Friday, October 2, 2009

Committing to Making a Non-Commitment for This Rivalry Game

Will you at least give me a three step head start?

I’m going to need it to run away from the mobs of angry Wolverine fans after they read this: Michigan State should win this game and they probably will...but it's definitely not even close to being a sure thing.

Before last Saturday’s debacle against Wisconsin (not to mention the blown game against Notre Dame and the embarrassing, mistake-filled loss to Central Michigan) I would’ve have written Michigan State will win this game. But that all changed now that the Spartans are limping into this game with a 1-3 record and the clouds of failed seasons past are beginning to gather overhead.

Let’s take a look at this game realistically: no one expected the Spartans to be this bad coming into Week 5 and no one expected the Wolverines to be this good. You are simply lying to yourself if you thought otherwise.

Combine those two factors with the Spartans home field advantage and I think you’ll reach the same flimsy conclusion I did: the Spartans should win this game, but they might not.

Now for the why.

The one thing that should be staring everyone in the face is that MSU will be DESPERATE to win this game. Mark Dantonio’s career might depend on it. If he doesn’t win this game and the Spartans drop to 1-4, MSU will lose public support faster than Kanye West.

MSU players can’t stand the fact that they are coming into this game at 1-3 (although they didn’t seem to care enough in their previous three games to actually try and win them) and they hate that Michigan is 4-0. These Spartans want to be the team that brings Michigan back to earth. They will be motivated and will be fired up by a home crowd that last saw the boys when they were 1-1.

The Spartans can move the ball through the air – they threw for nearly 400 yards last week against Wisconsin. Blair White and Mark Dell are very good receives and BJ Cunningham provides another game-breaker. The problem is who will get them ball. This might not be the game for Dantonio to keep the two QB experiment going. MSU needs to air it out against Michigan’s soft secondary to win this game. That means keeping Keith “Crazy Legs” Nichol on the bench in favor of Kirk Cousins.

Just like USC, the Spartans have a stable of backs. Unlike USC, none of them are very good. If the Spartans are forced to run the ball they will be in for a long game.

If the Spartans go after Michigan through the air, they should put enought points on the board to outscore the Wolverines.

This brings me to the “X-factor” and I’m not talking about whether or not Denard Robinson will tie his shoes…I’m talking about THE WEATHER.

The forecast is calling for rain and lots of it. That should favor the Wolverines for two reasons: 1) it will limit the Spartans ability to throw and 2) it will limit the Wolverines ability to throw – and that means letting Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be running wild (that’s assuming David Moosman can get the snaps to Forcier and Robinson – a very real fear I pointed out in an earlier column).

Michigan averages 240 yards per game on the ground. Michigan State gives up 113 yards per game but has not seen a rushing attack like the Wolverines have. If the pass game is neutralized for both teams, the edge has to go to Michigan.

Also don’t be surprised if Forcier gets banged up and the Wolverines insert Nick Sheridan into the game. This is the Wolverines first road game and if the weather is bad, the coaching staff might turn to the veteran to simply hand the ball off.

Bad weather will also affect the Spartans’ kicking game. MSU Brett Swenson will be the best kicker on the field (he might be State’s best player) but lots of wind and rain could create problems for thim.

You may be asking yourself – why haven’t we discussed the either team’s defense? For the simple reason that neither team plays defense. This game is all about which offense shows up and which offense handles the elements.

I don’t even have the guts to make a prediction on this game but I will…sort of.

Non-tsunami weather: Michigan State 37 – Michigan 35

Tsunami weather: Michigan 31 – Michigan State 24