Play only the opponent
Last week against Wisconsin, Michigan committed no turnovers and only one penalty. Given the Wolverines' talent level, if they play clean like that, about the only team in the sport that's going to beat them resides in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, playing clean isn't how the Wolverines typically roll in big games, especially on the road. It's the number one reason, despite the increased talent level, the last two remaining hurdles for Jim Harbaugh to clear in Ann Arbor are beating a ranked team on the road and improving the record in rivalry games.
Like in its last road game, Michigan had a dominant 2.5/yards-per-play differential over Northwestern. Yet the Wildcats still had the ball with a chance to win or tie at the end. Mainly because Michigan hurt themselves with so many self-inflicted wounds, which has been its problem wearing the white jerseys for years now.
Slow starts, defensive penalties that give the opponents first downs, would-be interceptions that are either dropped or become big plays for the opponent instead, dropped passes for touchdowns or first downs, and then turnovers have haunted the Wolverines in spots like this for so long now. If you're a Michigan fan you can't help but just assume it's the natural order of things.
And it is, until Michigan does something in spots like this to change that perception/expectation. They don't have to play as clean as they did last week to win this week, because that's a performance tough to duplicate against quality opposition. But at the least the Wolverines need to force as many mistakes from the opponent as they make themselves.
No-Go on any Plaxico
A Sparty offense decimated by injuries has one guaranteed game-breaking weapon healthy enough to beat Michigan on Saturday, and that is wide receiver Felton Davis, who doesn't just look like DeAndre Hopkins out there but also plays like him at times. The last time Michigan went to East Lansing ranked in the AP top 10 and faced a ranked Sparty team on their home turf was 1999. And on that day Plaxico Burress set the Michigan State single-game receiving record with 255 yards, and even recovered the onside kick that cemented Sparty's upset win over the third-ranked Wolverines. He was a one-man wrecking crew.
Davis may not be quite as explosive as Burress was back in the day, but if the Wolverines stubbornly play him man-to-man all game long he definitely has the height and hands to make the kinds of plays that crush Michigan's hopes once more. So far be it for me to give advice to perhaps the nation's best defensive coordinator, but if I were Don Brown I'd make anybody...and I mean anybody...in green and white beat me but Davis. I'd double-team him all game long, and then man up on everyone else. If Cam Chambers and Brandon Sowards have big days and beat you, then you tip your cap and give props to the better team.
But under no conditions would I permit Felton Davis to make his NFL draft highlight tape at my expense.
To thine own self be true
I really believe Mark Dantonio intimidates the other coaches in this league on gamedays. Whether it's Urban Meyer not giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott with a division title on the line. Jim Harbaugh chucking-and-ducking in a monsoon with a third-string quarterback like he's down by four touchdowns, when it was only four points. Or James Franklin last week in Happy Valley, Dantonio forces even the best coaches in this league to believe they have to do something outside their norms to beat him when the game is on the line. Thus they pucker or panic, while he just sits around waiting for you to do one or the other before pouncing.
Michigan has developed an identity the past six weeks, and that's gone a long way towards why they've won all those games -- many of them convincingly. Trust in that identity. If Shea Patterson is throwing the ball 30 times, like he did at Notre Dame, that likely means the Wolverines are going to lose, like they did at Notre Dame.
Prediction: Michigan State 21, Michigan 17
Until the Wolverines show they can win games like this on the road, I'm not going to pick them to. It's just that simple.
Prove it. Show us.