On Saturday, Michigan football (7-0) heads to East Lansing to take on in-state rival Michigan State (7-0) for a top 10 matchup.
It is the biggest matchup in college football this weekend, and it is arguably the biggest game this rivalry has ever seen; nearly everything is on the line for Michigan football and Michigan State football.
On Saturday, emotions will be high, and one team will walk away with not only the Paul Bunyan trophy but be one step closer to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game. The other will walk away with their first loss of the season.
Here are three keys to the game for Michigan football to make sure they bring the Paul Bunyan trophy home to Ann Arbor.
1. No big plays for the Michigan State offense
A lot of people may think Kennth Walker Jr. is the most dangerous part of the Michigan State offense, and those people may not be wrong, but on Saturday, the Spartans deep passing game poses a bigger threat.
In the Spartans 31-13 victory of Rutgers earlier this season, they had three different touchdown plays that went for 60+ yards. Not to mention, in the first two games of the season, the first plays of the game went for 75-yard touchdowns.
This is something Michigan State has never really done. They have always been a “dink and doink” type of offense, but this year they are extending it over the top when it isn’t a hand-off to Walker.
Last season, the Spartans touched the Michigan defensive backs with the passing game; it was how they were able to pull off the victory in The Big House.
If Michigan doesn’t allow the big plays, forcing Michigan State to run the ball or try to “dink and doink” their way down the field, it will work in the Wolverines’ favor.
2. Michigan football has to start fast
The Wolverines can’t afford to start slow. With a hostile environment at Spartan Stadium, Michigan, at minimum, needs to respond quickly if Michigan State strikes first. Obviously, it would be ideal to score first in this game, silence the crowd, and then get a stop.
But if the Spartans score first and Michigan has to punt it back to them, I will really be sweating. The more the Wolverines let the Spartans hang around in this game, the more likely they lose.
Of course, the game won’t be won or lost in the first quarter, but a fast start from Michigan on both sides of the ball would prove pivotal in the final score.
3. When called upon, Cade McNamara makes the deep throw
Once again, there is quarterback controversy out of Ann Arbor, but it doesn’t matter. Cade McNamara is the starting quarterback, and he is the one that will have to make a play in order for Michigan to leave East Lansing with a win.
The Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh know what they are getting from McNamara. A game manager who won’t turn the ball over a lot. That is fine; he won them the first seven games of the season that way.
McNamara has made a couple of excellent deep throws this season, but he has also missed some throws that he should’ve had. Maybe I’m being picky; maybe I’m not.
But on Saturday, McNamara is going to have to hit, if not one, but two or three deep shots in order for the Wolverines offense to score enough points for victory.
If McNamara can get it done, the Wolverines will bring the Paul Bunyan trophy home to Ann Arbor and be one step closer to Indianapolis.