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Roundtable: Bright lights shine on Michigan-MSU rivalry

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Hey, guys. It’s rivalry week! I hope you were all able to recharge during the bye, because we’re back into it with a huge game tomorrow when the Spartans come to town. These are the types of games you look forward to for quite some time. Should be a fun one under the lights. What do you think making this a night game does for the rivalry?

Will: While I don’t love Thursday and Friday games, I dig me some night games. They just carry a certain energy you don’t see during day games. I hope the play on the field lives up to the bright lights.

David: I think night games are something that can create an amazing game day experience and environment. If this is anything like the previous games against Notre Dame, we are in for an exciting night. It also causes safety concerns obviously with so many more fans around not going to the game but there for the tailgating. I also can't stand waiting all day for the game if I'm not going to be in Ann Arbor.

Josh: Although I love the tradition of mostly 12 o’clock kickoffs, the games under the lights are always a treat. I think it’s almost every boy's dream to play on the big stage and under the lights. It just has this special aura around it. I don’t know if it changes anything as far as the teams are concerned, but having it in that time slot will draw more viewers to the game that might not normally check it out.

Jared: I am not going to sugarcoat it — night games make the Big House better. We have a somewhat, how do I put it delicately, elderly fan base. I was at the CU game last year and every single person around me had a catheter in and never so much as clapped. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but the energy was weak for such a big game.

I was also at the last night game against Notre Dame as well, and that was insane by comparison. Night games just bring more life, more enthusiasm, and more drunken loud people to the atmosphere. There is a direct correlation between crowd noise and home team success, and I think it will play a factor in this game. I would not want to be Brian Lewerke going against that defense with a raucous crowd thirsty for revenge after 2015.

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Dan: I just spit out my coffee at Jared’s answer, but he’s not far off. I skipped the 2014 night game because I like to pretend that season never happened but the 2013 tilt against Notre Dame is probably the second best college football atmosphere I’ve ever seen. #1 being 2007 USF/WVU, so Thursday games can be kind of tight too. I’m going to be in Ann Arbor this week, albeit watching the game at a bar, and I simply cannot wait! I hope the cops give the tailgates some wiggle room, since whichever city it takes place in, the UM/MSU gameday experience is on a whole other level.

Drew: It’ll increase the number of arrests in Ann Arbor on Saturday. That’s for certain.

I have been hesitant to support the notion of Michigan-Michigan State at night purely from the perspective of what the aftermath will look like in Ann Arbor from traffic to arrests to potential damage. When Michigan State fans come to town, tempers flare, and things tend to get really rowdy. And an additional four hours of boozing and tailgating will only dump fuel on the fire.

However, from a football perspective, this is fantastic for Michigan. The Michigan faithful have a reputation for not being the loudest, most impactful crowd. They are labeled as being part of the “wine and cheese” club with the “blue hairs” involuntarily yelling, “Down in front!” every two minutes. But that is *somewhat* incorrect.

The truth is that Michigan fans can create a hostile atmosphere in the Big House. They just do not always do so. I heard it with my own two ears when I was on the field for Under the Lights I and Michigan memorably stormed back to knock off Notre Dame. The crowd was so loud and piercing in those final minutes that I could not even hear myself think. It’s the type of crowd that can pick up an inexperienced team facing an in-state rival that always seems to bring its best in this game. On Saturday, as the sun sets and the lights flicker on, a buzz will permeate throughout the Big House. The fans will know how important this game is, and, with booze in their belly, the environment will be electric.

Colman: I’m a bit more of a traditionalist when it comes to rivalry games and Michigan State is 1a for me on the rivalry rankings. I love getting up in the morning having my coffee, then a few adult beverages and heading right into a game. That said, the points above are valid. This puts the game on a national scale, gives the fans a long time to get rowdy and the Big House is one of the finest venues to watch a game at any time.

I’ve never been to a night game at Michigan and I’ll be in attendance, so I can tell you that I am really looking forward to such a big matchup on that stage. I expect the crowd and atmosphere in general to be electric. The stakes are once again high for both teams and the night game will build anticipation throughout the day and hopefully produce a great game.

Michigan v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Ed: At this point we know John O’Korn, at least for the foreseeable future, is gonna be the guy for the Wolverines. How do you think he matches up with the MSU defense (which, by the way, is ranked fourth nationally)?

Will: This is the most pressing question for Michigan football. Even during his much-referenced AAC Rookie of the Year season with Houston (before he lost his starting job and transferred to Michigan) O’Korn struggled with consistency. That said, the guy is decisive and adds some mobility that Speight lacked. Purdue was a fun warm-up, but MSU will be a flat-out test.

David: I can't think of a better time for a bye week to prepare for this game. Now that we know John O’Korn is starting, the offense can work on some things and get everyone prepared. I feel like he will be ready and if they create more success on the ground between Evans and Isaac, this will be a great game. I liked how the tight ends were used against Purdue, which allowed O’Korn to throw for 270 yards in 27 attempts. The offensive line has got to step up and avoid multiple sacks. We now he can avoid the rush like we saw against Purdue and O’Korn is not afraid to run.

Josh: My thoughts are in line with David’s. When John O’Korn stepped off that field with the W under his belt, he had all the confidence in the world. Having the BYE week when they did should help carry that confidence over into the game on Saturday. Also, like David, I like that the tight ends were utilized more with John in the game. Will he throw for 300 yards? Maybe not, but I think he will have a solid performance.

Jared: The fellas nailed it above. This is, in my opinion, a season defining game at the quarterback position. Was the Purdue game a fluke? What about the Indiana game last year? We still don’t know what we have with O’Korn, but I think we will after this game. Some of those throws against Purdue were extremely confident, and extremely dangerous. I don’t think you want to be throwing into windows the size of a loaf of bread against this defense, so I want to see Johnny Moxon take care of the ball. If we only have one, or no turnovers, we will win this game handedly.

Dan: Piggy-backing off of David and Josh, the emergence of the tight ends is something I see continuing. Von and I talked this week about O’Korn’s ability to utilize them and how much of a deja-vu it was to the game-plans of yesteryear feeding De’Veon and Jake Butt until the defense gave out. I imagine that will be the formula for this week and onward. With that said, I really am hoping Peoples-Jones or Crawford or really anyone can make an impact on the outside. The team stopped winning last year when Darboh and Chesson stopped winning outside matchups, and this year’s squad has been fortunate enough to succeed without much of an outside presence.

Drew: John O’Korn matches up better against Michigan State’s defense than Michigan’s running backs will. The Spartans have been better stuffing the run (4th in Rushing Success Rate) than defending the pass (37th in Passing Success Rate), and their secondary has busted multiple coverages on which offenses have failed to capitalize. The opportunities will be there for O’Korn, who did very well in relief against Purdue and has had an extra week to prepare for this meaningful start.

Michigan State’s front seven is aggressive, often slanting into running lane with linebackers screaming towards the line of scrimmage. This will blow up many of Michigan’s runs, but it provides the opportunity for Michigan to use play action and misdirection to its advantage. That’s where O’Korn can make the difference. If he can replicate his previous performance by making quick reads, being decisive with his throws, and using his legs to extend plays, Michigan will be in great shape to slay the Spartans again.

Colman: This is a big time prove it game for John O’Korn. Purdue was a wonderful start but an intense rivalry game at night will be a huge opportunity and will be telling about his future as the starting quarterback. The bye came at really the best time Michigan could ask for, not only for guys like Isaac to get back to 100% but to give the starting offense a chance to gel a bit.

This matchup should be beneficial for O’Korn if he can find timing on the deep ball to WRs and continue to find his TEs in the middle of the field. In watching State this year they’ve had quite a few times their defense has been beaten over the top that the opposing QB didn’t connect. The are more stout against the run, as Drew pointed out, and their double-A gap blitzing will allow for open receivers if O’Korn can find them. Their safeties in particular look like weakness, it will be interesting to see if Michigan can take advantage of a secondary that has been poor the last year or so.

Air Force v Michigan

Ed: On the other side of the ball, are there any specific matchups that interest you when the Spartans are on offense?

Will: Junior QB Brian Lewerke is exceeding expectations for the Spartans, with both his arm and feet. But he hasn’t faced the likes of Hurst, Winovich, Gary, and Bush. Expect Lewerke to feel pressure that would rattle most quarterbacks. If he can weather that storm and still put the ball on target, the guy is legit.

David: I want to see this Spartan offensive line against Gary, Hurst and Winovich. I feel one of them will have at least two sacks and Devin Bush will be all over avoiding long run plays.

Josh: I’m looking for the LaVert Hill matchup with Felton Davis. Davis is proving that he is one of the better receivers in the conference; meanwhile, LaVert has been showing he’s one of the best corners in the Big Ten. Considering neither of these guys have matched up against guys of their respective skill levels to this point, it’ll make for an intense battle throughout the course of the game.

Jared: For me it has to be the offensive line of the good guys against the State D-line. The right side of the line has been flat out bad in pass protection, and that was against the likes of Cincinnati and Purdue. Now there are some real players lining up on the other side, led by sophomores Raequan Williams and Kenny Willekes. If Ulizio, Onwenu and company can’t tighten up, it could be a rough evening for O’Korn and the Michigan running backs.

Dan: Mobile quarterbacks always worry me, and if I remember correctly back to last year, Lewerke actually did some damage with his feet. This defense is a lot more athletic than last year’s squad (which is crazy to say), and Devin Bush has been the best defensive player in the country by a mile. If Lewerke and LJ Scott can run some effective zone reads or counter-looks, this young defense may be caught in a vulnerable spot or two.

Drew: I echo Dan’s sentiment. Brian Lewerke is no Denard Robinson, but he can make plays with his legs. When sacks are removed, Lewerke has carried the ball 33 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns. If your brain is a T-9 calculator, you’ll know instantly that that is 8.5 yards per carry, which would be the second best in the Big Ten (if sacks were not counted as rushing yards, which is incredibly dumb).

Don Brown preaches aggression, and his players are full believers in Brown’s message. However, their aggression can be used against them. If Rashan Gary or Chase Winovich shoots too far upfield on a pass rush, it opens a scrambling lane for Lewerke. If the focus is to swallow L.J. Scott at the line of scrimmage, a Lewerke keeper on a read-option could result in big yards.

The good news for Michigan is that it has Devin Bush, Jr., who has been one of the nation’s fastest and best linebackers through the first four games. His speed is a game-changer and can limit Lewerke’s ability to take off with his feet. If the Wolverines contain Lewerke and do not let him break the pocket, Michigan State will have fewer opportunities to break off chunk plays and fewer opportunities to score.

Colman: Mark Dantonio would love nothing more than to run the ball down everyone’s throat, and use play action off it. I don’t think he’ll be able to run the ball like they want to against Michigan. I also think Michigan will control the game from the start. This means more passing for MSU and I look at our defensive backs against Brian Lewerke as a huge matchup in this game. Hill and Long have looked good so far, especially last week, but I think they’ll be challenged over and over in this game. The same goes for Kinnel and Metellus. These four guys containing Spartan receivers might be the difference between a close game and a blowout.

Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Ed: MSU has covered the spread in each of its last nine games against Michigan, if you haven't noticed. They seem to get up for this matchup every year, regardless of how good of a season each team is having. Based on what we’ve seen over the first month, is there any reason to think this year will be any different? Let’s get some predictions.

Will: I’d actually place this game on upset watch, though I think Michigan wins it. A lot hinges on the ability of Michigan’s offensive linemen to keep pressure off O’Korn. Michigan State will leave everything on the field, guided by the third best college coach in the state of Michigan (Don Brown and Jim Harbaugh being numbers 1 and 2, of course), so expect them to cover the spread. Michigan wins by a touchdown, 20-13.

David: Michigan is leading in just about every category and is coming off the bye week. John O’Korn has a great night under the lights, the right side of the offensive line is still a concern, but they avoid turnovers and this defense picks right up where they left off holding the Spartans to under 250 yards. Michigan wins its 500th Big Ten game with a final score of 31-10 in the Big House, and several couches don't make it through the night.

Josh: Mark Dantonio is always able to get the absolute most out of his guys when they play the Wolverines. The Spartans are starting walk-on offense and defensive linemen which might be a problem considering they’ll have to block one of the best D-lines in the country. It’ll be a slugfest, as it always is, but Michigan pulls away in the 2nd half and wins, 35-14.

Jared: I will never bet against Don Juan and his ability to scheme against whatever offense you try and throw at him. Michigan wins on the strength of a rowdy defense and a decent game from O’Korn, 24-13.

Dan: I have a similar feeling I had going into Florida. Being a “big game,” part of me slightly worries, but I don’t see the offensive firepower or playmaking ability from Sparty’s offense. Yes, little brother always gets up for this game and has had the advantage for the last decade, but the atmosphere in the Big House is going to be insane, and this Wolverines team is young enough to forget that rivalry games are supposed to be close. I think it’s a rather routine 31-13 beating.

Drew: Yes, it’s at night, it’s under the lights, and Michigan Stadium will be rocking. But this is Mark Dantonio’s 11th season at Michigan State, and he has proclaimed over and over how important this rivalry is, how much disdain he has for the Michigan program, and how much he takes the #disrespekt personally. That feeling has trickled down to his players each and every season, and as a result, Michigan State has outperformed expectations in each of the past nine games against Michigan.

Not once have the Wolverines blown out the Spartans, and not once have the Wolverines covered the spread against them. So until I see Michigan take Michigan State to the woodshed, it would be foolhardy of me to expect it to happen, especially when this is setting up to be a defensive duel. The Wolverines have the better defense and the home crowd behind them, so they will dance the end of the night away with a 20-14 win.

Colman: I’m a little torn here because Sparty is due for a complete beatdown from Michigan. From running up the score a couple years ago to the celebration after a gift win on a fluke play, their time has come for a good ‘ol butt whoopin’. Michigan has more talent overall and a better coaching staff. These games are typically close though and Michigan’s offense has only shown the ability to throw the ball for three quarters of football this year. If O’Korn is Purdue O’Korn, Michigan wins big. If he plays poorly this is a barnburner and could come down to the end of the game. I’ll split the difference and say O’Korn plays well enough to give Michigan a comfortable victory. 24-10 Blue.