Breaking down the Michigan-Michigan State game with Greg Johnson of the Grand Rapids Press
The Paul Bunyan Trophy -- one of the Big Ten's many rivalry game statues, axes or pigs -- is up for grabs week when Michigan plays Michigan State this Saturday at 3:36 p.m. on ABC.
A year ago, Michigan State knocked off the Wolverines in overtime, 26-20, starting a skid that saw Michigan drop the rest of its Big Ten games. It's the first time since 1999 both teams enter the game without losses and both are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2003.
Helping us break down this week's game is Greg Johnson, who covers the Spartans for The Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com. Check out what he has to say:
Q: I know he said it's a team thing, but is MSU linebacker Greg Jones the guy who can really be the first defender to limit what Denard Robinson does?
Greg Johnson: He might be the first one to get a good hit on him, but I don't think there's a linebacker in the country with the speed to truly limit Denard Robinson. Jones will come on the blitz, and he will play his gaps and reads perfectly. That's why he's Greg Jones. But Robinson is so dangerous because he can make a player miss and the hole becomes a gap all over again. Jones was more a match up for John Clay of Wisconsin, a big downhill runner. I think it will take the whole defense playing very well to limit Robinson.
Q: How much has Mark Dantonio really been involved with the team's preparation or with the team in general since his heart attack after the Notre Dame game?
GJ: He has watched a lot of film, and he has talked with coaches daily. He has been at practice some, but on a golf cart from what we are told. Practices have been closed since Notre Dame week. I'm sure he has been with the team because the players have talked about him being in meetings and such. He has been around for motivational stuff, but his usual hands-on stuff with the defense and primarily the defensive backs, has been a no-go. He knows what is going on. He gives Don Treadwell a lot of freedom in offensive game planning and play calling at all times.
Q: How much better has Kirk Cousins gotten since a year ago?
GJ: At times he seems significantly better, and that's what his coaches are saying. But he continues to make the occasional ill-advised interception throw. He is very confident in his arm strength and sometimes decides to throw himself out of trouble instead of just throwing it away. I think that's just going to be part of him. He also has made some wonderful throws. Like the game-winner a week ago. It was a quick flip to a spot in the end zone only his receiver could possibly reach. Also, the coaches give him a lot of credit for his audible calls. He is very adept at switching plays at the line of scrimmage.
Q: The Michigan defense has struggled this year, is that something Cousins can exploit? Or is Michigan State, in your opinion, going to run the ball a lot no matter what?
GJ: They always try to run the ball, and I think they will feel that controlling the ball is a good way to keep Robinson off the field. So, they will run it. But, I also think they are planning to take some shots down the field. They will be thinking their veteran receivers have an advantage over Michigan's young secondary. In the end, MSU usually tries to have a balanced offense.
Q: Does the perceived "Big Brother/Little Brother" deal that people have been chattering about the past few years really play any sort of motivational factor with the Spartans or is that all gamesmanship?
GJ: The players I've talked with say its part of the motivation package and gets mentioned, but winning the last two years took the edge off of it. They simply think Dantonio was correct in his volley back. I think Dantonio showed them that day that he will defend them. If anything, they know how much Dantonio wants to win. They will play even harder for him. So, in that way, it still has some impact.
Q: Mike Martin has received a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines. How good is the MSU interior line and can they handle a guy like him effectively? Or is he going to be able to break through and pressure Cousins?
GJ: Mike Martin will make some plays. They expect that and admit it. They will give him some extra attention, though, and they will identify where he is if Michigan moves him around. I would imagine they will power double-team him and see if they can run at him early, and they often have a tight end or fullback stay in to deal with the best pass rusher. The line was outstanding at pass blocking last year, but has had a few lapses so far this season and appears to be better at run blocking at the moment. Martin will be a factor I would imagine.