A lot has changed in UM country with both former offensive cordinator Terry Malone, and former defensive cordinator Jim Hermann leaving for the NFL. However, the strong Michigan alumni base has wanted changes in both areas since the running game had been struggling and the defense has been porous in recent years. Therefore, they "picked" the right time to move on before they were shown the exit door in some people's minds.
Former CMU head coach and long time assistant Mike Debord is now the offensive cordinator. He directed the offensive during the Wolverines 1997 Co-National Championship year. Ron English, former defensive back coach, is now the defensive cordinator after accepting and then turning down a job to head to the NFL. Both moves have paid dividends, especially the move to keep English, who has incorporated an especially nasty and aggressive defense.
Another change they made was to switch their running attack to more of a zone blocking scheme. The same scheme that the Minnesota Golden Gophers have used to run roughshod over Michigan and other opponents.
The Wolverines figured if you can't beat them, join then. Since the Golden Gophers weren't going to tune them into any secrets, the Wolverines consulted zone blocking guru Alex Gibbs, who has coached in Denver and has consulted in Atlanta. This style helps with the stretch play and other lateral plays on the perimeter.
This game is always a grudge match-up, with Michigan winning the last two games in over time. MSU dominated the game in 2004 before three late touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards sunk the Spartans. In 2005, UM was up 31-24 when Tupe Peko raced 74 yards with a fumble recovery to tie the score. MSU missed a field goal attempt in overtime that should have been the game winner for the Spartans.
SCOUTING THE WOLVERINE OFFENSE
Chad Henne is the quarterback after throwing for 2,526 yards in 2005 with a 23 to eight touchdown to interception ratio. This year, he has a ten touchdown to a four interception ratio. When Henne has time to throw, he is deadly, when he is doesn't, he is ordinary.
He threw the game winner against Penn State, but also turned it over against Notre Dame and Nebraska in losses. He struggles with the blitz, especially from the backside, and throws the ball on a low trajectory, getting many passes batted down. He has develop good timing with Mario Mannigham and this combination is dangerous.
Behind Henne, UM is a hair-thin with untested Jason Forcier the back-up. If Henne were to go down, this could be a major advantage for MSU. The Michigan State defensive line must get pressure on Henne and force errant throws. They must also come with hands up and get some deflections and get in to Henne's sight lanes.
Mike Hart is the tough-nosed running back for the Wolverines, and when he rushes for 100 yards in a game, Michigan usually does well. He is only 5-foot-9 and 195-pounds but is incredibly strong and needs to be wrapped up because it usually takes multiple defenders to bring him to the ground.
He owns a school-record of four 200 yard rushing games. MSU knows about him all too well, as Hart ran for 218 yards against MSU last year. Hart has 690 yards and five touchdowns on the ground so far.
He is backstopped by Kevin Grady, Brandon Minor, and blazer Carlos Brown. Grady has some power but his vision in picking holes has been questioned. Brown as a converted high school quarterback was the more hyped recruit, but Minor is the guy who has impressed since he is off to the races whe he finds a hole.
MSU's David Herron, Sir Darean Adams, and Kaleb Thornhill will be expected to fill the lanes in run support as UM stretches plays to the boundary line. Don't forget cut back runs up the middle and the assignment football MSU will be responsible for. UM has had an amazing 963 to 182 rushing advantage over it's opponents this year. Yes, that is correct, UM foes have rushed for a combined total of just 182 yards in five games.
At wide receiver is impressive Mario Mannigham, who made has made big catches for UM since he walked on campus. He struggled early last year in what he was suppose to do on any certain play, but since then it's been light out, highlighted by a three touchdown performance against Notre Dame this year.
Manningham has seven touchdown receptions to lead the Wolverines. Adrian Arrington has stepped up as another quality receiver after being slowed by injuries early in his career and has added two touchdown receptions, and the third option is Steve Breaston, who has become more of a kick returner than the go-to guy most expected in the UM offense.
Manningham and Arrington are going to test MSU's corners Greg Cooper and Demond Willliams. Job one will preventing the big play and not letting these guys get open all day.
Mike Debord likes to use the tight ends as receivers as he did in 1997 and he has a good one here in Tyler Ecker. Ecker caught 21 passes for two touchdowns in 2006. He is not a great blocker but does have a penchant for sneaking into the secondary and finding open spots as a receiver. Massey has decent hands but isn't a great blocker. Carson Butler is a great and intriguing athlete as a wide receiver but he has to adjust after playing mostly as wideout in high school. Spartan safeties Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warwick will have to watch for play-action facts and letting the tight end roam free. They tend to bite hard and must be alert.
The offensive line did well number wise last year in averaging 3.9 yards per carry and only giving up 24 sacks.Yet they, the running backs and tight ends all struggled with picking up blitz assignments last year.
They do have a few solid performers. Jake Long is now protecting Chad Henne's backside at left tackle which was a major weakness a year ago. Adam Krause has been a solid left guard, especially when UM throws short passes or screens.
Mark Bihl is the starting center and struggled early in his career. In fact, I actually saw him get run over by Notre Dame defenders a few years ago but he has improved since then. Alex Mitchell is the right guard and is somewhat inexperienced and has fought some weight problems in the past, but is coming on. Ruben Riley is the right tackle and has improved after starting slowly in 2005.
This will be a key game for the entire Spartan defensive line, but especially for guys like Cliff Ryan, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, and David Stanton as they will need to stop Hart in the middle and make the Wolverines one dimensional.