Thursday, October 1, 2009
When Carcajous Attack Spartans
When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“We’re here LIIIIVE! in rainy East Lansing, Michigan, where the Michigan State Spartans host their hated rivals, the Michigan Wolverines! The Spartans have been saying all along this week that Michigan doesn’t respect them. Well, the newsflash for the Spartan team on this one is that Michigan hasn’t been respecting the Spartans for many, many years. This is because respect isn’t demanded and received just like that. It’s gotta be earned.
The Spartans have had bragging rights since last years 35-21 win in Ann Arbor, and Dantonio has turned some heads on the recruiting trail in the state of Michigan as well. Still, there has been a curious reversal of fortunes since the 2009 began for these two teams. MSU was 9-4 last year under Mark Dantonio. Michigan was a horrid 3-9 under first year head coach Rich Rodriguez. Today Michigan enters this game 4-0 led by an exciting freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who is a little banged up coming in here. Meanwhile, Michigan State is struggling for answers with a shocking 1-3 start. The Spartans lost a heartbreaker in this very stadium by two lousy points to Central Michigan on a last second field goal. The next week they were beaten by three points by rival Notre Dame on the road. Then last week the Spartans basically had the floor taken out from under them by the Badgers of Wisconsin in Madison 30-38. Michigan last week escaped the jaws of defeat at the hands of Indiana by only 3 points.
The defenses of both of these teams have struggled considerably in recent weeks. The Wolverines have managed to overcome their defensive weaknesses with a higher-scoring and balanced offensive attack.
Michigan and MSU have played only one common opponent this year: Notre Dame. Michigan of course won that game by only 4 points and in the final seconds. MSU lost to the Irish by only 3 points on the road.
So the question is, which MSU team will show up today? Michigan State must win this game to salvage their football season. Michigan must win this game to keep the sports media dogs off Rich Rodriguez. This should be a great game, but the weather really sucks here right now. I’m soaked to the bone already, dammit! Take it away Markus!”
This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:
1. Michigan owns this rivalry series 67-29 all-time. Historically speaking Michigan State football teams just don’t beat Michigan football teams in back-to-back years. It’s been thoroughly and repeatedly tested in scientific laboratories all over the world with published findings in hundreds of journals. Despite the anomaly that occured 1965-66-67, it's sort of a scientific law now, or something.
2. MSU fans had the audacity to chant “Little-Sister” after the 35-21 victory in Ann Arbor last year. Does such raw insolence go unpunished? Little Sister, no. Twisted Sister, maybe.
3. Mark Dantonio frowns a lot. It’s because he hates Michigan with every fiber of his being and much more than any previous Spartan football coach or fan in history. His hatred for UM is greater than that of John L. Smith, Nick Saban, George Perles, Darryl Rodgers and Denny Stolz combined. The only problem is that Michigan football players just love to see that frown on the clown.
4. Bowl eligibility. Michigan wins this game and they’re 5-0, one victory away from bowl eligibility after a 3-9 season. A 5-0 Michigan would also cast a foreboding cloud over Iowa’s night game against the upstart Wolverines on October 10th in Iowa City. An MSU team at 1-4 is just "Schadenfreude mit Kirsche und Schlagsahne darauf"
Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Of Your Face:
1. Captain Kirk Cousins
61% of passes, 7 TD, 2 INT and 850 yards.
Kirk Cousins is not yet the greatest quarterback you’ll ever see. But he’s good and can inflict plenty of battle damage. He’s also one of the two main reasons why MSU’s passing attack is ranked No. 3 in the country. The other reason is backup QB Keith Nichol (50% compl., 5 TD, 2 INT, 403 yards) and a long list of talented wide receivers with very good hands. Unlike most college football fans, I think a two quarterback system can be very beneficial on many fronts. But by now it should be abundantly clear to Mark Dantonio that Kirk Cousins separated from Nichol way back in the CMU game. Since Michigan hasn’t fielded a legitimate pass defense since the 2007 Capital One Bowl, Cousins (Nichol or any green-clad individual under center for that matter) should have a great game throwing against the dainty Wolverine secondary players not named Donovan Warren. (Now just watch Cousins do the exact opposite and throw right at Warren. Sheesh!) I’m serious when I say that, if the weather cooperates, MSU’s quarterbacks could very well have a record day against Michigan through the air.
2. Mean Green Tacklin' Machines - MSU's Linebackers
So after losses to Notre Stain and Wisconsin, the MSU defense is getting a lot of bad press this week. But I’m not buying it at all. Well, not yet anyway. In my view, the Spartans have some of the best linebackers in the Big Ten including junior Greg Jones, senior Adam Decker and junior Eric Gordon. These guys are good players and they’ll likely be all over the field Saturday, including possibly, and with a certain degree of regularity, the Michigan backfield. Michigan has played 4 opponents so far and has beaten them all. None of those opponents had linebackers nearly as good as Michigan State’s.
3. The Blair White Project
OK, yeah, so BJ Cunningham made an acrobatic TD catch last week against Wisconsin, and Mark Dell, Keyshawn Martin and TE Charlie Gantt are all talented, experienced and dangerous Spartan receiving targets as well. I agree, man. But to me the guy to watch out for is usually well under the radar, keeps to himself, does his blue collar blocking jobs, goes dark for a few series, and then all of the sudden shows up at the freak show on 3rd and long with octopus hands saying “Surprise! I’m wide freaking open! Bwahahahaha!”.
Touchdown, aaaaaand cut!
That’s wide receiver Blair White. White really came on the scene last year with 659 yards receiving, but with just 1 TD. In 2009, after only 4 games White already has 350 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. This is going to be a record year for White.
And since Michigan’s secondary can stop essentially nobody from throwing the football and gaining continentally-sized chunks of yardage, not to mention easy touchdowns, I expect all of the MSU receivers to have a great day on Saturday, particularly our friend Mr. White.
When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
After watching the last 4 Michigan football games, 2 decisive wins against weak opponents (WMU and EMU) and 2 close wins against what we must agree are “meh” opponents (ND, Indiana), Michigan fans have few reasons to be sweating buckets of confidence as their team goes on the road against the No. 3 passing offense in the country this weekend.
On defense, you can expect MSU to attack Michigan’s weak points almost immediately. In case you’re wondering, those would be the Michigan cornerbacks and safeties. MSU’s barrage will include long posts, deep outs and just about anything and everything to JT Floyd’s side of the field. By the end of the year, Mr. Floyd will either be a damn good cornerback for Michigan, or a 3rd gear version of Morgan Trent. The jury is still out. Floyd and Kovacs are going to get a major workout against Dell, Cunningham, Martin and White. What should help is the return of Michael Williams at safety this week alongside safety Troy Woolfolk.
The other Wolverine weak point is the Michigan middle: the linebackers. This is where MSU tight ends come in: junior Charlie Gantt, sophomore Brian Linthicum and even freshman Dion Sims. These guys already have 20 catches for over 350 yards and 3 TDs after just 4 games. They will be called upon frequently in this game. Despite a pretty talented front four, Michigan has been inconsistent in getting pressure on and sacking the quarterback. Much will be required of DT Mike Martin and DE Brandon Graham in this football game. Michigan’s other defensive end, Ryan Van Bergen (Ryan of the Mountains!) got angry and blew up an entire offensive series for Indiana last week with his own bare hands like some jealous Neolithic era god grappling lightning bolts in one hand and a massive hammer in the other. Can Van Bergen show the same kind of rage in Spartan Stadium on Saturday? This is what Michigan needs, because Graham is getting double-teamed like no tomorrow.
The inescapable fact is that, at least today, there’s no evidence to suggest Michigan can stop Michigan State’s passing attack, or any other passing attack for that matter. There is danger that MSU could get an early and decisive lead in this game as a result. Against the run, the last three lead running backs against Michigan have done remarkably well: Indiana Darius Willis 152 yards, 2 TDs, Eastern Michigan Dwayne Priest 91 yards, 1 TD, Notre Dame Armando Allen 139 yards, 1 TD. Preliminary indication is that MSU’s Ray, Caper and Winston should gain good yardage against UM’s demonstrably porous run defense.
When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
If Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee are smart men, then they’re going to attack MSU’s weakest link on defense. That would of course be the Spartan secondary. The Spartan defensive backs were actually supposed to be a strength of the team this fall. But if you believe Michigan’s secondary sucks (and it most certainly and thoroughly does at this stage of the season), it’s still a few micron-sized degrees better than Michigan State’s for two reasons: The Wolverines haven’t given up quite many points per game, and at least with the Michigan secondary there’s a remote threat of an interception taking place.
If only Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier were 100% healthy for this game, then I could make the argument that Michigan State is, generally speaking, in big, big trouble this Saturday.
But he’s not. And they’re not.
Forcier shoulder is very sore.. He’s still the same freshman as he was last week, running around trying to make shit happen, often attempting to do way too much on his own. Forcier’s talent, skill and creativity is unquestioned for freshman, but he’s now getting smacked around like a ragdoll as was predicted in the preseason. On the road, against MSU’s fast and punishing linebackers, not to mention starting DE Trevor Anderson, this scrambling around approach by Forcier could be a big problem for him and Michigan. Forcier must re-assume the role of “point guard” and dish the ball off more quickly to players far more robust than he, who can make gains, score the points and take the punishment. As exciting as second string quarterback Denard Robinson is as at running the football, if Forcier ever goes down with injury, Michigan’s high octane offense basically loses it’s starboard engine and will eventually crash.
Now if Rodriguez and Magee are creatures of habit, they’ll pound the ball between the tackles and around the ends like Wisconsin did and probably find some measured success as well against MSU. But it won’t be enough to win the football game. Michigan has been doing a good job of scoring and rushing so far, but in my estimation MSU has the best front 7 that Michigan’s offense has ever faced to date, and could stall several key Michigan drives. Michigan desperately needs to make the most of every offensive possession in this game, which means scoring touchdowns and not settling for field goals. MSU’s team confidence is shaken right now. Michigan must capitalize on this quickly and decisively.
The Last Time:
On October 25, 2008 the small MSU crowd in the stands of the Big House chanted “Little-Sister” repeatedly as the clock ran down to 00:00. Final score: Michigan State 35, Michigan 21. A closer look reveals that the game was tied at halftime 14-14. Then the Spartans were delivered grapes, wine and a victory on a silver platter by the Wolverine football team . Michigan proceeded to throw 3 interceptions, lose 1 fumble, and were penalized for 70 yards. Michigan accomplished only 252 yards of total offense compared to MSU’s 473. Michigan is 67-29 versus Michigan State all-time since 1899. The Wolverines have not lost back-to-back games to the Spartans since 1965-1966-1967 football seasons. The last MSU victory over Michigan in Spartan Stadium was eight years ago: 2001 MSU 26, Michigan 24.
What to Expect:
With both defenses playing so badly the last 3 games, I’d normally respond by saying that this is going to be a “very high scoring affair”. However, the East Lansing weather forecast for Saturday suggests 40% chance of rain and 54 degrees. I’m convinced that the game outcome will rest on the best rushing offense in yards gained, fewest lost yardage to penalties, and of course fewest insidious turnovers. Michigan’s best offensive player in close games is without question Tate Forcier, but he will not be 100%. It’s second best players are running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown right now. Michigan State’s best player is probably quarterback Kirk Cousins and his favorite wide receiver Blair White. In rainy weather, neither MSU nor Michigan will be able to fully capitalize on their respective defensive weaknesses: the defensive backs. MSU’s offense so far has been a much more pass-oriented one. Michigan’s has been fairly balanced, but slightly more run-oriented. If the weather is wet, Michigan’s chances to win this game are likely increased to some extent. Michigan is out to legitimize it’s Cinderella turnaround with a victory over it’s second key rival, while MSU’s season essentially rises and falls on this game (what else is new?). Both teams should be breathing fire as a result.
WCA Prediction: Michigan State 31, Michigan 28