Michigan heads to East Lansing this weekend with national title hopes, while Michigan State is playing the role of spoiler. These two teams played these same roles two years ago, when the Spartans upset Michigan, 34-31.
That year, Michigan could not stop Spartans” receiver Plaxico Burress, who gained 255 yards, often by using his bigger body to outmuscle the Wolverines” smaller defensive backs. A similar story unfolds this time.
Michigan State passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense: Freshman Charles Rogers is the most dangerous receiver in the country, regardless of what Marquise Walker did last week.
“I think he is a great player right now,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He has great speed and size. He has great hands and is tough. He runs good routes. I don”t think there is anyone out there who is as gifted as Charles Rogers.”
To date, no team has found a way to shut Rogers down, but teams that have contained him have done so by pressuring the quarterback.
Michigan State will not be able to use its normal quarterback rotation this week, as Ryan Van Dyke is injured, leaving Jeff Smoker as the Spartans” only quarterback. If the Wolverines are to win, they”ll have to pressure him, and prevent Michigan State from making big plays.
Michigan”s secondary has yet to prove that it can do this against teams without as much talent as the Spartans.
Michigan State will win this matchup, but by how much will determine who wins the game.
Edge: Michigan State
Michigan passing offense vs. Michigan State passing defense: Michigan quarterback John Navarre has been better than anyone expected this year.
Although he was shaky at times last week against Iowa, he”s been good thus far this year. At times, he”s even been very good. But he”s yet to play an exceptional game.
That game might, and probably should come this week.
Michigan State is missing three defensive backs from its secondary, and with senior Marquise Walker trying to stake his claim as the nation”s premier receiver, Walker might match Rogers” productivity Saturday.
For most of the year, Walker has been Michigan”s only consistent receiving threat. Walker will get his this week, but sophomore receiver Ronald Bellamy might finally break out of his season-long slump and post a big game on Michigan State”s secondary as well.
Navarre will need to limit the mistakes, but if he does, he”ll have a huge game.
Michigan State rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense: Michigan State”s star running back T.J. Duckett has not had the type of season that many expected of him heading into the year.
Heading into a game of this magnitude, Michigan will worry about his ability to have a breakthrough performance.
He”s “a big back and very tough to bring down,” senior linebacker Eric Brackins said. Duckett weighs in at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds.
While defending him is a daunting task for any defense, Michigan just might have the defense to do it. The run-stopping part of the defense has been as good as any in the country.
Senior middle linebacker Larry Foote is making his statement for the Butkus award, as he already has 21 tackles for a loss this season, just five shy of the Michigan record.
He recorded 15 tackles at Iowa last week, seven for a loss.
A big reason Foote”s been as good as he”s been this year is because of his supporting cast.
Shantee Orr and Jake Frysinger are drawing lots of attention from opposing teams” offensive lines, and allowing for Foote to shoot the gaps and clean up.
Frysinger left last week”s game with an undisclosed injury, and is expected to play, but who can believe what coaches say this week?
Michigan rushing offense vs. Michigan State rushing defense: Michigan”s rushing attack has been sporadic this year. At times, it”s looked like the Michigan rushing attack of old, grinding out games behind an impressive offensive line.
At other times, the rushing attack has looked weak.
In a big match up, expect everyone to bring their “A” game.
This means that B.J. Askew will likely top the 100-yard barrier.
If he does, Michigan will win.
“Our goals are high and we want to run the football for a lot of philosophical reasons at this time I will not go into,” Carr said.
Special teams: Michigan State”s return game is as good as any in the country. Both Rogers and Herb Haygood have returned kicks for a touchdown this year and Michigan”s return defense has been very shaky at times.
The Wolverines gave up a punt return for a touchdown at the beginning of the second half of last week”s game.
Meanwhile, Michigan”s kicking game has been shaky. Hayden Epstein at times looks like the best kicker in the country. At other times, he looks like he should not start.
Edge: Michigan State
Intangibles: The Spartans are at home and seem destined for a big win. Coach Bobby Williams hasn”t won a big game all year, and his team seems too talented not to win one.
Meanwhile, Michigan has a young quarterback prone to getting rattled.
Edge: Michigan State
Prediction Either Michigan will pull away early, or it”ll be a dogfight. Most likely, it”ll be a dogfight.
Michigan 31, Michigan State 27