THE BIG GAME - MSU wants to offset UM's freshmen

The duel between UM's freshmen running back Michael Hart and quarterback Chad Henne vs. Michigan State's sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton and freshman running back Jehuu Caulcrick will be one of the major subplots in Saturday's contest.

(EAST LANSING, MI) - Michigan State is playing catchup to the University of Michigan in a lot of ways. After being hired away from the University of Louisville, coach John L. Smith had to play catchup in the recruiting wars.

Smith spotted two talented prospects that he wanted to get in for recruiting visits, but it was too late, the pair already had eyes for Michigan.

Their names? Chad Henne and Michael Hart.

"We tried to get in on Chad, but we were a little late at that point I guess. I don't know how much attention he paid to us. We tried to get in on Michael Hart as well, but we were unable to."

Smith gives credit to UM's returning veteran talent for the quick start of the pair. "I think that is a tribute to the cast of characters around them. It's a little easier to mature and come along if your a youngster being surrounded with real good guys."

Hart is the Big Ten's second leading rusher, totaling 936 yards rushing on 187 carries and 5.01 yards per carry after supplanting David Underwood as the team's starting running back. The Spartans will have to limit Hart's production to have a chance in this one. Henne currently ranks 3rd in the conference in passing with 1,728 yards and 13 touchdowns.

That pair will suit up in the starting backfield for the Wolverines on Saturday and containing them is one of the major subplots for this weekend's big backyard brawl.

"He's quickly becoming the leader of the offense," said Michigan senior receiver Braylon Edwards. "He's left the nest, for lack of a better analogy. Chad is making it happen. His progressions, his poise, his presence in the huddle are ridiculous. His presence on the field ... I feel like Chad has been there before."

State must put pressure on the freshman from Pennsylvania forcing him to make questionable decisions that lead to turnovers. For the Spartans, they are looking to a talented freshman back of their own. MSU nabbed freshman Jehuu Caulcrick from Finger Lakes, NY to team with holdover quarterback Drew Stanton from Farmington Hills, MI. Those two will try to offset what the Michigan pair brings to the table.

A win for MSU however, could shift the balance of power in the Big Ten and has ramifications beyond this year's conference race.

"I think [the winner of Saturday's game] has an edge [in recruiting]. I think Michigan has an edge in the state without a doubt," said Smith.

The Spartans head coach believes State has a real shot in this one behind Stanton (7.4 yards per carry, 9th in passing 1, 043 yards and 6 touchdowns) if they can spread the football and not become one-dimensional.

"We try not to have a certain go-to guy to throw the ball to. We can spread it around and get the ball in a lot of guys hands that way we force them to have to defend everybody rather than just one guy."

Smith believes if MSU can avoid having one "go-to guy", it present problems for Michigan, who likes to put corner Marlon Jackson on the opposition's best wide receiver and take him out of the game.

Smith wants to try to spread Michigan out, leaving holes for Caulcrick (397 yuards rushing, averaging 5.2 per carry), junior DeAndra Cobb (6.5 yards per carry) and senior Jason Teague to run through.

Smith believes that Caulcrick will have an inpact on Saturday's outcome.

"He's a load," said Smith. "He's improving a bunch. He's starting to get his pads down and he's starting to get a little forward lean as he comes through there. He's made some improvement, he's coming along, he's going to be OK."

For MSU containing the UM freshman duo while keeping the football and winning the ball of time of possession behind the running of Stanton and Caulcrick will be key to a Spartan victory and maybe, a shift in the balance of the Big Ten.

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