Welcome back to another edition of Conversations With the Enemy, wherein we shock and awe opposing bloggers with mildly antagonistic questions about opposing games. This week's victim: Maize n Brew Dave from, uh, Maize n Brew.
My answers to his questions about Michigan State will be up at Maize n Brew later today, or you can hear us talk about the game on not one, but two podcasts. Below, I'm in bold.
Let's start with the bad (for MSU fans, at least): Denard Robinson has pretty clearly been the best player in college football this season. Do you see any weaknesses in his game? Are there specific things you think he needs to accomplish for Michigan to be successful on Saturday?
There really aren't weaknesses per se in the kid's game. I know that sounds crazy, but watching him intently over the last five games I'm finding things he can improve on (go from good to great) rather than things that need to be FIXED. I think his biggest area of improvement is in the passing game, especially on his deep routes. Robinson's hit some critical bombs this season and certainly has the gun to put the ball anywhere on the field he wants, but in the Indiana game he had three wide open receivers (and I mean wide open) that he missed on long pass plays that would have been touchdowns had he taken just a smidgen off the throw. If Michigan's going to be able to run the ball (either through Robinson or Shaw/Smith/Whoever) he's going to have to make Michigan State pay for crowding the line of scrimmage by being accurate downfield when the opportunity arises.
It seems to me that a major source of Robinson's success has been vastly improved offensive line play. How good is this Michigan line? Are there any weaknesses that MSU may be able to exploit?
The line has been a lot better than I expected this year, but that's to say they exceeded some high expectations I had coming in. Ever since Taylor Lewan replaced Mark Huyge at left tackle, the line's pretty much been as good as it's been since 2006. Personally, I think everyone's playing at a very high level, but there have been MGoRumblings about Perry Dorrestein as maybe being a step behind the rest of the line. I think he's been fine, so take that FWIW.
Robinson's scrambles and designed runs have received most of the attention, so I was surprised to see that Michigan is fourth (!) nationally in pass efficiency. How do you think Michigan will attempt to attack the MSU secondary? (E.g., play action, screens, etc.) Also, is there any receiver (or receivers) who have established themselves as Robinson's favorite(s)?
This goes back to question one, how do you cite flaws when the guy is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency? Robinson's progress as a passer has been nothing short of amazing. But let's be honest, other than Notre Dame's suspect defense, he hasn't really faced a real defense this year. The staples of the Michigan passing offense are the bubble screen and the slant, both of which were turned into touchdowns last week. You can name just about anyone in the receiving corps as being "his favorite" but my money's on Roy Roundtree as Denard's "go to" guy. Still, it changes week to week. Last week it was Junior Hemmingway. Three weeks ago it was Darrly Stonum. Kelvin Grady's been awesome, Tae Odoms, etc., etc., etc. The key to everyone's success is just how hard they work away from the ball. The downfield blocking by the receivers has been the best I've seen out of a receiving corps... well... ever.
More, after the jump.
Michigan's pass defense has been, by all accounts, terrible, and currently ranks dead last nationally in pass yards allowed. Is there any hope for a decent performance on Saturday? Are there any specific players MSU should be looking either to attack or stay away from?
Nah. Just throw it. You'll find someone open. Michigan's been playing a soft zone all season to keep the big plays from killing us the way they did last year. This year it's different in that it's death by a thousand 5 yard pass plays. Honestly, the secondary (Notre Dame game excluded), hasn't been bad once the catch is made. There aren't a lot of yards after contact. it's just that in a soft zone there are big ass holes for receivers to find and catch passes. But that's what we're running because we're either playing two lightly recruited veteran corners, or a bunch of freshman. At safety we're playing a, although good, freshman WR convert and a walk on. So you should attack everyone and no one at once. We're not a good pass defense team. We're just trying to get by.
Conversely, Michigan's defense is 37th nationally in rushing yards allowed this season -- obviously much better than the pass defense has performed. Has Michigan been decent at defending the run, or is that ranking more a function of Wolverine opponents concentrating on passing the ball?
Crappy running opponents combined with a gaping hole in the secondary. It's more a function of the latter rather than the former.
If Michigan needs a 40 yard field goal to tie or win the game, is there any chance a Wolverine kicker hits it? Relatedly, how have the rest of Michigan's special teams performed?
Uhhhhh.... probably not. Michigan's not all that strong this year in the kicking department which is somewhat confusing given that the place kicker is a rs-freshman who was supposed to be one of the best kickers in the country out of high school. We've got a walk-on who's booting XPs, and he's looked pretty good, but I doubt he's accurate outside of 30 yards. If there's any time on the clock and we're at fourth and make-able in a close game, we're probably going for the first down rather than the FG at 40 yards. Other than that, ST have been pretty good, in that we're not spearing ourselves by turning the ball over every other punt. /knocks on every piece of wood in sight/ So to me, at least, that's good. Right?
What's the biggest key for a Wolverine victory on Saturday?
Actually getting a stop or two on defense.