In what is shaping up to be a highly contested slugfest, this Saturday’s rivalry tilt between the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans could come down to a single play. In a game like this, execution and composure can be the difference between a win and a loss. The East Lansing crowd will be energized, but Michigan knows how to handle a challenging environment.
“It all comes down to them executing,” Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua said. “We went to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and we emphasized the same message. Know your job, know your assignment, do your job. The crowd noise is there no matter what you do, they’ve got to execute. They have to control their emotions, we’ve emphasized that. I think we’re ready. We’ve got a great group of men.”
Execution will also be key in stopping Michigan State’s best offensive weapon: running back Kenneth Walker III. The transfer running back averages more than six yards per carry this season and will likely reach the 1,000-yard mark in the first quarter of this week’s game; he currently sits at 997. Limiting his production is a must if Michigan wants to leave East Lansing 8-0. Nua’s answer was simple on how to limit him.
“Just by doing your job,” Nua said. “All 11 execute their assignment, you have a good chance of eliminating, or at least containing someone of that caliber. Excited for that challenge.”
For the Michigan offense, the Spartan to keep an eye on is defensive lineman Jacob Panasiuk, who has racked up 5.5 sacks and 23 total tackles so far this season. He’s good at pressuring the quarterback and will be a tough task for Michigan’s offensive line.
“We’ve just got to play our football and do what we do,” Michigan offensive line coach Sherrone Moore said. “(Panasiuk is) a really good player, I think he’s top in the country in pressures. It helps when you practice against 97 (Aidan Hutchinson) everyday, kind of gives you that look you need. We’re excited about the challenge ahead.
Michigan coaches and players know what it’s like in rivalry games like these. Emotions are high and the game can completely change on a penalty caused by a mental mistake. Staying composed and not letting emotions take over is a crucial part of a game like this.
“I’ve been part of a lot of rivalries,” Nua said. “Holy War, Army-Navy, here, the Desert Duel Arizona State-Arizona. All comes down to who can control their emotions and get their assignments done. The emotions were high, still high right now, we’re excited for today’s preparation, today’s practice, and we’re taking it one day at a time.”
Michigan and Michigan State kickoff at noon on Saturday from East Lansing in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.