“You know, it’s always an exciting week. Believe me. I think from campuses, both schools, both programs, the opportunity to play in a rivalry game that has a lot at stake obviously with us both in the same division, they’re an awfully good football team. I think they’ve come a long way from early in the same season as far as from an offensive perspective. I think Connor Cook has done a nice job. I think their whole offense has really taken off, and you can really see it. We pay attention throughout the year, but really their football team. Their defense is as good as any. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. Playing up in East Lansing is always a bit of a challenge. Any time you play away from home, that’s just part of it. Making sure as a team that our focus and discipline and all those things have to be spot on for us to go out and compete at our highest level. That’s what we need to do. We’re excited. It’s going to be a fun week.”
With how aggressive Michigan State plays, how do you get your team to embrace that level of physicality?
“Well you hope your team does the same thing. We’ve been inconsistent in that department, so they all know, the guys who’ve been here. I think there’s 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago. It’s not a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Can you talk about this game in the context of the Legends division title?
“Well number one it’s the passion for this football game by Spartans and Wolverines, something that as a coach or a competitor you understand that and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the piece of the puzzle, it is important football game when you look at where you want to be and where they want to be at the end of November.”
What are the areas you need to improve the most for this game?
“I think our special teams need to get better. I don’t think we’ve punted the ball as well as we need to. I don’t think we’ve covered at times the way we need to. Big plays defensively. Can’t give up those big plays, and you can’t have those lapses. From an offensive standpoint, you always want to be able to have a running game and count on the guys up front being physical at the line of scrimmage, and getting Fitz or whoever it might be in the backfield started.”
Michigan State likes to attack the middle of your offense and blitz their linebackers. Will you get a good test for how good your new guards are going to be?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think those two guys – and the good thing is there’s nine other guys out there with them. Believe me, there’s other guys who will be there for the first time with more significant roles than maybe they were before. I think how we handle their defense, their front seven, how we get off bump coverage and all those things as tight as they play. Those are all things we’re going to learn. I’d like to know a little bit more before, but that’s not going to be the case.”
Will you know the identity of your team after this Saturday?
“I think it gives you a little bit of an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. I think there’s no doubt that every part of this game from the offense and defense, every fabric, whatever it is, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
How do you get Devin Gardner not to try to do too much?
“Yeah. You can’t give the ball away. I think they lead the conference in turnover margin and those things. We’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football. Great job in decision-making. I think a lot of it, and you asked specifically about Devin. A lot of it for a lot of guys is the fundamentals that you play with and the techniques, and not getting yourself off kilter with how you’re going to play.”
Can you talk about the run game and how important it is to run against them? They haven’t given up 100 yards to an opponent yet.
“Yeah. And if you watch them enough you know why. I think running the football opens up so much of your play-action game. I think that’s where offensively they’ve done a nice job. They’ve done a great job with pounding it in there with the power plays, the stretch plays, those kinds of things, and the play-action game has really helped from an offensive standpoint. I think it’s important for both of us to establish a running game of some sort.”
MGoQuestion: What have been the keys to Michigan State’s improvement on offense over the course of the season?
“I think their offensive line is better. I think they’re playing better together as a group. I think Langford is a back who’s very patient. I think he’s come on. I think the quarterback situation’s settled now, and there’s not who’s going to play, who’s not going to play?”
MGoQuestion: Given the propensity of their offensive coordinator to break tendency in rivalry games (e.g. Ohio State 2011), how do you prepare for that?
“Well you have to prepare for what they do, and most teams are going to have four base running plays, four base pass concepts. You’ve got to be a little bit different in some ways in how you call a game. But at the same time it’s the same plays, and getting all the looks you can at those plays is going to help you.”
Michigan State doesn’t like you very much. How do you feel about them?
“Well we don’t necessarily like them either. This isn’t an admiration society. It’s a great rivalry with two teams that are 45 miles apart? That might not be enough, but it’s what it is.”
It sounds like you’re hoping your players are physical rather than knowing that they’re going to be.
“Yeah, I would say this in answering that: I think there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps. They understand it. There’s some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game. But you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game’s got to be a physical game. I think from that standpoint, yeah, there’s some guys who don’t know it yet. I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices.”
How uneasy does that make you feel, that you have to hope -- ?
“I’m not hoping. It’s not hope. I don’t know if hope’s the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
How would you compare and contrast this rivalry with the Ohio State rivalry?
“I think they’re both important.”
[Sorry everyone, my recorder crapped out on me while this was taping, so I’ll just write up a summary of important things that were said. As always, most of it was people trying to get Hoke to say something provocative or edgy, like “how tough is your team?” and “is this an important rivalry game?”]
- Team is better equipped to handle the tough road environment. Learned a lot from 2011.
- Gardner’s fundamentals have improved. Getting a couple snaps in East Lansing in 2011 was a valuable experience.
- Michigan has not changed game prep to simulate Michigan State’s “physicality.” Will continue to do prepare the same way.
- Jake Ryan could play more continuous snaps. Previously he was rotating in for three snaps and coming out.
- Memory from playing Michigan State in 1997? "Charles Woodson's interception."
- Drew Dileo’s status is questionable. Coaches will see if he can practice on Wednesday before making a decision on whether they will unleash The Threat.