Michigan State Game Prediction

The long wait is finally over, the bye week is done, the anticipation has built, and Michigan prepares to travel to East Lansing for another 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness. The toughest, hardest hitting, slugfest of the year. With Paul Bunyan finally home after earning his associates degree at MSU the previous four years, and a situation where Michigan can’t lose and expect to earn a berth in Indianapolis, all is riding on this one. Jeremy Gallon - UMGoBlue.com

Predicting Michigan football is as about as easy as a couch escaping an East Lansing party without third degree burns. With youth, comes inconsistency.  10 guys do a great job on a play and one misses an assignment and the play fails.

The key to this game outside of the turnover battle is Michigan establishing the run with players other than Devin Gardner. Whether it’s the jet sweep with Dennis Norfleet, or between the tackles with Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green, Michigan must establish some form of a running game.

MSU likes to load the box and leave their corners on islands. Lining Devin Funchess up outside or in the slot, and making him go up and get passes can make them drop their safeties back to prevent that ND further open an inconsistent run game.

Michigan’s defense is better than it has portrayed the past two games, and has a chance to assert itself against an equally puzzling offense. Slowing the run game, which will reduce the Spartan’s play action passing is another key.

In the end, I don’t see MSU scoring more than 20 points offensively, unless they’re set up with short fields by their defense. Can Michigan move the ball effectively and take their shots when given? Michigan will score just enough, and take care of the ball equally as well as MSU, and squeak out a win,

Michigan 21 MSU 20

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Grading The Performance: Iowa

Quarterback

Devin Gardner continues to improve at an Devin Gardner - UMGoBlue.comamazing rate. The better Devin plays, the more Al Borges has opened up the playbook and there has been little drop off in play. Devin made several NFL caliber throws on Saturday that Michigan fans haven’t seen since 2007. Throwing the deep 15-20 yard out route between the corner and safety is one of the hardest throws in football and Devin passed the test with flying colors. Devin also threw 2 flag routes to Roy Roundtree that were as impressive and difficult a throw as you are going to see in this offense. Devin continues to showcase that he is at his best when throwing to the sideline and vertically down the field. Al Borges has wisely steered away from throws to the middle of the field which can be hit or miss for Devin. Devin still has moments when he throws into double coverage or doesn’t identify hanging defenders which gets him into trouble. Devin’s interception to Micah Hyde occurred on a play where he failed to identify the hanging defender and threw the ball into what appeared to be an open spot.

If they’re smart, Michigan will continue to recruit mobile and dual-threat QBs in the same mold as Devin Gardner. The ability of mobile and duel-threat QBs to make plays with their legs in addition to throwing the ball is too advantageous to pass up in this era of college football. Devin Gardner’s arm has opened up facets of the playbook that Michigan hasn’t been able to successfully access prior to now. Gardner’s legs will allow them to continue to use parts of the playbook that would otherwise disappear once Denard Robinson is gone. Devin “only” carried the ball 9 times but he was extremely efficient and successful on those runs, accounting for 3 TDs and 37 yds. Devin’s legs not only force defenses to play honest, but give Michigan the ability to continue to actively attack opposing defenses on designed runs.

Grade: A

Running Back

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Grading The Performance: Northwestern

Quarterback

Wistert - UMGoBlue.comDenard Robinson remained sidelined thanks to the wrath of the elbow gods and Devin Gardner saw his 2nd start of the season. There were thoughts after last week that Gardner’s performance was simply the result of playing a weak opponent in Minnesota. Those ideas where put to rest on Saturday as Devin led Michigan to a come from behind victory over a ranked Northwestern team. Devin continues to learn facets of the offense and how to deal with different game situations on the fly, but so far he has handled it very well. Devin was poised for the majority of the game on Saturday and his ball placement was excellent throughout the game. There are times when the ball gets away from Devin, particularly when he throws over the middle. Locating backside defenders continues to be an issues for Devin and Michigan was fortunate to only turn the ball over once through the air. Devin is very adept when throwing to the sideline and vertically downfield. Devin dropped the ball into holes in the defense like a seasoned vet and put his receivers into great situations simply because of the ball placement. Devin did potentially cost Michigan the game with a very poor decision to force the ball into Devin Funchess on a wheel route, resulting in a horribly timed interception late in the game.

Devin continues to be decisive in the run game. Escaping pressure and scrambling to daylight is one of Devin’s strengths and Michigan was rewarded with a productive 47 yds on 9 carries, including 2 TDs. The great thing about Devin is not just his ability to throw the ball and add to the Michigan playbook, but he is still a very capable runner and dual-threat that opposing defenses have to account for.

Grade: B+

Running Back

Fitzgerald Toussaint was finally able to break off a big run during a meaningful stretch of the game. Unfortunately the play ended with a fumble but it was still good to see Fitz flash the same level of explosiveness that he showed last season. The 50 yd run skewed the day that Fitz had from a statistical standpoint. Fitz ran hard but if you take out the one big run, the numbers show 42 yds and a 2.5 ypc average. The 50 yd run was big and must be taken into account when evaluating the running game but room to run was still hard to come by which effected the production of the backs. Thomas Rawls had just 3 carries, one helped Michigan convert for a 1st down while another was a goal line TD.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers/TEs

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Grading The Performance: Minnesota

Quarterback

Devin Gardner was an All-American QB coming out of HS. Even so, his skills and ability at the QB position has largely been an unknown. Gardner beat out Tate Forcier for the #2 QB job during the fall of 2010 and briefly played in relief action but few outside of the coaches had seen him in extended action before Saturday.

The passing game was shaky early as Devin attempted to shake off the rust associated with not playing meaAnnArbor.comningful snaps at QB for months. Everything about Devin’s 1st quarter interception was bad, footwork, mechanics, and decision making. Once he settled down, Devin really began to dial things in. There were still several ill-advised throws and decisions but for the most part Devin looked like the QB many expected coming out of the high school. Devin adds an element the Michigan offense that fans haven’t seen in quite awhile. Downfield passing has been a major strength in Devin’s game since high. There may be poor decisions and throws but Devin throws one beautiful deep ball.

For the most part Michigan shied away from using Devin on designed runs. With only 2 healthy QBs the risk was just too high to exploit Devin’s true duel-threat ability. Devin did show great anticipation and reaction to pressure and was quick to move out of the pocket and scramble when the plays called for it. Unlike Denard who seems averse to scrambling, Devin was decisive when it came to when to take off and when to wait things out in the pocket.

Grade: A-

Running Back

The running backs continue to be handcuffed by the play of the offensive line. Both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls ran hard but there were limited opportunities to produce big numbers on the ground. Rawls was especially successful in short yardage and is proving to be quite the load for opposing teams on handle. Rawls breaks a lot of tackles and for the most part he has to because of the issues the team has up front. Fitz also ran hard and was finally able to break through late in the game on a long TD run. It seems as though it has been a year since Fitz busted a major run of significance so Saturday’s run was big even if the game was already decided.

Grade: B+

Wide Receivers/TEs

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Minnesota Game Prediction

Michigan heads to Minnesota in another (nearly) annual battle for the Little Brown Jug. After finishing with an amazingly perfect record playing in the Metrodome, Michigan
takes its first crack in the new TCF Bank stadium. 

Normally, even with Denard possibly out, beating Minnesota wouldn’t be all that difficult. But given that Michigan has been held to a pedestrian 21 points total the past two weeks (via. FG no less) nothing is a given, especially after Minnesota was running roughshod over Purdue last weekend.

We’re not even certain the folks inside the usually impenetrable Fort Schembechler know whether Denard will play (although I have a suspicion he will). Hoke told us Devin Gardner took a good deal of snaps this week at QB, and I suspect that even if Denard goes, that he will get some meaningful snaps.

We’ve been waiting 2/3 of the season for Fitz Touissant to have a breakthrough game. Will this be the week? My thought is he will, as will Thomas Rawls, who many have been clamoring to see more action. Much of this will be due to a greater push by a somewhat disappointing performance to date by a veteran, yet relatively inexperienced offensive line. 

Michigan should win this game, if nothing else based on its defense. Even with an offense struggling to move the ball a yard, the Michigan defense played quite admirably last week against a stellar Nebraska offense. While Philip Nelson, a true freshman QB looked good against Purdue last weekend, he hasn’t had Greg Mattison calling plays against him yet. Huge advantage Michigan.

Michigan 27, Minnesota 13

Editor’s Note: Our Recruiting Analyst, Sean O’Connell, will be there in person to cheer on the Wolverines. Go Blue!

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