Game time: 3:30 PM
Game week Q&A (w/ Mt. Pleasant tips): Here
Opponent Q&A: Here
The Spartans hit the road for the first time in 2012, and it will just be a short bus ride. When MSU announced the "Celebrate the State" series in 2009, the most notable aspect was the road games at the three in-state MAC schools. That first one is here, as MSU travels to Central Michigan for the biggest home game in Chippewa history.
Normally, MSU and U-M get to host their directional school friends. Now, you get to host us, CMU. Don't ruin it by winning.
By the numbers:
50: Touches by Le'Veon Bell against Boise State, including 44 carries for 210 yards
3: Wins for the Chippewas in eight games against the Spartans. Also, the amount of turnovers committed in their 38-27 win over Southeast Missouri State
324: Rushing yards for CMU in the win
10.6: Yards per carry for CMU running back Zurlon Tipton
2,450: Temporary bleacher seats added to Kelly/Shorts Stadium, increasing the capacity to 32,885 for a game that will draw the largest crowd in the stadium's history.
11: Years CMU coach Dan Enos spent as a player or coach at MSU.
Three keys for MSU:
Stop the run: As shown above, CMU was able to run all over its opponent in the opener. Obviously MSU is a much better defense, but the Chips' offense is predicated on being able to run the ball, as Dan Enos installed the pro-style offense that worked when he was under Dantonio. The Chips have a large offensive line. That gave MSU fits against Wisconsin last year, but not as much against Georgia. One key to the running game will be keeping the speedy CMU backs between the tackles. MSU's front four should get enough pass rush that If MSU can make the CMU offense one-dimensional (or preferably no-dimensional), that will obviously go a long way.
Receivers get separation, catch the ball: The biggest offensive problem for MSU in the opener was the passing game. Andrew Maxwell appeared to settle down after the first half, but only Dion Sims and Le'Veon Bell looked like reliable pass-catchers. MSU needs to get things going on the outside. Tony Lippett was able to create space against Boise State, but had some trouble holding onto the ball. MSU doesn't want to run Bell 40 times again. The biggest step for this offense will be fixing the outside passing game. The thing is, CMU's 4-2-5 defense will likely give Sims many opportunities against smaller defenders. If Maxwell sticks with the shorter, easy throws, that won't be a bad thing, but it could still leave questions.
Stay healthy: This isn't really a key to victory, but it probably will be the most important thing on Saturday, if everything else goes according to plan. Sure, it's fun that Bell is all of a sudden a Heisman candidate, but ideally, you'd like to see him stick to less than 20 carries and then get him out of the game healthy. Maxwell took some shots against Boise State. Let's cut back on that.
Three keys for CMU:
Win the turnover battle: Boise State stuck around (and almost won) against MSU thanks to three interceptions and a fumble. The Chippewas dug themselves a hole last week because of their own turnovers. They also dominated the stats. CMU obviously doesn't have a personnel edge, so turnovers will be their best chance to stick around.
Force MSU to rely on Andrew Maxwell: Boise State loaded up the box against MSU, but Bell still ran over them. Maxwell showed a tendency to force throws (see: turnovers), and CMU will feel better when Maxwell has the ball, compared to Bell. CMU should load the box, like Boise State did, and hope they can stop the running game enough to force MSU to rely on the inexperienced passing game.
Keep the game close by halftime: The longer this game stays close, the more enthusiasm in the stadium will increase. While there likely will be a lot of MSU fans there, there certainly will be a road feel at certain points. The Chips want that feeling to last as long as possible, instead of the stadium bailing to get to the party by the fourth quarter. For a game with so much hype, you want to give your fans at least some opportunity to cheer so this isn't looked at as a disaster.
Prediction: MSU 35-7
Those MSU teams that lost to CMU teams frankly weren't very good. I'll even argue that CMU was actually a better team in 2009. This is a very good MSU team, and there aren't going to be enough mistakes on defense for the Chips to win this game. Even if the MSU offense struggles, the defense isn't going to let much by. This team defends the run to well too expect CMU to get things going on the ground. While last week was all about multiple formations MSU didn't know, CMU runs very similar schemes to MSU, so they're ready for them.
This game is supposed to "celebrate the state," and I'm sure Mark Dantonio doesn't want to embarrass his friend on such a big stage, but the Spartans have work to do, especially on offense. Keep Le'Veon Bell healthy, don't worry about the September Heisman, help Maxwell develop a better outside passing game, get playing time for the backups and hope the fans have a good time.