For Argument's Sake: Previewing the Michigan-Michigan State game
Every week, AnnArbor.com sportswriters Dave Birkett and Mike Rothstein break down Michigan's upcoming football game. This week, they're at odds over whether the Wolverines can beat Michigan State.
Michael Rothstein: Finally, a road trip, and while I'm not sure what to think of your driving skills, Dave, I'm just glad to get out of Ann Arbor to cover a game. Love the city, but I think it's a real chance to see what this Michigan team is about. Thankfully, it's a short trip up to Michigan State, where I hear the Spartans and their fans are waiting with unicorns, lollipops and teddy bears to give to the Michigan players. Actually, this should be an interesting game. Both teams are in spots I don't think many thought they'd be in at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is hanging on to bowl dreams. A loss here means the Spartans have to play really well the rest of the way. Michigan, meanwhile, has surprised with a 4-0 start but it has all been at home. And now it goes on the road with a quarterback in Tate Forcier who likely isn't 100 percent healthy, a defense with a lot of questions and playing a team that is, to put it mildly, desperate. Oh, and in case anyone didn't get it, Michigan State's players pretty well hate Michigan. A lot. What are you most curious about?
Dave Birkett: I'm most curious why you think my driving skills are so bad. Everybody's got a speeding ticket or six to their name. But on the field, I want to see how Forcier, bum shoulder and all, takes to his first road game. The kid's showed a lot of moxie so far in leading Michigan on late game-winning drives against Notre Dame and Indiana. But he's had freshman moments here lately, and we haven't seen him in a hostile environment. This will be a test for him and for the offense, for that matter. I'm sure we'll see some elements of the playbook we haven't thus far. Sloppy weather might make it tricky, but neither defense is good, so I expect a high-scoring game.
MR: It should be interesting to see how the weather affects Michigan, especially after last week's snapping issues. I'd think there could be some more mistakes on the horizon, but it's also possible that it was a one-week thing. Plus, when reviewing the tape again, not all of the snaps were David Moosman's fault. The most curious thing for me will be to see if Mark Dantonio can kind of stay out of his own way with the quarterback situation. Kirk Cousins has played well enough to be the starter and, honestly, the full-time guy. But Dantonio has made some interesting decisions when it has come to when and how he's played his quarterbacks. I think Michigan State has a much better chance of winning with Cousins in the game.
DB: Dantonio said he owes it to both players to keep them involved, being that they're both sophomores. I understand that, but I agree that Cousins gives MSU the best chance to win, even after he choked away the Notre Dame game. If it's close, Michigan might have the edge for that reason. Forcier's won two tight ones, while MSU has dropped games against the Irish and Central Michigan in the final seconds. I know you know this stat, too, Mike, but the team that's won the rushing battle has won 37 of the last 41 games in this series. Michigan leads the Big Ten in rushing offense and both Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown will play. I'd say that's a good omen.
MR: Ahh, the old history being thrown out there. I agree with it, though. In this game, the team that rushes the ball better should win. And that would probably be Michigan. However, Michigan State could counter with what every other team has done against the Wolverines - crossing routes over the middle and 8-yard outs away from Donovan Warren's side of the ball. That was successful for Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Indiana. But, I think it will be a close one, and despite my usual decisions to side with the desperate team, I am going to go with the one that has shown it can win a close one. And that would be Michigan. However, it won't be Forcier doing it this time. Look for a Jason Olesnavage field goal in the last minute - last second, perhaps - and a 34-31 Wolverines win.
DB: We'll reverse roles this week, then, and I'll play most-hated prognosticator on staff. I don't think there's much difference between these teams, and Michigan State has two things going for it Michigan does not: Home-field advantage and a sense of desperation that, if the Spartans don't win this game, their season's over at 1-4. Michigan's going to run the ball just fine. Michigan State's got the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten, and as long as it's not too wet they'll put up numbers against Michigan's shaky secondary. I think Glenn Winston, Larry Caper and Co. have a decent day running the ball, too, and that's enough to give the Spartans a 35-31 victory.