Added a little pumpkin flavoring to my coffee this morning. You might ask why and, well, I don’t have an answer, I suppose it’s just what you’re supposed to do in the fall around Halloween.
Kind of like trick or treating for a pillowcase full of candy.
Clad in Maize & Blue, the Michigan football team plans to knock on the door of Michigan State Saturday hoping to steal some free sweets, while the Spartans fight to regain the Paul Bunyan trophy won by the Wolverines in 2012.
Who gets tricked and who gets the treat?
If I were a betting man, I’d say the fans are the ones setup for either, and maybe even a scare regardless of where your dog sits in the fight.
In one corner and weighing in at 6-1, there’s Michigan, coming off a bye week after racking up 63-points against an Indiana defense that (for some reason) refused to cover Jeremy Gallon. It was also Devin Gardner’s biggest game of his career, not to mention Fitzgerald Toussaint and the run game got started a bit despite shuffling up front of the offensive line.
And in the other corner weighing in at 7-1, Michigan State, having spent the past few games fine tuning an offense that wants to pound the football up the middle, have a little trickery (no pun intended) mixed in-between timely play action passes and boasting a defense that has proven itself adequate time and time again, regardless of competition.
Who are you betting on?
I wish I could write as if I’m some enlightened individual that has all the answers, but I don’t. What I can provide is a couple areas to watch closely as the game approaches.
- What Michigan offense shows up? No, the Wolverines aren’t going to be setting yardage records through the air nor putting up 63-points against the Michigan State defense but it will be important to look at the strategy offensive coordinator Al Borges employs. Scoffing at the term “spread” in his press conference last week, the Wolverines will need to do just that to give themselves a shot to move the ball. A power run game is what Michigan wants, a spread and read option, shotgun oriented offense is what they are. The Spartans will pressure Gardner hoping he makes crucial mistakes, all the while putting their corners on an island in 1-on-1 situations. My guess is Jeremy Gallon won’t have much room to breathe in this one making Devin Funchess the wild card Saturday, needing to go up and win some footballs in the air.
- What Michigan State offense shows up? Similar to Michigan, several thought the Spartan offensive attack had turned the corner after putting up 42-points against Indiana. The following week, Michigan State reverted back to their early season struggles, scoring just 14-points in a win over Purdue before coming back this past Saturday to run all over Illinois in a 42-3 victory. Michigan State racked up 29 first downs and 269 rushing yards against the Illini behind an offensive line that has come together nicely for Mark Dantonio. Quarterback Connor Cook doesn’t need to be a world-beater for the Spartans, just efficient and make solid throws, as he did in going 15-of-16 for 208-yards and three touchdowns Saturday. As bad as the Wolverines’ defense was against Indiana over a week ago, for the most part Greg Mattison’s crew has been pretty sound outside of the ‘make a play on the ball in the air’ department. Big thing to watch Saturday will be the battle at the line of scrimmage. Can the Michigan defensive line create enough havoc for the offensive line of Michigan State, stalling the run game and forcing Cook to beat them through the air?
- Personally, I think this is as interesting a match-up in this rivalry as we’ve seen. Michigan State, boasting a fast, physical defense and power rushing attack against Michigan, still seeking to become a more consistent defense and look more like an Alabama as opposed to Oregon offensively, when in reality they’re stuck in the middle based on the weapons they possess. A win for either team puts them in the drivers’ seat to win the Legends division.
Michigan tips-off their exhibition season Tuesday night at home against Concordia at Crisler Center and despite it being the middle of football season, the anticipation as at an extremely high level -- as it should be.
Michigan coach John Beilein will address the media later today, surely to update the status of sophomore big man Mitch McGary and potentially tip his hand as to who could get the start at point guard.
Until then, sip on this:
- Derrick Walton is ready. Will he start Tuesday? That we do not know for sure but without a doubt in my mind Walton is going to be the point guard of this basketball team and is the one that can allow the Wolverines’ athletes to be athletic, while being a more than adequate defender on the other end. Sophomore Spike Albrecht is a terrific luxury and there will be times both he and Walton will be on the floor together. Albrecht is a more than capable scorer and one of the best decision makers on this basketball team. But as Beilein noted during media day, they’ll continue to look at the situation and see who is best coming off the bench and who might be better suited to start. My eyes, right here, right now, Walton can and will be the guy, something I expected after watching him so much in high school.
- Nik Stauskas is primed for a big year. I know, I know, I wrote an article in the middle of Big Ten play last season focused on Stauskas’ improved ability to defend and greater emphasis on it -- maybe a little too soon. But now? I think he gets it and he has the body and mentality to prove it. Trey Burke had the bravado, the confidence that in a lot of ways can’t be shaken and call me crazy but I see that in Stauskas and truly believe he’s just scratching the surface of his potential, not only as a shooter (which we all know), but as a playmaker within this offense, something he was capable of coming out of high school.
- I will have my eyes on Glenn Robinson III quite a bit. We all know of his exploits athletically but I’m eager to see how improved Robinson III can be off the dribble and potentially in pick and roll situations with his decision-making and ability to breakdown a defense. Robinson III didn’t get many opportunities to showcase that skillset last year, spending a significant amount of time trying to be physical against 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forwards on defense. This year? Very intrigued to see his development.
Look for notes from Brady Hoke’s Monday press conference as well as a media gathering with John Beilein this afternoon.