Denard, Denard, Denard.
His name will no doubt be on the minds of Michigan State's defense all week. That's Denard Robinson, nicknamed "Shoelace" for his famously untied shoes. The Michigan QB is the early Heisman front-runner, the most lethal offensive weapon so far this season in college football, and the focus for Michigan State's defense as the No. 17, 5-0 Spartans prepare for Saturday's massive rivalry showdown with the No. 18, 5-0 Wolverines.
Robinson is the nation's leading rusher (181.0 ypg), he's fourth in passing efficiency, he needs 85 total yards to reach 2,000 for the season, and his speed is extraordinary. Operating in Rich Rodriguez's read-option, spread offense, Robinson has flourished this season and will be a difficult player for the Spartans to contain.
"He's the guy with the ball most of the time, so we've got to try to stop him," MSU linebacker Greg Jones said.
"He's quick on his feet and also he'll hurt you with his arm," linebacker Eric Gordon said.
"It's gonna be a challenge for our defense," cornerback Chris L. Rucker said, "and I think we're gonna have a good time out there."
If the Spartans have any schematic wrinkles planned, they aren't divulging. Michigan State does have a 3-4 look that it hasn't used much this season. Overall, though, Gordon made it clear that the Spartans' attacking style can't change just because Robinson is such a threat to go the distance.
"We've still got to play our game," Gordon said.
--Coach Mark Dantonio will return for the Michigan game, after missing the past two for medical reasons. He suffered a mild heart attack on Sept. 19, and was supposed to return for last week's Wisconsin game, but a blood clot in his leg kept him in the hospital for that game.
Dantonio was released Monday and came to the news conference Tuesday. He plans to be in the coaches' box this week, while offensive coordinator Don Treadwell stays on the field.
--Dantonio was calling and texting his coaches frantically during the Wisconsin game, which made some wonder if the Spartans violated any NCAA rules. But the Big Ten spoke up Monday and made it clear that Dantonio's contact with his coaches was not a violation in any way.
--The Spartans are going for their third straight win over Michigan, which hasn't happened since 1965-67. These teams haven't met with both unbeaten since 1999, and they haven't both been ranked entering the game since 2003. This is the 14th meeting with both ranked, and they are knotted at 6-6-1 in the first 13.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads the series with Michigan State, 67-30-5 (last meeting, 2009, 26-20 OT, Michigan State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The passing game is officially in rhythm after it started the season with some rust. Kirk Cousins is throwing to his backs and tight ends more, and WR Mark Dell is on his way to a big senior season. This just in time for Michigan's porous pass defense -- ranked No. 120 in the FBS.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans are coming off their best defensive performance in years, holding a potent Wisconsin offense to 292 yards and 3 of 11 success on third down. But now it's like the Spartans are playing a different sport with Michigan next on the schedule. MSU handled Wisconsin's brawn, but can it handle the speed of Michigan? A lot of stress will be on Greg Jones and Michigan State's linebackers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's got to be the game of the year. Bottom line. It just is. There's really nothing more to it." -- Michigan State LB Greg Jones on the Michigan game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan State vs. Michigan, Oct. 9 -- The winner of this game passes a key early test in the quest to contend for a Big Ten title. It's Michigan State's power football against Michigan's spread/read option, and so far Mark Dantonio's style has won the day in two meetings against Rich Rodriguez.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Wolverines are essentially the best running team and worst pass-defending team in college football. The Spartans should be able to throw it around and score, but they'll have a difficult time slowing Michigan's offense. A big key will be MSU's time of possession, and the Spartans also can't turn it over against a Michigan defense that will have to gamble to avoid being trampled.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DT Jerel Worthy -- The star of Michigan State's defensive line is going up against one of the best offensive line interiors he'll see all season. His ability to disrupt will be key to throwing Michigan's read option out of sync.
RB Larry Caper -- Caper made some huge plays late in the Wisconsin game and is listed as a co-starter this week with Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell.
SS Marcus Hyde -- Hyde had a solid day against Wisconsin and is delivering big hits in run support. He'll be asked to do a lot of that against Michigan QB Denard Robinson.
RT J'Michael Deane -- The senior has aided Michigan State's rushing attack with his power, but he is still struggling at times in pass protection. The Wolverines likely will blitz often to get after QB Kirk Cousins.
--DT Kevin Pickelman (shoulder) appears to have a long-term injury, but he is listed on the depth chart for the Michigan game. Michigan State rarely gets specific about injuries.
--DE Colin Neely (hand) should be back for the Michigan game after missing the Wisconsin contest. Neely has been the Spartans' best DE this season, so his return could be vital.
--WR Tony Lippett is redshirting this season, but he's playing a key role this week. Lippett is impersonating Michigan QB Denard Robinson for the scout team in practice. Lippett was a spread QB in high school.
The TSX Files: Midweek Michigan State Update
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