DAN: Hey guys, welcome to our new feature. Von Lozon and I will be taking weekly looks at some of the hottest topics floating around the Michigan fanbase. These will be posted the Friday before game days so if you’re craving that last bit of pregame hype, or just need to kill the last hour of your work week, this is the place to be. Leave a comment below and we’ll try our best to get to them.
Alright Von, the bye week is mercifully over, and Little Brother is coming to down for the first under-the-lights game of the Harbaugh era. This game has a different energy to it than even the Florida matchup I'd say.
VON: Oh, absolutely. The Florida game felt like the Orange Bowl Part 2: I was a little nervous before the game and just hoped we got the W. I don't really know what to compare this game to since we haven't had an under the lights game since Harbaugh has been back. So maybe this game will be the next game where we say "(X) game feels like that under the lights game against Sparty back in 2017." Unfortunately, I have a wedding to attend AGAIN this weekend so I won't be able to see all of this one, but hopefully all of the 2nd half at least.
DAN: Oh man, that's a bummer. I got lucky enough that my travel weekend coincided with the bye week, and I'll actually have the chance to make it up to Ann Arbor for this game. I am hesitantly optimistic. The last Under the Lights game was a victory against Penn State and Michigan is 3-0 in these tilts with two more wins over Notre Dame. I may be getting ahead of myself, and I know that Drew did a deep dive into the numbers on why this game should be close, but I'm having a hard time seeing Michigan State cover the 13 points the Wolverines are favored by (I got the game at -10.5).
VON: I think if everything goes right Michigan could easily cover that spread. 1) This defense is unworldly. Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Chase Winovich and the rest of the squad are amazing. We may be watching the greatest Michigan defense of ALL TIME. There, I said it. 2) Johnny O'Korn has all the confidence in the world and is ready to lead this team to success on every single drive. Wilton Speight lost all his confidence after those picks against Florida. It carried over to Cincinnati, Air Force and Purdue up until he got hurt. I hope Speight is okay but O'Korn is the hot hand right now and I have confidence in him. 3) Michigan State, albeit being 3-1, has looked mediocre at best this season. LJ Scott, who we all thought was going to be a problem, has had fumbling and consistency problems. Notre Dame lit them up in primetime at Spartan Stadium, and Notre Dame is vastly overrated. That spread can be covered.
DAN: I’m here for pretty much for all the reasons you mentioned, though I'm not as bullish on O'Korn as some others. This is still the guy that 1) lost his job at Houston 2) lost out to Speight despite being the heir-apparent to Rudock 3) looked completely lost when he played last year and 4) again lost the job to Speight (and Peters for a while) this year. He looked very good against the even-less-inspiring team from Indiana, but has a really bad habit of staring down the rush or tucking too quickly. The biggest reason that I expect to cover are that worst-case, I see this game playing out similar to Purdue. Especially with LJ Scott apparently forgetting how to play football, where are the Spartans going to get first downs and points? The defense will be on the field a lot, and with Michigan's stable of backs, there aren't many teams that can stand up to that for a full 60 minutes. While part of me wants to think that the dam breaks and the offense finally explodes this week in the first half, I think the second half onslaught is inevitable.
VON: I'll give O'Korn a pass for last year; he was thrown into the fire and had to play in a blizzard in Ann Arbor. With LJ Scott playing so poorly, the Spartans are going to have to rely on Brian Lewerke to use his feet more often than not, especially with Dr. Blitz bringing the heat practically every play. I agree the second half is when the offense will take off because that's what has happened in every game this year. They have been a second half team this season and I don't see that changing. Don Brown is the best defensive coordinator in the country and his adjustments made at halftime are a huge reason behind why Michigan has been a second half team. I could see this game being tied 10-10 at halftime, but Michigan still winning 30-10
DAN: Let me clarify that I'm not doubting O'Korn, but it seems like a lot of people are going a little over the top with it. He's certainly got a ton of talent and a better command of the offense, but I'm hedging my excitement. As far as the game goes, I'm envisioning something similar. This stat is incredible, but Michigan has outscored opponents 80-14 in the second half of games this year and the splits against Purdue honestly made my jaw drop. The Wolverines outgained the Boilermakers 297 - 15 in yardage, out-possessed them 22:42 - 7:18, and ran up 21 unanswered to cover the spread (good teams win, great teams cover). That's Alabama territory. I would prefer to punish them early and often, though, since this year's squad hasn't really done that. What are the keys to starting hot this week in your mind?
VON: Starting hot in my mind would be picking up multiple first downs, wearing out MSU's defense early and letting your defense not touch the playing field as often as the offense. In order to do that, Michigan will need to establish some sort of running game, whether that be with the shifty Chris Evans or the bruiser Ty Isaac. I honestly don't care who gets more carries as long as the carries are meaningful. Once that happens, the play-action opens up and those tight ends we saw play so well against Purdue will be open again against MSU. Get Gentry and McKeon the ball as much as possible. Having two athletic play-making tight ends is a valuable asset, one that the play-callers didn't take advantage of until Speight was injured. Rinse, rather, repeat, move on.
DAN: The formula seems simple doesn't it? How many times the last two years did we see that with De'Veon and Jake Butt? Ty looked injured against Purdue, and I'm hoping that's the reason for his lack of carries. If he runs like he's run all year, I want to see him go into the half with 12-15 already. Force the run down their throats and use the tight ends to open up the middle. McKeon has been sneaky terrific all year, and I think it'll only show more as him and O'Korn gain in-game confidence in one another.
With that said, I think this team needs to be better on the edge. Losing Tarik Black appears to be a bigger loss than maybe initially anticipated. Is this the week that Peoples-Jones or maybe even a Nico Collins makes a big play down field? I don't see anything from Crawford or Perry in the deep passing game, but I know these youngsters have the talent, if albeit it a little raw.
VON: We saw it a lot, man. Yeah, it was clear Isaac wasn't fully healthy for that Purdue game, but hopefully the bye week helped him out a little bit. Getting him going if he's 100 percent will be pertinent in this game. And yes, the receivers on the outside need to step up. DPJ and Crawford have to be those guys. We haven't seen anything from Nico Collins or Oliver Martin yet and I don't think that'll change in this game. Perry has been good in the slot and DPJ has been pretty good since Tarik's injury, but having that other WR step up will help the offense tremendously. I was expecting a lot from Crawford this season and so far he has been a big disappointment, so I'd really like to see him make an impact in this game.
DAN: One of them needs a breakout game, absolutely. Especially with the Nittany Lions looming in a place you'd prefer not to bring in a ton of youth. Let's get to predictions though. I know we've only barely touched on the defense, but I think they speak for themselves and the site's covered them thoroughly. Bush, Winovich, and Hudson could all be All-Americans. I'm going to go 31-13, Michigan with second half route and a garbage TD late from Sparty spooking some of the gamblers.
VON: I'm going 20-7. I see MSU getting one touchdown and that's about it. This is going to be a low scoring game, so get ready to sit on the edge of your seat for most of the night. Go Blue!