offense. Beginning Saturday at Michigan State, they will face more traditional offenses in the final three weeks of the regular season.

After opening the season with losses to two spread-oriented offenses, the Wolverines got a brief respite with games against Notre Dame and Penn State. The former didn’t boast much of an offense at all, and the latter used a more traditional, straight-forward attack.

Since the win over Penn State Sept. 22, Michigan has faced five straight spread offenses, a rarity for the Big Ten.

“Well, you know, we’ve seen it so much, it’s what we’re used to,” defensive coordinator Ron English said. “We’re going to have to learn how to play gap schemes again next week.”

But, as defensive tackle Will Johnson pointed out, it’s unlikely the team has forgotten how to play against a traditional offense. After all, it goes against the Wolverine offense every day in practice.

The Spartans present perhaps the most balanced Big Ten offense Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) has faced this season. But that might not be saying much, since Purdue and Northwestern didn’t present any rushing attack at all, and Illinois doesn’t yet have a handle on the forward pass.

Michigan State (1-4, 5-4), on the other hand, has proven its ability to beat opponents both through the air and on the ground.

Running backs Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick form the two-headed monster at the head of conference’s best rushing attack. Providing the thunder to Ringer’s lightning, Caulcrick leads the conference with 16 touchdowns. Ringer, on the other hand, ranks third in the conference in rushing yards, averaging 120 per game.

“I think Ringer is a great back,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think he’s very strong, has great feet and great acceleration. He’s an explosive back. He’s very tough and is a good pass receiver. He’s had a great career.”

Said cornerback Morgan Trent: “They’ve got a different offense (than the spread). They’re running the ball very well. We watched a little bit (Sunday), and they’re really being tough, just running down your throat. They just line up and run it down your throat.”

But Trent will probably spend most of the game worrying about Spartan wide receiver Devin Thomas. Thomas ranks just behind conference leader Mario Manningham in receiving yards per game (100.7).

And he’s not just a threat when he’s split out wide. Thomas leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards, racking up 772 yards on kick returns to go with his 176 rushing yards and 906 receiving yards on the season.

But for all the skill-position match-ups and breakdowns, spread offenses and traditional ones, Saturday’s game will still be about a bitter in-state rivalry that Michigan players say includes more physical play on an annual basis than almost any other game.

“It’s nothing illegal or dirty – just very physical,” captain Jake Long said. “It’s about just going as hard as you can and trying to beat the guy across from you.”

And in the rivals’ 100th meeting of all time, there’s unlikely to be too many tricks or surprises. Both teams feature relatively straight-forward, traditional Big Ten offenses.

Should be some good, red-blooded, American football.

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