What We Need to See: Michigan vs Michigan State

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What do we need to see from the Wolverines this Saturday if they want to stay alive in the Big Ten title race?

Keep Michigan State's defense honest

This is arguably Michigan's most important task, and no one will argue that it's the most daunting task. As stated in Inside the Playbook, Al Borges needs to find ways to generate enough of a run game to keep the Spartan linebackers honest. Devin Gardner will be throwing into small windows for most of the game, but those windows will tighten up even more if the Spartan defensive line dominates, allowing its linebackers to drop into coverage earlier and earlier.

Is this possible? Yes, but not likely. Running Fitzgerald Toussaint behind a fullback into the middle of the MSU defense is suicide, so Michigan should be operating from the shotgun more often than not. Devin Gardner's legs matched with the threat of a halfback run might be Michigan's only solution to its woes in the run game.

Battle and find ways to make big plays

Devin Gardner's ability to dodge tacklers and make throws needs to be on full display this weekend. The Spartans are going to bring plenty of pressure on different downs, giving Gardner opportunities to make plays if he can scramble and find targets down field – namely, Devin Funchess, who will be Michigan's true hope on offense.

This is where things get impossible: Gardner has to match his ability to scramble with ball security, which is an extremely tall task. Michigan State will smell blood if Michigan coughs the ball up.

Stop the run

Michigan's front seven has looked solid against the run at times and below average at others. It needs to remain solid throughout the game Saturday, as this would allow Jake Ryan and Frank Clark to pin their ears back and go after Connor Cook on longs downs. Cook is by no means a great signal caller; Michigan will be in much better shape if it can stop the run and put the game squarely on his inexperienced shoulders.

Play with focused aggression

The Spartan defense has been so great in recent seasons because it's very aggressive, yet the unit still manages to play with high levels of focus and discipline. Michigan needs to mirror this on both sides of the ball, playing fast football without making huge mental errors that show up on stat sheets. Both coaching staffs have been preaching it all week: Whoever plays the sharpest, most aggressive football will win this rivalry game.

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Welp, that's ugly, wishful thinking. I have great faith in Greg Mattison's ability to slow the Spartan offense down to a near halt this weekend, but whether or not the offense can score enough points to win remains to be seen. The cynic inside of me hates to admit it, but here goes: Al Borges needs to look at this game as a huge opportunity to save himself masked as a daunting challenge.

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