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Final Five Thoughts: Michigan at Michigan State

John Kayser Hokeamaniac.com Feature WriterOkay Wolverine fans it’s that game again. One of the biggest games we wait for all year…Michigan State! And emotions are high to say the least.

Michigan as a whole has been talking with some extreme confidence this week. Players have referenced the Wolverines need to be “tough” and vowed publicly that this game today will be different. Even senior running back Fitz Toussaint made some choice comments regarding “Little Brother”.

Will Toussaint’s comments give Sparty more motivation then they already needed knowing that Michigan won last season’s match-up between the teams? Or will the Wolverines do almost the impossible now and beati a tough Big Ten team on their home turn?

If Michigan is going to win, here are my Final Five Thoughts on the areas they better dominate today in order to do so:

1. Turnovers
Turnovers have been a problem area all season for this team. If Devin Gardner is mistake-free in the turnover department it could be a very good day for the visiting team. Gardner must not give MSU opportunities with a short field and must throw the ball away when he has the chance. No silly unnecessary turnovers! And that goes for the rest of the team too! And while we’re at it, if the defense can create a few turnovers of their own, that would be most ideal

If Michigan gives the ball away more than one time today, it could be a long day in East Lansing.

2. Playing Physical
In-state rivals always play hard yet, here in Big Ten country that is amplified even more. The ability to sustain health and not get injured will be tested, as will just how far along this offensive line is. If Hoke’s heroes come out knocking green off the line and play fiery and passionate it could mean B1G things.

Michigan players on both sides of the ball must match or exceed the level of physicality that the Spartans will surly bring. Last season, the Wolverines did. The year before, they did not. Michigan State is currently ranked third in the nation for points against giving up only 12.3 per content.  That state is attributed to the strength and dominance of the MSU defense. It won’t be easy for Blue, but they need to make a statement today both with their defensive effort as well as offensive execution.

If Blue get’s pushed around, it won’t be pretty. If they play with the intensity shown rarely this season, we’ll have a chance.

3. QB play
Everyone knows Michigan wins or loses ballgames based on Gardner. Sparty has a nice young QB just now finding his groove. This game could very well hinge on which can get more done, plain and simple. Michigan State has caught fire offensively as of late as has Michigan. MSU will look to slow the game down and pound the ball. Sparty looks to effectively mix off tackle runs with play action bootlegs, while also giving looks from shotgun and running between the tackles. MSU is very well rounded and will surely give Michigan’s defense a good test.

Whichever quarterback does the better job leading their offense, chances are that team will prevail in the end. I expect to see a good performance out of Gardner. He must have one of his best games this year. And I don’t mean stat-wise. Gardner must take what the defense allows and be ready for pressure.

The Wolverine defense must in return also pressure Connor Cook and not allow him time to operate. Cooks only thrown two interceptions this year and been sacked only five times. Michigan must change that.

4. Coaching
No coach has gotten the best of Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor. Fortunately for Dantonio this game is in East Lansing. Coach Dantonio also has the best B1G winning percentage for his era. Yet both coaches have been criticized at times for running conservative offenses. Hoke’s decision making was questioned in the Penn State game lose a few weeks back for not playing to win, but playing to not lose when they had a chance late in the game and in the overtimes. He defended his team’s moves, but obviously it didn’t work out.

These two staffs are too notch and will be very entertaining Saturday. Who can win the battle between MSU’s D and Michigan’s O could show who will win this game as each are clicking now.

And the decisions each staff makes will dictate the outcome of this game. I only hope the game comes down to the players and that regardless of outcome, especially if we lose, no fingers can be pointed at coaching mistakes as a key to the victory or loss.

5. Mental Toughness
This game will be as much psychological as it is physical. Trash talking between rivals is to be expected, so is some pushing and shoving. They way the Wolverines respond to this will be vital. Spartan stadium seems to be loudest when Big Bro comes to town also. It is known Hoke’s road record at Michigan is mediocre at best, how the team responds to the events and the enviroment will determine alot on Saturday.

The Team can’t afford any mental breakdowns and must maintain focus for the entire game.

This will be a hard-fought game but the way I see it, Michigan stands tall in the forth with and gets out of East Lansing with a great B1G road win.

Michigan – 27
MSU – 23

John Kayser

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Hokeamaniac.com - May the Hoke be with you! © January 11th, 2011
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