Michigan State preps for UM’s ‘old-school’ attack

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State has seen its share of offensive schemes this season.

The Spartans opened the year against two straight, fast-paced spread offenses in Western Michigan and Oregon. A week later they were forced to throw that all out the window and prepare for the triple-option attack of Air Force.

Now, as No. 7 Michigan State gets set to take on No. 12 Michigan and its brand of old-school football. These Wolverines look much more like the old Wolverines, not the spread of Rich Rodriguez or the hybrid of Brady Hoke.

Jim Harbaugh lines up plenty of fullbacks and tight ends and runs it right at the defense.

“Definitely got back into old-fashioned ball, lining up in heavy sets, running the ball, a lot of power,” Michigan State linebacker Darien Harris said. “Things that you see in a lot of old-school football, so they’ve definitely gotten back to that.”

It’s something Michigan State has had success against in the past and it has typically relished facing a team that will run downhill as opposed to spreading the field.

The Spartans have spent some time looking at Stanford film, a team that plays much like Michigan, especially considering Harbaugh was the head coach of the Cardinal through 2010.

“We’ve seen (that offense) over the years,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said, “and they’re very similar to our offense in that they try to run the football first then establish the passing game after that. It’s stuff our guys expect and understand and, hopefully, we can execute on Saturday.”

Michigan has been efficient through six games. It is third in the conference in rushing the ball and junior De’Veon Smith has gained 390 yards on 77 carries and scored four touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Rudock has not been spectacular, but he’s been solid the last couple of weeks. He’s thrown six interceptions to just five touchdowns and the fact the Spartans have seen him when he played at Iowa could be a big factor.

“We played against him a few years ago,” Harris said. “He’s poised in the pocket, know knows what he’s doing as a senior, as a fifth-year guy. He’s got a real good command on the offense, and he’s done a really good job or them.”

The key for the Spartans will be getting pressure on Rudock. Michigan State has 21 sacks this season while Michigan has allowed eight.

The goal for Michigan State will be applying that pressure without being forced to blitz too often, but it will be tough considering Michigan often keeps extra players in to block.

“What happens is everybody a lot of times is accounted for in the blitzes when you get stuff like that, max protection,” Barnett said. “So now the guys that are in those one-one-one situations they have to win their one-on-one battle. You’re not always gonna just come free and clean on a blitz, so when you have those one-on-one matchups you must win your matchup and that’s what it boils down to.”

Secondary rotation

Who might play this Saturday in the secondary will again be something to watch out for.

Junior cornerback Darian Hicks is still questionable after being knocked out of last week’s game and going through concussion protocols. Barnett said Hicks is working to get back, but if he can’t go, true freshman Josh Butler could see his first action.

“Butler is close to being ready to go,” Barnett said. “(Jermaine) Edmondson, Butler, Tyson Smith. Everybody is on call right now so we’ll see. We may shock you guys this weekend.”

The other issue on the back end has been the play of safety Montae Nicholson. He has struggled all season and is back in the starting lineup because of the biceps injury suffered by RJ Williamson.

“He will be all right,” Barnett said. “Hard-working kid. There’s talent there and it’s eventually going to show and shine for everybody to see.”

Barnett said true freshman Khari Willis could step in that spot, along with redshirt freshmen Matt Morrissey and Jalen Watts-Jackson.

“They know each week we are grading those guys throughout the course of practice and things like that,” Barnett said. “Best players play and they know that and they believe it. We will prove that out.”

Scoring change

There was an official scoring change from last week’s game at Rutgers.

A 10-yard pass from Connor Cook to Aaron Burbridge was originally called a run. But the ball was flipped forward from Cook to Burbridge, making it a 10-yard pass.

It bumped Burbridge’s catch total up to 10, a career-high, and pushed Cook to a career-high 367 yards passing.