Connor Cook vs UM secondary
Cook has been steadily improving for the Spartans in his starts, especially since Big Ten play started. The sophomore just had arguably his best showing to-date with a 15 for 16 passing game against Illinois with a three touchdowns.
He hasn't faced a secondary as good as Michigan's yet, though. While Iowa was arguably the best overall defense, its secondary was very inexperienced. With cornerbacks Blake Countess, Ramon Taylor and Courtney Avery, Michigan presents an athletic challenge for Cook when he is throwing downfield. p>MSU wide receivers vs Countess
With Michigan probably presenting the most difficult matchup in the secondary thus far, Countness almost certainly is the best cornerback the Spartans have gone against. Fortunately for MSU, they spread the ball around and use a lot of receivers as five have more than 11 catches through the first eight games. The group also is playing its best football since the graduation of B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol.
The key to the Wolverines defense and one of the best linebackers in the country, Ryan is back from an ACL injury and making an impact. He had 16.5 tackles for loss a year ago with five sacks. Knowing where Ryan is coming from and getting a helmet on him will be key for Michigan State and that falls on the MSU fullback Pendleton plenty.
By the numbers
Interceptions thrown by Connor Cook this season – both tipped passes.
Interceptions for the Wolverines, which is the second-highest total in the Big Ten.
Touchdowns inside the red zone for MSU in the past three games out of 10 attempts. The other possessions ended with a Cook fumble in the end zone and a kneel down to end the game at Illinois. MSU has not kicked a red zone field goal since playing at Iowa on Oct. 5.
Rushing yards per game in MSU's past three games. Jeremy Langford is averaging 114.7 in those games, all of which he has rushed for more than 100 yards.
Rushing yards per game allowed by Michigan, the lowest total of any defense Michigan State has faced thus far.
What to look for from MSU
The Spartans should be confident in their ability to run their offense against Michigan. Michigan has routinely struggled to get pressure when rushing four down linemen through most of the season and MSU's offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Ten with just six.
Michigan will have to bring more pressure (see: Ryan, Jake) to get to Cook and apply pressure. The play of the tackles for MSU will be important, but the guards will be making it happen up front as Michigan State works the ground game with Langford and Delton Williams, which is where it all starts.
While the ground game should be able to do good things behind an offensive line that has been confidently winning at the point of attack since halftime of the Notre Dame, this game falls on Cook for the MSU offense.
As the sophomore signal caller goes, so will the Spartans. He has been pretty sound in decision making and mostly efficient, but if he struggles like he did against Purdue – when the rest of the offense was clicking – MSU will be in trouble. If he can consistently convert on third downs and red zone opportunities and take care of the ball, MSU is going to be in good shape.
Then again, history has shown just win the rushing battle to win the game. MSU appears to have the better shot to win that stat.