Chris Solari, Shawn Windsor and Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch talk MSU-Michigan after Mark Dantonio and Spartan players’ press conference.
Detroit Free Press
The barbs have gone back and forth for a few days. The venom on both sides keeps overflowing.
It’s Michigan Week. And there is plenty at stake Saturday when Michigan State and the University of Michigan meet for the first time in series history under the lights at Michigan Stadium (7:30 p.m./ABC).
Before bragging rights can be claimed, let’s pause to address some of your pressing questions in a loaded mailbag as the rivalry hits its zenith.
Beating Michigan will obviously depend on how effective and quick MSU is at getting in end zone. What is best game plan to ensure they do? – @MitchHaba
Not necessarily. Mark Dantonio wants MSU’s offense to play keep-away from its opposition. The Spartans rank sixth in the nation and second in the Big Ten in time of possession. If they aren’t owning that category, it typically means drives are not being sustained and the defense is on the field too much. That’s a recipe for problems with a young team.
MSU ran more pass plays out of run block schemes (especially pull G or C), does that surprise you? Do you think that continues vs UM? – @TheUNOVisit
Not particularly, especially with QB Brian Lewerke’s mobility and the desire to employ more read-options. Those schemes and disguises against a stacked box can make a defense pause even for a fraction of a second, giving Lewerke a chance to make a short drop or rollout for a quick pass to help replicate what’s lacking in the run game right now.
Michigan had trouble running against Purdue, how will they be able to fare better against the Spartan Dawg D? – @UpDeckJerkGuy
These two offenses are both fairly pedestrian at running the ball. Conversely, both have looked dominant at defending the run. The key for MSU will be continuing to get push up the middle from its defensive tackles, which is the first step. The Spartans’ edge defenders have been focused on maintaining their lanes. That needs to continue to stop Chris Evans, Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon, who – like MSU’s trio of backs – each presents a different style for which the defense must adjust. And though he isn’t a runner at Lewerke’s level, Michigan QB John O’Korn does present a little more ability to escape than Wilton Speight, so the Spartans must keep him contained as well.
Does having already played a prime time game this year provide MSU any advantages heading into Saturday night’s game? – @hogaboom77
Absolutely. The Spartans know what to expect from the day-long wait to play, having done it just two weeks ago before playing Notre Dame. I asked Joe Bachie about this earlier this week, and he agreed the familiarity will help – though players openly detest waiting around all day. On Saturday, it will be even more difficult for them to “keep the lion in the cage” until kickoff.
What does a win do and mean for MSU going forward this year? – @_Blake_Jones
Confidence, bragging rights and another win toward bowl eligibility. Not to minimize the importance of the rivalry, but Dantonio and his staff have been consistent in emphasizing to their players that they need to operate in a one-week vacuum. How the responded vs. Iowa after losing to Notre Dame was impressive and shows they’re listening. Dwell on any win for too long, let alone with another road game looming at Minnesota the following week, and that focus can be fractured.
You had previously documented the attrition of the 2013 recruiting class and the negative effects they had on the 2016. Given the impacts that may yet to be seen of the 2016 class, with so many of the critical recruits already gone from the program, do you think that has effected Dantonio’s decision to play so many true freshman this year? – @tyosmun
There certainly is symmetry that suggests this to be the case. MSU lost 13 players who were underclassmen on last year’s team to either the NFL Draft, dismissal or transfer. The Spartans have played 13 true freshmen this season. That’s not a coincidence. Coaches talked about having a plan for their newcomers, and I’m not sure beyond Dominique Long and Andre Welch if we will see any more this season. One to keep an eye on before the season’s midpoint might be kicker Cole Hahn, especially if MSU’s kickoff issues continue. Barring injury, coaches would like to keep the redshirt on offensive lineman Mustafa Khaleefah, though he did dress for the first time all season against Iowa.
MSU has had at least one player selected in the NFL draft every year since 1941. Do you think that streak is in jeopardy come next spring? – @HansenThrillmer
It is with the thin senior class, with Brian Allen, Chris Frey and Demetrius Cooper the three top prospects. Allen’s versatility to play either guard or center could get him late-round looks. Frey could end up going the Riley/Max Bullough route as a priority free agent. If Cooper continues his ascent, he has the physical measureables to climb onto teams’ radars. And if LJ Scott has a second half of the season like he did a year ago, he could go the Edwin Baker route and leave as a junior. Teams are always looking for late-round, cheap steals at running back.
Best MSU matchup vs U-M? Worst MSU matchup vs U-M? – @JIM2WIN2015
Best for MSU is their defensive tackles against the interior of Michigan’s offensive line. Worst for the Spartans are their safeties against the Wolverines’ tight ends – and expect O’Korn to use them often. Best matchups to watch all day will be MSU C Brian Allen against U-M DT Mo Hurst and Spartans LT Cole Chewins against Wolverines DE Chase Winovich.
We’re all going to have to get to the bars early for this one to find a seat. How do you recommend divvying up drinks and food for the wait? – @MrStephenLong
Losers buy if you’re with the enemy. If you aren’t betting this game, or if you plan to insulate yourself and be surrounded by same-colored jerseys, hydrate first and pace yourself second. With an 8 p.m. kickoff, whoever is still upright by the final whistle pays for everyone.
Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!