Friday, October 8, 2010

CFB Primer: Dan Kilbridge of helps us preview Michigan State vs. Michigan

Coming off of their 34-24 win vs. Wisconsin last week, Michigan State has another huge Big Ten battle this weekend as they travel to Ann Arbor to take on Heisman favorite Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines. We had a chance to catch up with Dan Kilbridge of to preview this weekend's matchup.

MVG: Obviously there are a couple of big storylines surrounding this game, let’s start with the one from the Spartan perspective, Coach Dantonio, how much has his absence and subsequent guarantee to make it to Ann Arbor on Saturday served as motivation for the team?

DK: I think it’s safe to say Dantonio’s health situation has provided some motivation for the Spartans coming off a 34-24 win over Wisconsin. Not that they need any extra motivation before a game like this, but let’s face it – Dantonio speaking to his players from the hospital via speakerphone after the game is straight out of a Disney movie. MSU’s head coach has been involved in practice all week and says he will be in the coaches’ box Saturday in Ann Arbor. You can bet that will be in the back of the players mind come kickoff.

MVG: Now from the Wolverine perspective, Denard Robinson has been arguably the best player in college football to this point, Clay and White for Wisconsin were able to get some yards on the ground for Wisconsin last week, how much concern is there for what Robinson might be able to do?

DK: It depends on who you ask. Some Spartan fans have worn their fingernails thin this week worrying about the Wolverines’ electric quarterback, others seem sure Greg Jones will decapitate the Heisman front-runner before halftime. The biggest concern is that MSU hasn’t faced anyone close to Robinson so far this season and there won’t be much carry-over from an excellent defensive effort against Wisconsin, considering the vast difference between the two offenses. I’m sure Robinson will have some big gains Saturday, but he hasn’t faced a defense nearly as good as MSU’s through five games. If the Spartans stay disciplined and make tackles, they should bring the sophomore down to earth a little bit.

MVG: By that same token with the production the Spartans have gotten so far this season from Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell, are your guys kind of licking their chops to face a team that is last in the conference in total defense?

DK: Not if you ask offensive coordinator Don Treadwell. Having taken over head coaching duties the past two games, he’s sure learned how to talk the part. Treadwell praised Michigan’s defense Thursday evening and said they rally to the football and tackle better than any team the Spartans have faced thus far. But the statistics don’t lie, and they tell us the Wolverines are giving up yards at an alarming pace, specifically in the secondary. This game has traditionally been decided on the ground, something which bodes well for MSU in this installment. Baker and Bell will be big factors, considering how well they’ve run the ball this season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was not as consistent early this season, but has come on strong the past three games. That means the Spartans have tremendous balance on offense, averaging 460 yards per game. They want to prove they can do even better against their in-state rival and its woeful defense.

MVG: The wild card in this situation could be that this will be the first real road game for Michigan State, how do you think the players will handle the hostile environment?

DK: It’s not easy to win in the Big House, something the Spartans know all too well having lost eight straight games there until winning in 2008. In my opinion, strong leadership is one of the biggest keys to playing well on the road. It takes a lot mental toughness, something which stems from top. Luckily, the Spartans have tremendous leadership and chemistry under Dantonio, as well as players like Cousins and Jones. MSU has been using simulated crowd noise in practice all week to prepare for the crowd of over 110,000. It may take a series or two for MSU’s offense to get acclimated, but shouldn’t play too much of a factor down the stretch.

MVG: Last question, did you hear about the Michigan State fan in Detroit who has postponed getting a pacemaker installed so he can watch the game on Saturday? What do you think Coach Dantonio would say to this guy?

DK: I did see that and I think Dantonio would say the same thing I would. You’re crazy. But this is Michigan week, with both teams 5-0 and ranked in the Top 25. This is one of the greatest rivalries in college football and this particular game is the most anticipated matchup in over a decade. Dantonio wouldn’t miss it for the world. So, can you really blame this guy?

Dan Kilbridge covers football for; you can follow him on Twitter @MSUDanK.

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