Michigan’s much-improved offensive line faces a stiff test on Saturday in East Lansing. MSU’s defensive line anchors a unit that’s rated first overall in the country in rush yards allowed per game, a paltry 62.3.
On Wednesday, Wolverine o-line coach Ed Warriner talked about the unique challenge Michigan State’s d-line presents.
“(Michigan State) has a very solid run-defense,” Warriner said, an understatement. “They have a very good defensive staff. (MSU’s staff) understands their defense very well. They understand the adjustments they need to make in their defense. You have to be really good at what you’re doing, because they’re going to play physical, they’re going to make good adjustments, and you have to match that with great physical play, great technique. You have to make your adjustments and try to stay ahead of them.”
Warriner and the rest of the offensive staff have excelled at making adjustments this season, especially when it comes to freeing up the run-game (see Karan Higdon’s second half performance last week versus Wisconsin), but they haven’t seen a d-line quite like Michigan State’s.
The only team Michigan’s played that comes close is Maryland. Following Week 7, the Terps sit at 36th in rush defense, allowing 126.3 yards per game. Michigan is 28th in rush offense, racking up 217 yards per game, and against Maryland the Wolverines ran for 177 yards.
Chances are, Michigan’s o-line will hold up against MSU’s d-line, and a draw in that match-up favors the Wolverines, but over the last 10 years Michigan fans have seen quite a few subpar o-line performances against the Spartans (Devin Gardner’s ribs concur). There have even been rumors that Michigan State d-linemen knew Michigan’s snap count.
“We have to keep them off-balance,” Warriner said. “You have to have some different tools in our snap count arsenal. We just have to be smart with that. That’s what good defenses do. They study all the details of how you operate on offense and they try to find something that they can take advantage of. We have to do a good job of making sure there’s nothing they can take advantage of.”
The location of Saturday’s game certainly favors the Spartans. MSU fans can really bring the noise, especially when motivated, and Spartan Stadium’s steep shape holds the cacophony in. Warriner said they’ll be ready:
“We did play at Notre Dame, we did play at Northwestern,” Warriner said. “There was significant crowd noise at Notre Dame and we managed it well. We practice with crowd noise out there. It makes your ears hurt after practice, so hopefully we can do a good job of managing that and not letting them have the advantage, although there is always an advantage when you’re at home.”
When Michigan and Michigan State face off, players are known for bringing a little extra motivation. Wolverine fans are hoping Runyan, Bredeson, Ruiz, Onwenu and Bushell-Beatty bring some additional energy to keep MSU’s rush-d in check.
“To play in the Big Ten (you must) have a nasty streak,” Warriner said. “In rivalry games, it’s about the will to win and competing every snap and finishing. You better be strapped up to win the Paul Bunyan.”