Michigan won a big game. In prime time. And in dominant style. That game had it all: bonkers crowd, RPO’s, pick-sixes, and Evil Hornibrook. Is it possible Michigan is as good as we hoped they would be? Phase one of answering that question is in the rear-view mirror. Next up on the Revenge Tour: Agricultural College of the state of Michigan. They’ll be ready, we know that. Michigan will prepare, but in past games that hasn’t always equated to doing what it takes to win the game.
The floor is yours…leave the disrespekt at the door.
Sam: Just finished the preview after hours of research. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones 3 where Harrison Ford and the sultry Ilsa Scheider spend hours in a Venice library? It was like that, only more football and less attractive blondes.
(Beginning of respekt) First things first: Mark Dantonio knows how to prepare for this rivalry. He’s 11-0 against the spread against Michigan. However, there seems to be a narrative that Michigan State simply wins because they care more.
The reality is much more depressing (for Wolverine fans) than that. MSU has won simply because they’ve had a better product for the last decade. Every single one of MSU’s wins since 2008 have been against Michigan teams that finished with worse records (except in 2011 against the fluky Brady Hoke one). (end of respekt)
Likewise, Michigan beats the Spartans when they field mediocre to bad teams, such as the 3-9 one in 2016 or the 7-6 ones in 2007 and 2012. I know this sounds crazy, but follow my logic here: The better team wins.
If you’ve looked at Michigan State -- Lewerke picks, plodding run game and vulnerable secondary -- and thought they look better than what Harbaugh is throwing at there, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’ll be close, like always, but we’ve seen enough of State to know this isn’t vintage Dantonio.
Daniel A: So, I’m doing my part after zero hours of research, but you should take me as seriously as Sam. Want to know why? Because I was there in 2015, and that gives me full, lived authority on all things Sparty-week. No one, I repeat no one, has more respekt for Michigan State than I do.
Sam did a great job covering the last decade of the rivalry and putting some context around a lot of the numbers that are thrown around. Let’s talk about this weekend and the future. I wrote about it on Monday but wanted to reiterate here: This is Michigan’s most important game. It will set the tone for everything.
If they can run against MSU, Penn State and Ohio State are now on notice that stacking the box and pressing “sim” aren’t going to do it anymore. Michigan State has the nation’s #1 ranked rush defense, though Penn State was able to punch some holes in it. The tape against Wisconsin shows that Jim Harbaugh is becoming more comfortable with using his quarterbacks as weapons in the run game. Shea’s threat to keep is going to keep defenses from crashing their DE down. If you’re wondering how important that is, look at Auburn’s offense this year vs 2013 with Nick Marshall.
More intangibly, I believe there is a ton of confidence in getting over the Spartan hump. I know that 2016 didn’t work out, but besides the Iowa debacle, that team played with the confidence of an elite unit every week. That mental edge could be huge against the Nittany Lions and eventually the Buckeyes. The Wolverines can set the tone for the rest of the year with a win here.
Josh: Yeah, I’m going to agree with Daniel and Sam on this. I like how Sam said “this isn’t vintage Dantonio” because you know what? It’s not. Michigan State is broken on offense, the d-line is tops in the nation against the run but good lord they are near dead last in allowing huge gainers on the ground, so that #1 stat is vastly overrated.
The traditional MSU no fly zone secondary is anything but that this season. Add in the fact Brian Lewerke has regressed — or maybe just exposed — worse than other returning QB in the country and this isn’t a team that has intimated me as much as in years past.
Jim Harbaugh has the opportunity to shut up the critics, get that ever so elusive ranked opponent win on the road (MSU is #24 this week), and has the ability to put a stranglehold on instate recruiting for good. It’s time to put up or shut up.
Kevin: The most-cited stat in this series, at least recently, is rushing yards, because #narrative. I’m throwing that out the window from now on, because after the 2015 disaster, stats don’t matter. Who wins the game matters. Commentators like pointing out that whichever team finished with more rushing yards was usually the winner, but forget it.
Last year, Sparty outgained Michigan on the ground, had more penalties, and had under 100 passing yards. And won.
In 2016, Sparty outgained us on the ground, again, and lost.
See a pattern here, guys? Nothing matters. It’s the small things. Level of preparedness, playing to a team’s strengths (or at least continuing to do what works), special teams, penalties. Some real #respekt to Mark D’iantonino because he commits to a game plan, and it has worked. Unless they’re playing an unranked conference opponent. They figured out Penn State’s pass defense was atrocious and exploited it...to surpass them by almost 100 yards. A hundred! It may not matter if his team isn’t vintage either, Sam, because they can still play and execute.
MSU has an experienced/solid quarterback, upperclassmen on both sides of the ball, one star receiver, and a clever coach. Remind you of any programs we know? To Sam’s point, the better team usually wins. This year, that’s Michigan...on paper. But it might rain on Saturday in East Lansing, so throw everything out. Again.
Josh: You know, even if it does rain this isn’t the same game as last year. I think Michigan still wins going away. The Wolverine offensive line should travel as they did against Northwestern — and they’re even better now than they were then. Add in the potential for a few Patterson keepers and a fully healthy tandem of Evans and Higdon for the first time since week 2 and this just sets up better for Michigan.
The boys in blue have the better o-line, the more athletic QB, and a better RB group than anything that Sparty is putting out there come Saturday. God forbid it is another monsoon or even sprinkles for that matter, but should it be, Michigan will still be set up for success as I keep reiterating.
Daniel A: I want to also touch on the rain thing quickly before handing it off. It wasn’t the rain that lost the game it was John O’Korn. We saw him implode against Wisconsin and Ohio State where the weather was fine. Sure, it made his inaccurate throws more inaccurate, but I agree with Josh that rain shouldn’t matter.
The routes were good, the running game wasn’t as bad as people think, and the coaching staff got people open. Michigan had two costly fumbles with momentum and three horrible, unforgivable picks. Wilton Speight wins that game last year with the same play calls. I think, if the rain comes, we have the QB whose athleticism and arm talent can overcome it.
Andrew V: Michigan is better than Michigan State in all three phases, and there really is no excuse for the Wolverines not to win this game. It’s the most important game of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan coaching career (for now). I broke down what I view as the most important matchups in my weekly what to watch for column (have to get that plug in), but containing Brian Lewerke is at the top of my list. Don’t let him run and capitalize on his mistakes in the passing game. He’s thrown an interception in every game this season, and I have no reason to believe that ends this week. It’s time to take care of business and break the curse that Mike D’Antoni has cast on this program.
Josh: I’m going to close my thoughts on this game with an excerpt from my interview with McLain Moberg of TheOnlyColors.com (you can click HERE to read the entire Q&A):
“ [Jim Harbaugh has] got to win this game. There’s no excuses, McLain. I’m about to set the readers off with this but I have to say it anyway… Jim Harbaugh should be 3-0 heading into this game, not 1-2 against Dantonio and MSU. The punt, playing in a game that had no business being as close as it was the next year, and then last season throwing it in a monsoon with the worst Michigan QB since Nick Sheridan back in the Rich Rod days.
Harbaugh has the talent, has the coaching staff and it’s about dang time he marches into Spartan Stadium and walks out with a W. Can’t blame the refs, can’t blame the weather. It’s put up or shut up time.”
Go Blue, beat State.
Kevin: I have one ask for this game: cover freaking Felton Davis. Please? That’s not to say Michigan is incapable of avoiding a Penn State-style disaster, but it would be quite obvious from looking at film that it’s worth knowing where he is at all times. Friendly tip from a guy who knows about as much about football schemes as Michigan State fans know about fire safety rules.
RIP to all the sofas, loveseats, barca loungers, and sectional couches who will be sacrificed on Saturday.