Mike Wilson: It seems like this Michigan team goes as Devin Gardner goes, to some extent. He had a rough time in East Lansing last year, so how do you think this year might be different for the Wolverines' quarterback?
Kyle Bogenschutz: Unfortunately for Michigan, a lot of the issues we saw last season, especially toward the end of it in losses at Michigan State and at home against Nebraska, have shown up this season. Starting with the sacks, the Spartans took Gardner to the ground seven times a year ago as the Wolverines were thoroughly and consistently beaten down upfront on both sides of the ball as the game got out of hand in the second half. Perhaps the good news is Michigan allowed a total of 36 sacks last season but through seven games in 2014, Michigan has given up 15 sacks. If Michigan can find ways to quickly get the ball out of Gardner's hands, develop a tad of a running game and hit on, not just take, but hit on, some big plays down the field, Michigan will have a chance to put some points on the board. If Michigan would like to utilize seven step drops and slow developing plays like last year, it'll be much of the same. All of this being said, it very well could still be much of the same with a strong Michigan State defense and a Michigan quarterback in Gardner that has once again been beaten up this year and still shows the propensity to throw at least one interception per game.
Wilson: The Michigan front seven has put up some good numbers with stopping the run thus far this season. What do you credit that to and what have you seen out of that group through seven games?
Bogenschutz: To once again compare this year's defense, specifically the front seven, to last year's team, Michigan is allowing nearly 50 rushing yards less per game than they finished with last season. Clearly, we'll need to see if that holds but that is a pretty significant difference thus far, not to mention Michigan has allowed just three rushing touchdowns compared to 14 a season ago. This year the difference has been quality depth mixed with some young talent making plays and a defensive line that's really geared for stopping the run. Judging by the sack numbers up front, Michigan's defensive line is filled with guys that can be stout at the point of attack and simply play gap sound football which allows middle linebacker Jake Ryan to come in and make plays. Ryan, by the way, is leading Michigan in tackles with 56 including nine for loss. But it's really been guys like Willie Henry, Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin that have been able to handle things more consistently up the middle along with Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark on the edge who, again despite the sack numbers, have been strong in this area. Michigan State will be a far bigger challenge as the Spartans come into Saturday's game with a tremendous mix of run and pass.
Wilson: When you look at the Michigan offense, the guy everyone notices is Devin Funchess. Who are some other guys that Michigan will try to utilize Saturday to move the ball well?
Bogenschutz: I think the obvious choice here is tight end Jake Butt although it's been a slow process for him from a production standpoint, still just eight months removed from tearing his ACL. In spurts though, Butt has been a great weapon for Gardner over the middle making some tough catches getting behind the linebackers and just in front of oncoming safeties. Outside of that, Michigan needed a big time performance from someone other than those two against Penn State and Amara Darboh had that despite catching just four balls. Darboh has had tons of hype in practice the last few years and he did show why against Penn State, adjusting to the football, going up and grabbing it over defenders, and really, making his quarterback look good, something Michigan needs at times. At running back, since Derrick Green's season ending injury, Michigan hasn't been able to figure out who the next back will be but De'Veon Smith appears to be the guy if given more opportunity to carry the ball.
Wilson: What kind of attitude have you seen around this team this week? It seems, in part, that Michigan State has been successful against Michigan because of the chip on its shoulder and the way the players and coaches approach the matchup with Michigan. Could the tables be turned this time with Michigan needing a win and Brady Hoke seemingly coaching for his job?
Bogenschutz: I found it difficult to answer this question because there's two different mindsets this week and the media is only exposed to one of them. The message this week was that this is just another game, a rivalry game and that Michigan will be approaching it like any other game. Of course, hearing those responses from players and coaches this week, it's bologna. In practice, the locker room, etc., this is a huge game obviously and for Michigan to down play it is their prerogative but it certainly seems part of it was to avoid giving out any bulletin board material. Whether or not added intensity or emphasis will be enough to get Michigan up for this game, who knows because they certainly weren't giving us any indication throughout the week that that would be the case (and have lacked real, true emotion with the media the entire season). The one thing I do know though, is it's evident this team hasn't given up on the coaching staff nor themselves and continue to go out giving 100-percent effort, which, in my mind, is a real testament to mental toughness and trust inside the building.
Wilson: What are your predictions for the game?
Bogenschutz: I don't see it going well for Michigan and anyone that predicts it will go well is simply not looking at things objectively. Michigan State still appears to be the team that wants this game more, they're 6-1, they have a balanced attack offensively to go along with a quarterback that appears to have played his way into the NFL draft, the defense isn't as good as a season ago but still very formidable and the Spartans coaching staff have done a masterful job game planning this one over the years. Again, some can cling to this being a rivalry game and that anything could happen, and that may well be but this game specifically appears to be too much of an uphill climb for a Michigan offense that can't put points on the board, along with a Devin Gardner who has once again been subject to big hits all season, and a defense that has proven it can only hang on so long with the offense sputtering. The one saving grace Michigan has is that last year, in the final regular season game of the year at home against Ohio State, Michigan not only showed up for the first time since their win over Notre Dame, but nearly played well enough to steal one from an 11-0 Buckeyes' team. If that Michigan team shows up, from a mental and performance standpoint, the Wolverines will have a shot to be competitive.