James Ross will be out for the first half as a result of the targeting penalty. Who will we see for the best option as his fill-in, because Durkin will still run a lot of 4-3 rush schemes to counter the threat of all of the MSU running backs.
Fish: First off, that was a very questionable call. While he did hit him in the helmet, he shouldn't have been thrown out since he pulled back to make sure it wasn't a lot worse. Anyways, while Allen Gant came in against Northwestern but I expect to see a lot more of Ben Gedeon on Saturday. He has the speed and athleticism to play any linebacker position and this could be a bit of a breakout game for him, if he gets enough run.
Nick B: Agreed. It's worth noting that Channing Stribling will be back against MSU, so Jabrill could go back to playing a lot of nickel. You'd probably prefer Gedeon in there if Michigan State tries running the ball a lot, which I think they'll do, but on the other hand, some of Michigan State's runs have been sweeps for R.J. Shelton, and Jabrill could destroy those. Basically, there'll be some cat-and-mouse going on.
Anthony: I think it definitely depends on the look that MSU gives the Wolverines, but I can certainly see the Wolverines in a 4-2-5 look where Peppers lines up in the nickel. Ben Gedeon will likely be the one who gets Ross' reps in the first half, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do because he has been a beast on special teams.
Shash: M's defense is so plug-and-play this season that I'd expect them to use more nickel looks and another defensive lineman when the opportunity calls for it. This hurts their flexibility in their base package a little bit, but do we really have any doubts that Durkin and Mattison can work around it? Sure, they'll play a lot of 4-3, but do all of those 3 have to be LB's? Nah. Stand up Charlton or Wormley on run downs, sneak in Gant or a safety or a corner on passing downs, have fun with it. I'd be nervous with any other coaching staff. Would like to see more Gedeon. He's impressed me in sparing time so far.
Kevin: Remember too that Royce Jenkins-Stone filled in for Ojemudia for most of Saturday, so Durkin has some flexibility for moving around his linebackers depending on what MSU does. Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden, Jenkins-Stone, Taco Charlton and Gedeon will probably all get on the field, and that might dictate where Peppers gets put with Stribling, Clark, Lewis and Hill in the nickel package.
Alex K: The unit's so flexible I have a hard time thinking that it will serve as an Achilles heel for Drevno. Gedeon looks to be public enemy No. 1, only thing that keeps we weary is having Ross enter in the second half with all that adrenaline. And when I say weary, I mean he seriously might kill a guy.
Drew: Michigan will run more 4-3 against Michigan State than it has all season. The first six opponents that Michigan has faced had spread offenses, while the Spartans will use two-tight end sets with more regularity with Josiah Price expected to return. The name everyone has mentioned to replace James Ross III for the first half is Ben Gedeon, and understandably so. Gedeon is the best reserve linebacker on Michigan and has shown promise in his limited snaps. However, Ross III is the SAM, which is not Gedeon's natural position. Ross III's backup at SAM has been Allen Gant, who Jim Harbaugh inserted into the game against Northwestern after Ross III was ejected. This wasn't a difficult choice in the context of that situation because Michigan had a sizable lead on Northwestern and Gedeon didn't have a week to prepare to play SAM. There's a wildcard, too, and his name is Jabrill Peppers. He would be undersized, but, in Michigan's 4-3, he mostly would play on the edges, where his speed and aggression would be an asset. Plus, this would mean Delano Hill would remain on the field as a safety rather than come him off for Gedeon.
Ultimately, though, this won't have as much of an impact as we may anticipate. First, Ross III's suspension is for only the first half. Second, Michigan State tends to go under center in heavy packages only on first down when the Spartans like to run the football. On second and third downs, MSU will shift back into the gun, which will prompt Michigan to deploy its nickel sets.
Nick C: I'm not worried about it, and it'll just mean Ross has more energy in the second half. I expect Peppers to make some more plays in his absence.
Talk about a fond Michigan-Michigan State rivalry memory of any kind.
Fish: Since I lived in Pittsburgh and Atlanta since the start of college, the last Michigan game I've been to in-person was the 2004 UM-MSU overtime game (yeah, I'm not the youngest) when Braylon Edwards scored three touchdowns, including the two in the corner of the endzone where I happened to be sitting. It was a ridiculous game and one of the best sporting events I've ever attended or seen live.
Kevin: Three years later, when the game was in East Lansing, amidst Michigan State's five-year losing streak to Michigan, it looked like it was going to end. It wasn't that my roommates and I were overly surprised as we watched Chad Henne hurl a pass 32 yards to the corner where somehow Mario Manningham snatched it out of the air while falling into the turf. No, it was a photo I saw from the game the following Monday in the offices of The Michigan Daily (it ended up being used on the front page of the paper). Manningham is frozen in mid-air, the ball in his fingertips, but in the background you can clearly see one guy in the crowd in a blue coat with his arms in the air and all the Spartan fans around him are stone-faced, in shock that, yes, indeed, Michigan did that to them. Again.
Incidentally, today is the ten-year anniversary of that game.
Anthony: My fondest UM/MSU memory would be the Friday jean days (I went to a private Catholic school growing up) the day before the game where you could wear either Michigan or Spartan Colors. It was always fun to see which of your friends sat on which side of the fence and I've always enjoyed this rivalry because it has a neighborhood feel it to it. Every fanbase has its share of nuts, but I always enjoy the banter between friends and the hatred isn't quite there like other rivalries. Though, I can only speak for the Michigan side of things.
Shash: My dad and I went up to MSU for that shitty clock operator game and were cheering as the clock ticked down to zero and then it didn't.
Oh, we're talking about best memory? That one stood out the most. But definitely the Braylon game. I was at a bar in Suttons Bay with my dad and the only other person there the whole time was this progressively drunker MSU grandma - I shit you not - who was trash talking like you wouldn't believe. She was really irritating at first. But as the game went on she grew on me, and by the fourth quarter we were seriously the best of friends. I still write to her every day. Hi there, Beatrice! Hope you aren't dead!
Alex K.: Out of all the Michigan contests I survived in my adolescence, I disheartedly never witnessed a UM-MSU game. Braylon Edwards/3 OT game was seriously something special. If you ever had to write a paper on one player completely taking over a game, tell ole' Professor Johnson that you're bringing in a VHS of Sparty/Michigan circa 2004.
Drew: I didn't start following Michigan until I was a freshman at the university in 2007, so there aren't too many fond memories of this rivalry from which to draw. However, my fondest would be watching Michigan storm back to beat the Spartans for the sixth straight time that freshman year as I sat in my Baits II dorm room with my roommates. When Michigan fell down by 10 points, we were exasperated. Michigan couldn't lose to MSU. Not like this. But the tide started to turn slowly but surely. Mike Hart turned a Ryan Mallett sack and fumble into a first down. On one foot, Chad Henne threw one of the prettiest rainbows I've ever seen to Greg Mathews for a touchdown. Then, of course, on 3rd and long with just a few minutes left, Henne went for it all and heaved a pass to Mario Manningham in the end zone. And, I must say, when Manningham leapt in the air and snagged that game-winning touchdown, my entire dorm -- not just my room, the ENTIRE dorm -- erupted. Everyone poured out of their dorms and starting hugging and high-fiving each other. It was an unbelievable moment and one that I won't forget anytime soon.
Nick C: My fondest memory from this rivalry would be Hoke's first (and only) win against Michigan State in 2012. For those of you that are new, I used to go by the name Hollywood Hokester, and boy, Hokeamania was running through my veins after this one. I went to the game in a Hokemania shirt (stylized like Hulkamania, of course) and wearing my father's Hulk Hogan mask circa 1980s. It creeped a lot of people out and made me very sweaty. After beating Ohio in ‘11 and State in ‘12, I believed that Hoke had buried the demons of RichRod past as Gibbons kick sailed through the uprights. I thought he was ready to take us to the top. It was a horrible game, and I'll be honest, I don't remember the third quarter, but I'll never forget that final drive. That pass from Shoelace to Dileo was a thing of beauty.
More concerned with stopping Connor Cook or the infinity running backs Michigan State uses? On the flip side, what can be gleaned from Rutgers nearly beating the Spartans?
Fish: Cook, all day. He's the best passing quarterback the team will face all season long. And though the Michigan secondary has played extremely well, the Michigan State receivers are really good as well. They made several big catches and plays against Rutgers, and likely saved the game for the Spartans. Though, on that same note, Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Jabrill Peppers and company are far from the Rutgers secondary. I doubt they'll give them the space to make some of those plays they were able to make last weekend.
Nick B: I'm going to go with Connor Cook as well. I thought the hype machine started for Cook a little early, but he's just continued to grow and grow and looks really comfortable back there now. Very accurate downfield, mobile, and cool under pressure.
Plus, Michigan State's offensive line has been working through a lot of injuries. Mark Dantonio got right tackle Kodi Kieler back this past week (and played him at left tackle), but star left tackle Jack Conklin is still out and Kieler played a little rough in his stead. Back-up LT Dennis Finley had gotten injured against Purdue and is out for the year, hence why there's so little depth on the outside. Jack Allen and Donavon Clark, two starting interior linemen, have both spent time at the tackle spots.
Donavon Clark, who's a lot of fun to watch, actually did pretty damn well at right tackle for a 325-pound road-grading machine, but Conklin's absence still ends up leaving a hole at that right guard spot. MSU is cycling through a few guys there with marginal success. This line is one more injury away from serious problems, and the return of Jack Conklin away from smooth sailing. We'll see how that develops.
(Those tailbacks, though. Holy geez, are they good. If the line gets healthy, which it probably will be in time for Ohio State, this group has the ability to run on anyone in the country. No joke.)
Anthony: I think the biggest concern and wild card here is Cook. He is by the far the best quarterback Michigan has seen this season and has NFL scouts paying attention for a reason. He is one of the winningest quarterbacks of recent memory and has solid skill players around him. Michigan is really going to have to rattle him to win this football game.
Shash: This is Cook's game to win. It's his chance to show that he's ready for Sundays. He is a doofus, though, so I have faith in Michigan's ability to exploit said doofusness. He's the wild card, and I would be happier with him hitting some lucky long passes than getting gashed by that stable of backs they've got. But MSU's interior run game should face some serious challenges in this game because Michigan actually has DTs now. Key will be containing the edge and limiting those 8 to 15 yard gainers that can extend drives on 2nd and 6 or so. Get them into third down and control what's going to happen - if Michigan can do that and gets a good rhythm about when State will run vs pass, I feel good about their ability to match up on each play.
Alex K: Nothing worse than raving about a pocket passer. See it all the time on any channel you flip to. However, this 24+ point streak that Sparty has going all points back to CC. And the reason this has continued into 2015 is undoubtedly thanks to Cook. He's taken a subpar unit and made it work with Burbridge and Price. I'm not calling Piscataway a tough place to play, but a night game on the road, knowing that your next opponent and biggest rival just shutout yet another team, I wonder if Sparty's mind was drifting to October 17th.
Drew: Connor Cook, and it isn't even a debate. Cook is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and he saved Michigan State from a humiliating loss to Rutgers last week. What most impresses me about Cook is his ability to stand in the pocket under duress and fire pinpoint lasers to his receivers. He did this more than a few times, particularly late to extend key drives, against Rutgers. Michigan's defensive line can't just rely on pressuring Cook. That unit needs to maneuver through what could be a jumbled offensive line and hit him. Hard. And, at the same time, Michigan's corners need to stick with MSU's receivers. Aaron Burbridge has developed into a top-tier receiver, but Jourdan Lewis has demonstrated that he can neutralize such a threat.
On the other hand, Michigan State may have a reputation for pounding the football, but MSU hasn't been very proficient at it this season. The Spartans are tied for 63rd in yards per carry (4.35) and 105th (!!) in Rushing S&P+. Much of this can be attributed to injuries -- I know, I know -- on the offensive line, but the Spartans likely won't be at full strength there this weekend. Further, Michigan's run defense has been a force of nature. I think MSU has some very good backs in Madre London and L.J. Scott, but I don't see them having much success on Saturday.
Nick C: Connor Cook, by far. If he's on fire Saturday, it's time to be worried. As for Rutgers, they play well at home at night, and Leonte Carroo is a heck of a wide receiver.
This time, pick out an offensive player from this past Saturday who gets your imaginary Maize n Brew Helmet Sticker and might make some noise against MSU.
Fish: Jake Rudock. Michigan State will likely stack the box and force Rudock to throw. Now, don't get me wrong. There could be 10 in the box and Harbaugh would probably still run it down their throat but if DeVeon Smith isn't 100%, they could have some issues. That is why I believe Rudock will need to have his best game and (BOLD PREDICTION ALERT) will finally hit a receiver on a long ball.
Kevin: AJ Williams! Harbaugh loves him some tight ends, so of course he is going to use the third guy on the depth chart.
Nick B: I'm going to go in a weird direction and say Ty Isaac. Michigan State's defense does a great job of winning the battle up front, dropping a whole lot of green jerseys into the flat and then swarming to the football. Rutgers had some guys with speed who could scurry through a crowd of green jerseys, and they got some barely missed tackles last week in the process. Michigan will not have that kind of speed, which means they need to bruise their way toward extra yards.
Isaac has the physicality to do that at 6'3", 240. Plus he's got speed, too, which means he could be getting hit by a safety like Montae Nicholson (6'2", 220) rather than a tackle like Lawrence Thomas (6'4", 305). As much as I love De'Veon Smith, this game could be really hard on him, as Shilique Calhoun and LT both have the wheels to chase down plays and hit people even after they've been blocked. Isaac could be the key to Michigan's success - if he can protect the football.
Anthony: I like Jehu Chesson to have a big game on Saturday. MSU's secondary is pretty porous and Chesson has the speed to take the top off of the defense, assuming Rudock can hit him on a deep ball or two. We saw his breakaway speed on the KR TD against Northwestern and I think we will see him carry that over to the offensive end this week.
Shash: OK, Derrick Green. Don't screw this up, because I'm giving you my helmet sticker from last week. If you're in the game, that's probably good for Michigan this week. Please be in the game.
Alex K: I like recapping the Michigan games and seeing 11 different receivers with 2 catches for 26 yards. Good balance and a ton of targets. This week, however, give me Jehu Chesson. Given he can stretch the secondary to open gaps for Butt and Darboh, I don't see how he can't fiddle with that secondary given they'll see a lot of handoffs.
Drew: Jehu Chesson's speed has been a weapon on jet sweeps and kickoff returns, but can it finally be utilized in the passing offense? With its aggressive Cover 4 scheme, Michigan State will have it corners press the receivers and bring its safeties down to load the box against the run. This will put the pressure on Jake Rudock and Chesson to beat the Spartans over the top, and I don't think you need me to remind you how that went in the first half of the season. However, the good news is that MSU's corners have struggled to jam receivers at the line, so Chesson should be able to gain free releases. If so, Rudock must -- MUST -- hit him for long completions.
Nick C: Jake Butt. I thought he'd be the difference maker last week, but I wasn't expecting a 38-0 blowout. I think Butt catches a deep ball (or two!) and changes the flow of the game in favor of Michigan with it.
Our Wolverines are favored by a touchdown. Can they get the first of many signature Harbaugh era victories?
Fish: I predicted it in the preseason so I can't go back on it now after seeing the first 6 games of the season for both teams. I don't think they'll cover but I believe Michigan wins a close one, 20-17.
Kevin: Our previous predictions have been hilariously off so far this year, so I guess I should throw a conventional one out the window.
MSU is going to score. Cook is too good even if Michigan has a mighty secondary. The Spartan defense isn't great behind their front line, but I actually foresee a good amount of scoring by both teams. Michigan should feel good about the state of their running game, special teams and blanket corners. 31-20 Michigan
Nick B: This one, I think, will be a classic. Plenty of tricks that the coaches can pull out, and two teams that are extremely physical and also pretty sick of each other. I've been flip-flopping as to a score, though. I'm worried about MSU's defense against Jake Rudock, and their speed at wide receiver against our secondary. Connor Cook has similar precision - almost surgical - to what Travis Wilson employed in the season opener. I'm going to say Michigan State wins this one, 29-27, on a last-second touchdown by MacGarrett Kings.
Anthony: Give me Michigan in this game by a score of 24-13. I think it will be close late and the Wolverines will pull away at the end. MSU has struggled, but Dantonio will have them ready to play.
Shash: I'm not touching the prediction. I'm consistently wrong. But as always, I'll use my veto on Drew here. It's worked so far.
Alex K: Wolverines by 6. Sparty comes out and punches them in the mouth but Wolverines regroup to a 20-14 win.
Drew: I'm 6-0 in my Michigan predictions this season, though my scores for the BYU and Northwestern contests were hilariously wrong. However, I don't have a firm idea of what will happen between Michigan and MSU. There are very few results that would surprise me. But, because I'm obligated to give a prediction -- tsk, tsk, Shash -- I think Michigan will win in a game where both offenses will struggle. Michigan's defensive line will maul MSU's offensive line, and Jourdan Lewis will smother Aaron Burbridge. On the other side of the ball, MSU's defense will come ready to play, and Jake Rudock will be unable to expose the Spartan's weak secondary on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, U-M does enough late. Michigan 20, MSU 13.
Nick C: Michigan wins by 10, 24-14. Cook carries the Spartans to two first half touchdowns before our defense shuts the door in the second half.
Extra Point! College Gameday is comin' to our citay. Best guess for the guest picker they'll choose for the Ann Arbor crowd. After the broadcast, what're ya watching?
Fish: I originally thought Charles Woodson would be the pick with Oakland on a bye week. However, Michael Jordan is now my prediction. He's expected to be at a game this season and this would be the perfect platform to show off his new Jumpman-Michigan gear.
Nick B: Oh, I thought they were still in play.
Kevin: No, Nick, it's the Colts/Dolphins/USC/Maryland who are in play.
I don't see how they couldn't get Woodson especially since ESPN has a sponsor who flies the picker in a private jet to the set. However, the backup plan should be Lloyd Carr or Jack Harbaugh, the crowd would go nuts for any Harbaugh.
Iowa and Northwestern play right afterward, and Iowa can almost lock up their division with a win. LSU gets Florida without their main QB and then Penn State and Ohio State play the night cap to see whether OSU can finally look like their ranking.
Shash: Gerald Ford. They hologrammed Pac, they can do it for a president. Michael Phelps was at a game a while back, so maybe him. I like the idea of a nonfootball picker.
Alex K: My bold pick for guest picker has to be Stu Douglass, given the broadcast wanted the best three-point shooter in Big 10 history. After the broadcast, USC/ND to watch Cody Kessler dispose his fecal matter all over South Bend.
Drew: James Earl Jones, and he walks from the College GameDay bus to the stage as Imperial March blares in the background. That. Would. Be. Superb. Afterwards, Ohio State-Penn State.
Need to keep scouting the teams that will obstruct Michigan's path to a national championship after the Wolverines beat the Spartans in the afternoon. ;)
Nick C: How about a real curveball and we get Jackie Harbaugh up there? I'd dig it. And after finding out the HBC will be there, I don't really care who it is as long as his first initial isn't K and last name doesn't rhyme with another word for rooster. Following the game, I'll be all over Florida v. LSU. That should be a really fun game. Also, Ohio v. Penn State for the obvious reasons as well as the fact that I have a friend that'll be there, and it would be great to be able to rub a loss to PSU in his face.