It’s rivalry week here in East Lansing. The battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is upon us and Michigan is closing in on the Spartans home turf. Everyone knows what this rivalry means to the fans.
Neither side likes each other, an unchanging fact of life for the most part. Yet this is one of the best weeks college football has to offer. There’s nothing like it. It’s fall and the weather forecast says its going to be cold and cloudy. So just like every other home game “It’s a beautiful day for football.”
Let’s forget how important this game is to fans and players for a second. We all know the numbers against main rivals for Jim Harbaugh, how important is this game for him and his legacy as a head coach for the Michigan Wolverines?
Josh: He’s 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.
Michigan has ran the ball for more than 170 yards in six consecutive games this year. Will the Spartan defense experience more of the same considering they are ranked first in FBS when defending against the run? Or will we see Harbaugh open up the playbook and allow Shea Patterson to sling it on the road?
Josh: I think it’ll be north of 100 yards, I’ll bet that at least. The Michigan o-line is getting the best push on the ground, and best pass protection since Lloyd Carr was here. It’s vintage Wolverine blocking that’s been lacking for 10+ years and it’s nice to see it back. The Spartan defensive line is legit and I’m sure Dantonio will have some exotic blitzes and other packages dialed up to stop Karan Higdon and company.
That being said, I expect this to be a gamelan VERY similar to what Jim Harbaugh had for Wisconsin last week. Michigan will look to establish the run early and will not abandon it come hell or high water. That in turn will open up the passing game and give Patterson the ability to work it around. Just don’t think there’s going to be 30, or even 40 passes in this game. Harbaugh wants to exert his will and break the Spartan will like he did back in the Stanford days.
The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in four different statistical categories which include total defense, pass defense, pass efficiency, and scoring defense. Their defense is top notch (much like last year) and will play a huge role in Saturday’s game. What are you expecting out of them this weekend?
Josh: I’m expecting (defensive coordinator) Don Brown to have more zone schemes in store for the Spartan offense, but will still be attacking Lewerke on dang near every down.
Don’t be a fool and think that Brown has forgotten about Brian Lewerke running all over the Michigan defense last season — he hasn’t forgotten. Chase Winovich should have a big game as will Devin Bush Jr. so I’m thinking between those two guys look for a combined 4-5 sacks and 6-7 tackles for loss.
Will Rashan Gary play? How do things look if he doesn’t?
Josh: Honestly man, I’m not sure. If he doesn’t it’s going to hurt for sure, there’s no way around that. Rashan Gary is an uber talented player and his impact — in spite of the box score — is felt on every down.
If he doesn’t play, look for Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson and (LB/DE) Josh Uche to rotate in and fill his void.
This is Shea Patterson’s first season wearing Maize and Blue. What do you think of him through six games? Has he met your expectations?
Josh: I’m thrilled. I said this before the season and I’ll say it again: he’s the best talent Michigan has had under center since Chad Henne. It’s taken him the first six games to settle in and get comfortable with the offense but Harbaugh has done a fantastic job calling plays to his strengths and he’s really shining now.
I think this is about what I expected, maybe a few less passing touchdowns per game than I originally thought but he’s doing a great job running the offense. I mean, he had the same about of passing yards through four games than three Michigan QBs did all last season. Yikes.
In my opinion, this rivalry very much embodies everything that college football represents. It’s emotional, loyal, and filled with trash talk. What’s one thing you really get up for when it comes to this game?
Josh: I completely agree, the rivalry, the cold overcast Saturday in October, kicking off at high noon (most of the time). It’s perfect.
Well just thinking about the last 10 years will make any Michigan fan sick. But I was at the game last year and you know what? I drove through the night, 8 hours home because of the frustration and pure sickness that caused me. Add in the fact I’m from Greenville, Michigan — which is about a hour from Grand Rapids, probably a hour and a half from Lansing and that I have Sparty friends and family members.. bragging rights mean everything my friend.
Mascots are a huge part of college athletics. At times you recognize a school solely based on their mascot, yet Michigan, one of the most popular universities in the nation doesn’t have one. Why is this? And would you want one?
Josh: Tradition, tradition, tradition. Michigan had a “mascot” of sorts wayyyy back in the day called Willy The Wolverine. He didn’t last.
The block M, fist pumping the air to “The Victors” and tapping the banner is good enough for us. That being said however, there’s a fan who’s taken it upon himself to become our unofficial mascot. His name? Well, we’re calling him 8-Ball the Murderwolf. Don’t stare in his eyes too long for fear that you might lose sanity.
Here’s a picture of him in his natural habitat:
Prediction time: Final score? Who wins? Why?
Josh: I’m going to answer those in reverse order if that’s okay, McLain.
It’s going to be a typical Mark Dantonio showing. He will come out on the first Spartan drive with a few wrinkles that haven’t been shown all year and punch the Wolverines in the mouth much like in 16’ when they drove 70+ yards on that dominate Michigan defense and punched it in for an early 7-0 lead.
I expect Michigan to respond and for both teams to settle in as we close the 2nd half. However, the offensive line and quarterback play of Michigan have been what’s held them back from closing out games against rivals over the years. It’s different this year with Shea Patterson and a line that is not only treading water, but that is moving people off the ball.
Michigan State 16