Suddenly, Michigan State’s football season is back on track. Last week’s huge win at Penn State has the Spartans thinking big again, which is perfect with Michigan rolling into town on Saturday.
Michigan is 6-1 and very good, with the No. 2 defense in the country in yards allowed. The Spartans will have to be ready for that challenge.
“They are a very aggressive defense,” Spartans quarterback BrianLewerke said. “You got a taste of that last year for really the first time. It will take preparation, preparing for the blitzes, make sure you see them coming and make sure you know how to pick them up and change protection and stuff like that.”
Here are five things I want to see from the Spartans this weekend against Michigan:
1. Making Michigan panic, like they’re prone to do
Michigan was probably the better team last year, but they played scared and panicked often. Michigan State wound up forcing five turnovers and coming away with a win. That needs to happen again on Saturday. The Spartans need to turn up the heat and force some early mistakes, because once they do, Michigan might start to question themselves again, just like they did a year ago. Michigan is a 10-point favorite in this game, but there’s no reason why the Spartans can’t change that narrative if they get in their heads. That Michigan psyche in this rivalry? It can be pretty fragile.
2. Be solid, or at least solid enough, in the secondary
Michigan State is No. 1 in the country against the run, but they’ve been torched by good passers all season. Michigan’s receiving corps is underrated and quarterback Shea Patterson can get hot with the best of them, so Michigan State’s secondary is going to have to step up and make plays. This has been the one obvious weakness of this team on defense all season, but they need to step it up a notch on Saturday in this big in-state showdown. Are they up to the task? They’re going to need to be.
3. Avoid turnovers, like in keeping that number to zero
Michigan State is a home underdog, and that means they’re going to have to play a clean game to get a win. That starts with not turning the ball over at all, and not giving Michigan easy chances to score. The Spartans can match up well in the running game, and it’s possible this could be a low-scoring game. Whenever that’s the case, a turnover — even just one — can make the difference between winning and losing. Michigan State’s running backs need to hang on to the ball, as do the receivers after catches. And, most importantly, Lewerke needs to avoid that game-breaking interception. That’s been an issue this year — he’s thrown seven picks already — and Saturday he can’t afford to throw a single one.
4. Make a special teams play, or two, to flip the field
One recipe that’s always been a constant in upset specials is to turn the game around with a huge special teams play. The Michigan botched punt for a touchdown three years ago is still fresh in everyone’s minds — and probably won’t ever go away — and it’s plays like that that could make a difference on Saturday. Michigan State needs to win every portion of the special teams game to have a chance Saturday. Make something happen in special teams and it gets the crowd behind you even more. This is the area where the difference can be made. Oh, and it never hurts to watch it again, right????
5. Build on that momentum from last week’s win at Penn State
Michigan State’s injury-ravaged season had a chance to implode last week, but then they played a great second half and came back to beat No. 8 Penn State. Suddenly, that confidence boost has them thinking big again. That’s a good thing. “The confidence is always high coming off a win like that,” Lewerke said. “Any opponent we would be playing this week, obviously it’s Michigan, but we’ll be ready 100 percent for that next person.” Show it. Prove it. Do it.