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 4:36 PM ^

we will see some sort of meltdown on the part of Dantonio if/when we win this one.  It may even involve smoke or sparks like those from that foul off Avila's mask last year.  He was poised to take advantage of a remarkable confluence of unpredictable events: our late-Carr/RR trough, the demise of sweatervest, (to a lesser extent) the debacle that is PSU, and some fine identification/development of overseen talent.  All this came together..... and they've established nothing.  We win and all we can forsee is more winning.  They lose and all their bounce from the past few years a bowling ball landing in a giant Columbus cooler lined in scorched couch cushion foam.


October 19th, 2012 at 1:28 PM ^

Holy crap...

MSU has a 37% 3rd down success rate (10th in the league). For add perspective, Illinois is similar with a 34% success rate (11th).

In penalty yards, the Spartans are the 2nd least disciplined in the league (41, 422 yrds) outdone by only the Buckeyes (56, 492).

Michigan is the best 3rd down team in the Big Ten right now (53% success rate) and 9th in the league in penalty yardage (290).

These, plus the two opposing running games, along with Maxwell trying to remain triage-free, will be the decisive factors.



October 19th, 2012 at 1:43 PM ^

Attention everyone, the mythical beginnings of Gerg RObinson's beaver puppet has been discovered by none other than sports center. In a story pertaining to the bounty program it was given to players for a week for making a big play or causing fumbles. The story is from 1997. The beaver is known as the "most diligent worker in the animal kingdom". Many coaches and former players are seen in this story
Talking about the beaver, as is Gerg himself.

I don't have enough points to start a topic on the board, but this had to be shared. Long live Gergs beaver.


October 19th, 2012 at 1:50 PM ^

Despite the four game streak, this game will never be as important to Michigan as it is to MSU. Losing to them is annoying, beating them is another usually tough step toward the Big Ten Championship.  If they beat us it is the affirming game of their season, much as the Ohio game is for us. It has always been and will always be thus.

This is why Xs & Os and details of the matchup which show who "should" win don't really matter. We have more talent and, IMHO, better coaching, but this game rarely comes down to talent.

They are going to come into our house and try to "take it to us" again. Beating them is pretty straight forward. As Borges said, "You go out there with an attitude that you’re going to exceed their intensity and you don’t let people do that to you. It’s that simple. There’s no more to it than that." 

Whomp the crap out of MSU tomorrow. 

In August in my local pool I picked Michigan 28-21 that still works for me

Go Blue 

Ron Utah

October 19th, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

I think this will be a tough game because I'm just not sure Denard isn't going to give them the ball a couple of times.  To this point in his career, he hasn't proven he will consistently throw the ball away/take the sack/holster the armpunt in big games.  This is a very late hour in his career.  Can this old dog something something...just not throw to the other team?

If Denard has 2 or more turnovers, we might lose.  Less than 2 and we win.  A decisive win makes me a believer, and I promise not to fret again until we have to play Nebraska at their place.

yossarians tree

October 19th, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

Fully expect, nay, DEMAND a total humiliation beatdown of Sparty this Saturday.

Remember when you were horsing around with little brother, just kind of laughing at him, as he flailed wildly at you and you knew it just made him madder and you "cackled with knowing glee" to coin a phrase? And then remember when he really, really tagged you and drew blood and you were all shaken for a moment as the RAGE began to boil in your blood and he saw it in your eyes and a second too late he made to take off running? And then you just absolutely pummelled the living shit out of the insolent little bastard to set all order right and wholesome again? And then later you saw him at the family barbecue and it was like nothing happened, he was still your little brother, kind of cute, kind of annoying, but you know, someday he might get there.

Yes, well.


October 19th, 2012 at 4:05 PM ^

Its true.  This rivalry (Michigan treating Sparty as a second-level rivalry) is such that one win to break a losing streak is enough to send Sparty into an emo spiral.  I don't care how many Michigan has lost in a row, winning this weekend will provide great TWIS entertainment for us all!


Perkis-Size Me

October 19th, 2012 at 5:42 PM ^

Send Sparty back to the salt mines. Classic.

Still, this game is coming down to whoever wins in the trenches. I think our DLine could have a big day. I mean come on, if INDIANA'S defense can generate consistent pressure, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to.

I think on the other side of the ball, it could be a push, or a slight Michigan edge. Denard will probably throw a bonehead pick somewhere, but I see him playing a much better game tomorrow than he has the last 2 seasons.

MSU will come ready to play, but I just don't see us losing this game. This shit finally stops tomorrow.


October 19th, 2012 at 6:04 PM ^

I'm inclined to believe Sparty's confidence has takin a serious blow since everybody and there mama had them penciled in for the Rose Bowl coming into this season. If things start going Michigan's way early and often, they'll probably be out of the fight mentally by halftime...and when they look across and see the look in their opponents eyes they're gonna get mind fucked into submission. My prediction was 23- 0...GO BLUE!!


October 19th, 2012 at 6:09 PM ^

I'm nervous!  Everything that everyone is saying seems logically true.  But, sheesh it's hard to get out the past few years' memories out of my head.  Has our defense really improved that much and/or has MSU's offense gotten that much worse since last year?  The latter may be right, but I don't know about the former.  Has our offense really improved and/or their defense gotten worse from last year?  I don't know if our offense is any better.  There defense seems slightly worse due to the loss of Worthey, but that's one guy, the entire rest of their defense is back that gave us fits.  Ultimately it seems like a really simple conversion, the team that can limit turnovers and run the ball will win.  I just don't know who that team will be...ugh.  Either way, I think we make a better showing than last year and have the ability to win...we just need to execute.


October 19th, 2012 at 11:06 PM ^

I don't see MSU crossing the goal line.  The D will hold them to FGs!

The offense will play well, especially in the 2nd half. I see this being a 17-9 game at halftime, then Michigan pours it on in the 2nd half

Michigan 45 - MSU 12.


October 20th, 2012 at 12:32 AM ^

The Oregon-ASU line was 10 points. The Sparty-UM line is 10 points. Vegas usually gets these things right. Sparty has as good of a chance as ASU had of beating Oregon.


October 20th, 2012 at 3:00 AM ^

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.