Preview: Michigan State 2012 Comment Count

Brian October 19th, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Previously here: Lanyard program. Ace FFFF! Colin breaks down MSU's cover 4. Monumental Wallpaper.


WHAT Michigan vs Michigan Staee
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI
October 20th, 2012
WEATHER mid-40s, showers early, mostly cloudy but likely dry late

Run Offense vs Staee


I am unfamiliar with this concept

Here is the game. Michigan State has done an exceptional job of shutting down Michigan's rush offense the past few years, and in retrospect from there things have been academic. Winning this battle means winning the game for Michigan; losing it wipes out a double-digit (but steadily eroding) Vegas advantage and puts things in the tossup category.

So this is MGoBlog and you know the next words that are coming out of the mouth are about the snap count. You are right: JESUS H. KELLY, DON'T LET THEM JUMP THE SNAP. Whether it was super extra preparation or David Molk being an awful poker player or a transition cost born of the coaching switch arriving between Jerel Worthy, sophomore, and Jerel Worthy, junior, I do not know. Nor do I care. Michigan abso-goddamn-lutely has to reduce Michigan State snap-jump advantage levels to those of normal humans. For a lot of reasons, the rest of this preview assumes this—reasons like Elliott Mealer promising things are fixed…

"They did a good job at timing that up and keying us," Mealer said. "We got that under control. It was more a recognition thing -- being able to recognize the defense before you snap the ball -- and it's something that we've been doing ever since that game. I'm not too worried about that."

…—but we will come back to the thing in at the end because obviously.

Setting snap jumping and other MSU over-preparations aside, this is still going to be a slog. I may talk epic crap about Will Gholston but that's only in context: when he's the fourth or fifth best player on your defense—as he is—you're doing pretty all right. Max Bullough is probably the best inside linebacker in the conference; Marcus Rush is a playmaker at DE; Isaiah Lewis will come down and pop you; Denicos Allen is a menace blitzing.

But MSU does miss Worthy on the interior…

NT Anthony Rashad White doesn't get quite the same level of penetration as Worthy, but he's tough to move at 330 pounds and holds the point of attack well enough to allow the linebackers to come in and clean up. If single-blocked, he's a threat to find his way into the backfield for a TFL. Three-tech James Kittredge made a couple nice plays in the backfield, as well, though at 272 lbs. he also got pushed out of the hole on a few occasions.

… and the numbers seem to show it:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
ND 29 138 1 4.8
OSU 40 223 1 5.6
Indiana 18 46 0 2.6
Iowa 33 131 1 4.0

Braxton Miller neared six yards a carry against the Spartans with a long of 20—they can be had by a mobile quarterback. Iowa's numbers have to be taken in the context of last weekend's Michigan weather, as well. Four yards a carry is good defense in a sack-adjusted world; maybe less so in context.

Kittredge has just been inserted into the starting lineup, which is not a good sign for MSU this deep into the season, especially when we're talking about a converted OL listed at 272 who transferred from Vandy. Michigan should be able to get push here. When they're running inside, Gholston will not be a problem, and then it's mano-a-mano with second level guys against linebackers. This will be a test for Rawls and Kerridge, as their ability to blast Bullough out of the hole will go a long way towards determining how well Denard isos will work, and how much they can punish MSU over the top once they try to defend them.

As for the Wolverines, they've been pounding away since the interception explosion from the first half of the ND game. Borges has re-added RR's QB iso to the playbook, albeit with a twist, and it has created several long Denard runs the past few games. The veer and the regular old zone read are also a part of the playbook along with a frequently-deployed power sweep; the infamous double A gap blitz is in serious trouble against half of those plays.

Toussaint's had his struggles; Denard has not; Rawls will continue to siphon carries away as long as he's busting guys in the chops and getting YAC. If Michigan State can stop it again, well… they can stop it. Michigan still needs to be who they are.


  1. Don't try to rip an opponent's head off when they're defenseless on the ground in a pile of players
  2. Don't try to rip an opponent's arm out of its socket

It is in these ways you can not be regarded as a menace to society.

Key Matchup: Michigan's interior OL versus the State DTs. This has been a massive win for State the last three years; if that continues it's going to be a long day for the offense. Michigan has to get movement on Kittredge and seal off White, and from there things will flow in the rush offense.


Pass Offense vs Staee


rush is good at rushing lol

Michigan put this in the garage after the aforementioned ND interception-fest, at first because they had to and then because they could. Denard has 15 and 11 attempts in his past two games, with no interceptions or even balls that came particularly close to being intercepted. Michigan has forced defenses to play run first and mostly limited passes to third downs on which the line has pass-protected straight up, and well. Play action has been sparse.

Michigan should be able to follow parts of that script. Michigan State's pass rush has fallen off a cliff—they're 90th in sacks and worse when you adjust for the number of opportunities. I rolled my own sack percentage stat (sacks / passing attempts faced + sacks) and MSU drops from 90th to 114th. (Michigan rises to 69th—they've only faced 140 attempts to 235 for State.) Michigan State has not been able to generate pressure at all.

So if Michigan sits back in the pocket and doesn't do things like roll out into guys ready for rollouts, Denard should have time to survey and zip balls to his receivers, if they're open. That's an open question.

State's cornerbacks have been somewhat exposed thus far. They get beat over the top, they interfere too much, they got shredded by a series of Indiana and Ohio State screens. Also they are still the primary drivers behind a #12 pass efficiency D ranking that has a more credibility to it than Michigan's. Let's not get carried away. They've been a little disappointing; both would probably start at Michigan. The safeties are generally reliable, though Isaiah Lewis will occasionally enter irresponsible killshot mode.

What I am hoping for is not a surprise: QB Oh Noes. The iso is back but Michigan has not run play action off of it yet. With aggressive State linebackers and MSU in a cover-four system in which the safeties shoot down into the box if they read run and the #2 WRs are not going vertical, blocking feints or the lead iso back going straight upfield promise Worst Waldo throws. As long is Michigan is basing their pass game off their run game it's going to be very hard to stop.

Denard is going to have to up those attempts a bit, but significantly more than 20 means Michigan is either not being who they are or has gotten stuffed and things are higgeldy-piggeldy. Easy stuff, good protection, play action, and victory.

Key Matchup: Michigan's OL/RB picking up MSU blitzes. Looks like that's the only way MSU is going to generate the pressure that turns Denard into a haywire sprinkler system. Keep him clean, keep him playing well.

Run Defense vs Staee



Also here is the game. Michigan got scorched last year by a special tight-end-heavy package that exploited Michigan's youth and general suckiness on the edges. The departed Ed Baker rolled up 167 yards on 26 carries—6.4 per—as horrifying runbeast LeVeon Bell eked out under 3 YPC on seven attempts.

I don't know either. It happened, though.

This year, State's options are extremely limited. They're down two or three starters on the offensive line depending on Blake Treadwell's availability, the starting fullback, possibly (probably?) the starting tight end, and deploying a walk-on TE with a broken wrist. If they had a special package similar to last year's its probably not fieldable at this point. State spent big chunks of the Iowa game in a three-wide I-form, and given the state of the State receiving corps saying your fifth-best skill position guy is a wideout is saying something indeed.

That said, holy God LeVeon Bell. Bell hasn't done much against Michigan as State's backup in a couple games to date but don't let that fool you. Bell is a 250 pound Sam McGuffie, which doesn't even make any sense but is true.

He has shocking agility for his size, as he demonstrated on State's only touchdown against Iowa when he found a defensive back unblocked in a rather large cutback lane and simply stepped around him like he was 2011 Fitzgerald Toussaint. He is going to get his yards. It may take him a zillion carries to do so:

Opponent Rushes Net TDs YPC
Boise St. 44 210 2 4.8
at Central Mich. 18 70 2 3.9
Notre Dame 19 77 0 4.1
Eastern Mich. 36 253 1 7.0
Ohio St. 17 45 0 2.6
at Indiana 37 121 2 3.3
Iowa 29 140 1 4.8
Totals 200 916 8 4.6

You can see the impact of the offensive line injuries in the OSU and Indiana games before something of a bounce-back day last week.

Michigan's run fits have been good and the DL has been keeping the linebackers clean against questionable offensive lines for three games now; that projects to continue against another questionable offensive line. Breakdowns are rare and of the not-devastating variety; the linebackers understand what's going on, and Roh and Ryan threaten to slant past tackles at every opportunity.

Michigan should dominate. The Bell factor is a worry.

Key Matchup: Demens, Morgan, Kovacs versus Bell. Tackle this man.

Pass Defense vs Staee


aint no brady hoke tho

I must tell you that you, Michigan fan, are expecting this to be better than it is actually going to be. Michigan is third in pass defense yardage; you know that is a garbage stat. But Michigan is also 14th in pass efficiency defense, which is considerably less of a garbage stat, and faith has been placed in that, maybe. Meanwhile the Spartans are 108th in passing efficiency. Epic win is the obvious conclusion.

Maybe so. I'm not so sure. A big chunk of MSU's lack of efficiency in the passing game has come due to their sucky WR corps: that's a deficiency Aaron Burbridge is rapidly erasing. Another chunk is the first starts of a new quarterback, which time will mitigate. Yet additional chunks are due to terrible weather. Other chunks are due to QB pressure; Michigan has no one on the line who is an intimidating pass-rusher and has acquired just eight sacks thus far. Jake Ryan and a lack of opponent passing attempts do argue in favor of Michigan, but only enough to get them to about average.

Meanwhile, Michigan's pass efficiency defense is built on the backs of Everett Golson, Caleb TerBush, and Riley O'Toole. Say what you want about Maxwell but the guy is on another level from those jokers. With an increasing number of targets going to Burbridge and Mumphery finding some consistency, the drops that have plagued Michigan State are not going to be as frequent, and things will fall apart here and there as Michigan goes after Bell with ferocity.

That said, Michigan does have some pass rush and will test a makeshift offensive line with massive Mattison zone blitzing when State finds itself in long yardage situations. That's not going to go well for the Spartans; Jake Ryan stunting past center Ethan Ruhland is going to happen a couple times. Maxwell is going to have to throw after moving, which is harder, and recognize when a defensive end is dropping into his hot route, which he's been pretty good at so far but remains hard.

JT Floyd and Raymon Taylor will be keys, as their ability to restrict separation on non-Burbridge receivers will allow Michigan to keep vertical routes covered and force dumpoffs to Bell—oh so many dumpoffs to Bell. Bell is State's third leading receiver behind Mumphery and tight end Dion Sims; like Illinois's tailbacks this is a sign of severe passing game deficiency since Bell is averaging just over five yards a catch.

MSU's offense isn't going to magically chuck it all over the field but they will get some big chunk plays when Michigan breaks down and special sauce is deployed by the MSU staff's special Michigan prep package. Third downs will feature a lot of unsuccessful Bell checkdowns; Maxwell will have an okay day overall.

Key Matchup: Clark/Beyer/Ojemudia and Roh versus Spartan OL. If they are getting pressure with four, game over. Ryan will provide some; the other guys are more in question.

Special Teams

Normally reliable MSU kicker Dan Conroy started off a little shaky; he has recovered and is now 14 of 19 on the season. (State offense tidbit: he attempted just 23 all of last year; only OHIO has attempted more field goals than MSU.) Punter Mike Sadler is booming punts 44 yards each; State has given up 14 returns on 37 non-touchback punts so far this year, so there may be a window for Gallon or Dileo or Norfleet to make something happen.

MSU return units are meh. Nick Hill is the main guy. He's had a couple of good punt returns; MSU is about average in FEI punt return efficiency and a bit below average at both kickoff phases.

Michigan's about the same minus Dan Conroy's range—Gibbons is not going to hit 50-yarders—and with even more punter SMASH. They've got more big play potential from their returners, though at the moment that's mostly hypothetical.




Yeah, so I think there actually is a thing that could be filed under here with reason: Michigan State's insane overpreparation for this game—Dantonio is 1-4 the week before the Michigan game, and 4-1 against Michigan due no small part to a bunch of coaching adjustments Michigan could not cope with.

That was one of the hidden transition costs last year: a coaching staff that did not fully understand the mania coming from East Lansing. They do now, and they have had a bye week followed by two laughers. MSU, meanwhile, is scrambling to field healthy, effective bodies at many positions—they've switched starters at two defensive positions in addition to all the injury-enforced offensive moves—and is coming off a three game slog in which concealing the playbook was not an option.

Michigan probably doesn't need to flip the script here; they just have to coach on level terms. The situation is set up for them to do so.

Key Matchup: Borges timing play action versus Narduzzi. There should be a big play or three lurking in Michigan's offense if they can control the line of scrimmage.

Also, here is a cat:

Kitten - epic face[1]

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Oh holy balls they are jumping the snap again.
  • Oh holy balls Michigan has no way to deal with the double A gap blitz again.
  • Aaron Burbridge turns out to be more than the secondary can handle.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Omameh and Barnum are grinding MSU DTs.
  • Michigan's DL is owning the Spartan OL like, uh, Indiana pretty much did.
  • Michigan seems prepared to play the game! That will be a nice change.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for LeVeon The Destroyer, –1 for Roushar The Destroyer, -1 for Seriously This Is The Year When Michigan Does Not Get Destroyed In The Coaching Battle, +1 for Gotta See It To Believe It, -1 for Spartan OL Mash Unit Seriously This Time, +1 for Everyone Is Half Expecting Three Denard Turnovers, –1 for Almost Lost To Indiana, –1 for Had Competitive Game With Eastern Michigan, +1 for Stupid Rivalry Throw Out The Records Thing)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Win This Damn Conference, +1 for Shut Up Juggalo Nation, +1 for Go To The Rose Bowl, +1 for Think Of The Postgame Dantonio Presser, +1 for Send Sparty Back To The Salt Mines)

Loss will cause me to... headbutt the guy who unfurls the "LITTLE BROTHER BEAT YOUR ASS AGAIN AGAIN" sign over the edge of the stadium.

Win will cause me to... gaze at the recruiting rankings going forward and sigh in relief that all that business is over.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

I do assume the coaching battle will be even; MSU will have stuff they have saved for this game but so will Michigan after last year and the easy lead-in. If that assumption doesn't prove to be true, mmmm mgofuming.

In a world without Saturday mgofuming, Michigan's advantage in the trenches should be sufficient to see them through. The MSU DL is still looking for the right combination of DTs and isn't getting much in the way of defeated blocks from anyone not named Rush. Michigan should be able to grind out reasonable gains and get some gashes when Michigan RPSes the opponent; Bullough and Allen will do much to hold that advantage down but it won't be enough.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan's surging run defense gets a stiff test in the form of LeVeon Bell; Bell is going to have to work for every yard. Multiple times the past two weeks slants have blown by MSU tackles. I watched Indiana defensive linemen deposit Ethan Ruhland into Maxwell's lap. I believe in the Heininger Certainty Principle, and against a team without a lot of options Michigan should have an OSU-vs-MSU type of run defense output.

Michigan's performance against Maxwell will disappoint some, but they will win because they can put the game on the legs of their star player more effectively.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Spartan personal fouls extend two key Michigan drives.
  • Denard goes over 100 yards, completes 66% of his passes, throws horrible INT
  • Denard rushing yards + Toussaint rushing yards > Bell rushing yards
  • Michigan, 25-15



October 19th, 2012 at 12:25 PM ^

Obligatory score prediction comment as if I'm just now noticing the odd scores.

Good, now we got that out of the way...the key is to come in fired up and prepared. Hopefully the talent differential in a few years will mitigate Danionio's hyper-prep, but for now, this game is entirely on the game-planners and seniors. Hope we pull it out.


October 19th, 2012 at 12:28 PM ^

This is MSU's season, win or lose. Lose here and there is no remaining scenario available to them in which this year is not a crushing disappointment.

I hope that's the case.

MSU's mediocre offensive performances against everybody not in Mount Pleasant, and the fact that teams like Iowa and Boise are actually offensively inept, give me confidence. But seeing them throttle a Buckeye offense that has since gone to plaid suggests that Michigan will have real trouble moving the football here.

But if Michigan can just elevate its game, get a push at the point of attack, and execute early, they can control the game. And MSU will not be pulling miracle comebacks. Let's go.


October 19th, 2012 at 1:01 PM ^

Slight quibble with the statement about MSU throttling OSU's offense. OSU had 380 yards on offense in the game, it was Miller's 3 turnovers deep in Sparty territory that kept the game close. Unfortunately, I would not be the least bit surprised to see the same thing happen on Saturday with Denard killing good drives with boneheaded turnovers.


October 19th, 2012 at 1:53 PM ^

You make a good point. Remember too, though, the argument that colin made in his magnificent diary--much of the OSU offensive production was a consequence of unsustainable individual plays where guys like Miller made free tacklers miss. OSU was not cruising up and down the field as you would want with successful offense.


October 19th, 2012 at 7:51 PM ^

Ahh...I didn't read that diary and only watched bits and pieces of the game as it was played so I was merely going by box score stats.

Quibble withdrawn.

(EDIT: Upon further consideration....Miller making free tacklers miss is, unfortunately, entirely sustainable. He does it with frustrating regularity. Quibble reinstated...sort of.)

turd ferguson

October 19th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

Okay, the 25-15 score must have been crafted personally for Seth.  Honestly, I'd love to know how many college football games per year end 25-15.

From Seth's prediction post:  MGoEmployees and Moderators--anyone else with moderator priveleges--are exempt from winning (because you could change your timestamp). If you choose the score that Brian published in the official preview and it actually ends up the final score, well, that would be pretty amazing because Brian picks scores like 29-11 all the time.

ND Sux

October 19th, 2012 at 12:55 PM ^

  1. Played MSU last year when players still learning new systems...both O and D improved during the year after MSU
  2. Nothing too scary about MSU offense
  3. See #2 above, NO need to panic or press...okay to punt. Lowers TO risk. 
  4. Maxwell is tackling dummy for Jake Ryan TFL machine
  5. Should be able to stop Bell given MSU's largely 1D offense
  6. Snap count issue may be turned against MSU
  7. 1st year starting QB in TBH (Make some noise!)
  8. Borges sleeves full of Nofleet, Gardner magic
  9. Denard WILL go over 100 rushing
  10. M pass protection has been very good
  11. Even WITH 6 TOs, better showing vs. ND in South Hole than MSU had at home
  12. Spanked Purdue on the road, who ND had trouble with (M > ND, just miscue'd)
  13. Mork coming unraveled

Michigan 27, MSU 16


October 19th, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

I love these Brian "UM should win but not if everything goes wrong" types of posts.  I know that we keep waiting for MSU's receivers to get better, for Maxwell to find accuracy, for Bell to beast out on a team that isn't trash, etc. 

But we are 7 games into the season; the teams are not going to get that much better as the season progresses.  UM was housed by Alabama but has otherwise looked good/competent against every other opponent.  MSU needed some lucky breaks to beat IU and has lost to OSU, Iowa, and ND is close games that probably shouldn't have been.  Sure, Burnbridge will be better than he was a few weeks ago, but he still isn't getting much separation and has some slick hands.  Their best receivers, Simms, is out for the game.  That defense is fine - it has some NFL talent but also a bunch of meh at key positions.  Bell might have nice rushing stats, but it is more a byproduct of the 200 rushes against mediocre competition and not some amazing ability to rack up yards against good defenses (which UM does have).  I mean, his YPA is 4.58, which is fine but nothing epic.  He'll get his yards, but it will probably take 30 carries.  Which if I'm UM, and it takes him 30+ carries to get 100+ yards, that seems like a win.

I expect MSU to keep it close, but this isn't a Spartan team with magic bullets in the chambers; it's a team that has a limited number of things they do well and one is drag the game through the mud and try to win close at the end.  UM can move the ball, and even if those drives end in FGs it will put pressure on MSU to match it in a short timeframe, which is antithetical to their talents and style. 


October 19th, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

It's noteworthy that Maxwell has been sacked 10 times in 5 games - good enough for 4th highest in the Big Ten. Reilly O'Toole has been sacked 12 times. Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez (more mobile?) share O'Toole's stat of 12. 

I don't think Maxwell has a very good day at the office at all on Saturday. I'm thinking we may see Connor Cook at some point in this football game.

Also, I'm think Michigan DT's have a better than expected game, namely BWC and Q.



October 19th, 2012 at 1:05 PM ^

The happiness of the next week or so of my life will be determined in 30 hours. The magnitude of happiness or unhappiness is entirely predicated by how much we win by. Is this healthy?


October 19th, 2012 at 1:05 PM ^

I hope Bell is running and our guy feints the low tackle to bait Bell into hurdling, whereupon our guy stands and flips him over to flop on his face.  I bet he will stop doing it after that. 

Time to break Sparty's heart, put them back in their place.

Go Blue!

One Armed Bandit

October 19th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

A man named Igor asked Heiko point blank if we were going to beat Michigan State this year. At the time, I thought it was a silly question, but my maize and blue glasses were blinding me at the time.

Months later, nothing has convinced me that MSU will be a problem. Sure, pride may come into factor, but if Brady, Mattison and Borges understand what they're up against, who's going to stop us?


October 19th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

I'm not as sold on Maxwell as you are. Some of those drops are on him - he seems to have that underclassman Navarre habit of making late reads and then gunning it in 100 mph to compensate.  Also, he has yet to make a start in a genuinely difficult road environment (his only career road games have been at CMU and IU).  Whether he has the poise to hold it together in hostile conditions remains to be seen.