When looking ahead to the match-up between No. 24 Michigan State and No. 6 Michigan on paper, it would be fair to expect that Saturday’s game at Spartan Stadium will be a defensive struggle.
The Michigan defense enters ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense, No. 1 in pass defense and No. 9 in scoring defense, while Michigan State enters as the nation’s No. 1 ranked rush defense, allowing just over 60 yards per contest on the ground.
At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said that the turnover battle will be key on Saturday afternoon because of how good both defenses are and added that defense has been a critical part of the rivalry over the years.
“Well, you can't make mistakes on either side of the ball, really. You can't blow the coverage or a gap and also you can't turn the ball over. I think that's huge,” he said. ”Traditionally, the team that's rushed for the most yardage has usually won the game. That's probably true in most cases, what I said last week in terms of our numbers. But that's the tradition, so it's heart of hinged on defense. Most games usually do. I'm very impressed with their defense, very impressed with their front four, front seven, they are active and quick. They are very well-coached. Same with their back end. They have a good football team.”
Through six games of the 2018 season, the Michigan State offense has struggled at times, averaging 394.5 yards per game (No. 79 in the country) and a disappointing 123 rushing yards per game (No. 114 in the country). The Spartan offense did show signs of life in the running game in last week’s win over Penn State when Michigan State made the switch to a zone running scheme and moving away from the team’s traditional power run scheme.
As he’s continued to scout the Michigan defense in preparation for Saturday’s game, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke said that what stands out most to him is how often Michigan blitzes and the aggressive style they play under defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“That they like to play a lot of cover-one man stuff, like to blitz obviously,” he said. “They are a very aggressive defense. You got a taste of that last year, for really the first time. It will take preparation, preparing for the blitzes, make sure you see them coming and make sure you know how to pick them up and change protection and stuff like that. Just get the ball out quickly.”
From a defensive perspective, Michigan State will look to contain Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and a rushing offense that ranks in the top 30 in the country, led by senior Karan Higdon.
Spartan junior linebacker Joe Bachie said that Patterson may be the best quarterback Michigan has had since he stepped on campus in East Lansing and said that he and his teammates need to prepare for a complete Wolverine offense and added that they’d be ready for Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously they've got a highly-rated quarterback over there and I don't think they have had one past couple years since I've been here, there's big talk about him,” he said. “You know, we are going to prepare for these guys with everything we've got. You've got to bring your best to this game. You have to prepare that way. Their offense is good. They are talking highly of their O-line. It's an exciting game, rivalry game. We'll be ready for it.”
Michigan State senior safety Khari Willis echoed what Bachie had to say and added that what makes Patterson so dangerous is his ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs.
“I think the same thing,” Willis said. “I think they think real highly of their quarterback. One of the things he brings that maybe they didn't have in the past is ability to run and make plays with his legs. O-Line, like Joe said, they talk highly of those guys, as well. I feel like they still like to do some of the similar things and they will have some pieces out on the edge, as well. It's going to be a challenge but one that we're looking forward to definitely.”
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