1. What does physicality look like for Michigan this year?
Monday, fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan admitted to keeping a picture of former Michigan State defensive end William Gholston on his phone as motivation.
It’s a reference back to the 2011 matchup, in which Lewan took a punch to the face, courtesy of Gholston. The captain used the word “bullied” multiple times during his press conference this week to describe how he felt the Wolverines were treated in East Lansing two years ago and how they’re adamant about not letting it happen again.
“Intensity” and “streetfight” have been this week’s buzzwords, and Michigan is well aware that a huge part of winning the game has to do with winning the physical battle.
This is still a young Wolverine squad, though — just around 25 players have made the trip to East Lansing before. They don’t need to be told what awaits them at Spartan Stadium. The younger guys? They’ll find out when they get there.
Freshman guard Kyle Bosch got into a scuffle with redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan earlier this week, much to Lewan’s delight. Even the coaches seemed pleased the underclassmen were taking the physicality so seriously.
Now we’ll just have to see how that aggression translates from practice to a game scenario.
2. How will the Wolverines use their dual receiving threat of Gallon and Funchess?
After fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon had his record-breaking, 369-yard game against Indiana two weeks ago, he attributed his own ability to get open to the Hoosiers being more concerned about the threat of sophomore tight end-turned-split end Devin Funchess.
You can bet that isn’t going to happen again.
Gallon’s not likely to have a similar day any time soon, but having him and Funchess as reliable downfield targets has compensated for the rest of Michigan’s lackluster receiving corps.
That being said, the Spartans will have to decide which receiving threat they want to focus most of their resources on, but of course, that’s assuming Michigan plans to significantly use its receivers at all — Michigan State is known for its strong cornerbacks and pass rush, which means it will be ready, wherever the Wolverines decide to throw the ball.
3. Can Michigan trust its defense to bail it out?
For as impressive as the Wolverines’ offense was against Indiana, you can’t forget the pitiful performance on the defensive end of things, essentially turning the game into a shootout.
The Spartans offense left much to be desired earlier in the season, but Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday that Michigan State’s improvement in the passing game, in conjunction with a stronger offensive line, makes it a more dangerous team.
At this point, it’s uncertain if the reliable offense of recent games will show up. But one thing is sure: on the road, some kind of mistake is bound to occur. And when that happens, how will the Wolverine defense respond?
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Mattison both spoke this week of the need for the defense to limit big plays. The Wolverines found themselves out of position several times against the Hoosiers’ fast-tempo offense, and Hoke has said he saw the same quick pace from the Spartans in 2011.
4. What will the Wolverines’ identity be at the end of the weekend?
At most press conferences for the past few weeks, Hoke has been asked if his team has an identity yet. And most times, Hoke beats around the bush, saying he’s still getting “a little bit of an idea” but has no clear-cut answer.
But with this game having major implications in the Big Ten Legends Division, Michigan will inevitably make some sort of statement this weekend, whether it shows up on the road or reverts back to the turnover-prone offense from earlier this season.
By this point, it should be easy to tell what kind of team the Wolverines will be for their remaining six games. And though a lot of factors will be at play on Saturday, something will have to happen to give a more definitive answer.