Michigan coach Brady Hoke says Michigan State plays great team defense. 'They're a blueprint of what they've been,' he said. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Michigan has nearly two weeks to prepare for Michigan State, and the Wolverines plan to use every minute available to think of the Spartans — and no one else.
With Michigan State (3:30 p.m., Nov. 2, ABC), Michigan begins a five-game stretch to end the regular season against top-notch competition — home games against Nebraska and Ohio State and back-to-back road games against Northwestern and Iowa.
“We’ll stay focused on Michigan State,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday.
Asked if that rivalry against Michigan State will be an enormous test for his team ...
“Big time, big time,” Hoke said.
But clearly, Michigan State will be a tough opening test.
The strength of the Spartans is their defense, which is No. 1 nationally (228 yards) and has been stingy against the run (59.1 yards).
“They’re a blueprint of what they’ve been,” Hoke said. “(Linebacker Max) Bullough is as good a player (there is), and the other linebacker Denicos Allen is very athletic. They’re aggressive on the corners, safeties, their D-line is doing a great job up front. They play great team defense.”
Michigan will be going to East Lansing without left guard Joey Burzynski, who made his first start last weekend against Indiana. Burzynski suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“You look at your depth and you look at the last fives games you’re going into, you need everybody,” Hoke said. “Chris Bryant still a guy who will compete, and Kyle Kalis is a guy who will compete, but you feel bad for Joey, because he has worked so hard to get to this point.”
Quarterback Devin Gardner, who led Michigan to a team-record 751 yards offense against Indiana, operated behind his third offensive line combination this season. Burzynski replaced Bryant, who had started the previous two games, and Erik Magnuson started at right guard, replacing Kalis. Freshman Kyle Bosch entered the game for Burzynski.
Hoke didn’t commit to a starting offensive line combination, suggesting things could change before heading to East Lansing.
This is Michigan’s second bye, and Hoke is slightly adjusting this week of practice from the first.
The players are off today and will practice Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The first bye week, many of the coaches were on the road recruiting.
“The timing (of the bye) is pretty good for where we’re at,” Hoke said. “We’ll take some time, heal them up, lift and everything. Coaches will be in a little more, and will start working a little bit on Michigan State.
Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has had a field goal blocked in each of the last two games, but Hoke said it’s not a confidence issue.
“The one at Penn State wasn’t as low as this one here (against Indiana),” Hoke said. “I don’t think it’s a confidence (thing).”
... Receiver Drew Dileo had an undisclosed injury against Indiana, but Hoke said he will be back.
... Hoke, on the identity of this team after seven games: “I doubt if we get the answer until we go back out and play. Michigan State is a heck of a test. We’ll find out more after that game.”