Last week, against Indiana, Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon were able to go crazy on offense, breaking records and scoring 63 points in a win. That was a lot of fun, but don’t expect an encore against Michigan State in two weeks.
The Hoosier defense that Michigan tore up was awful. While defensive stats can be deceiving, especially with such a wide range of opponent quality in college football, these stats do not lie. Indiana is ranked 121st in the country in total defense and 112th in scoring defense. Keep in mind, there are only 125 teams on that list. Michigan beat up on a defense that would be towards the bottom of the MAC (after being ineffective against an actual bad MAC defense in Akron?).
The Spartans are a different story. Though Michigan State’s offense would struggle against MAC teams, their defense is one of the best in the country. They are the top ranked in total defense and 4th in scoring defense. While I don’t think the Spartans actually have a top 4 defense in the country (they’ve only faced one top 60 offense), they are very good and likely the best in the Big Ten. And that could cause some trouble for a Michigan offense that must be feeling pretty good about themselves. Michigan State is going to get stops against the Wolverines and cause some issues; they’re defense is really good and Michigan’s offense is still a work in progress.
And that’s ok. Michigan isn’t going to score 63 points again, I’d be surprised if they get to 30. But considering how bad Sparty’s offense is, Michigan can win with 20+ points. The key for Michigan will be to not turn the ball over. That has been Gardner’s big downside this year. He tries to force passes he shouldn’t and that leads to interceptions. Gardner’s going to feel the urge to force things at some point against the Spartans. Things might be ugly and within a score, so Gardner might want to take a risk and make a throw he shouldn’t. But that is exactly what Michigan State will be counting on. They can’t score enough to beat Michigan– unless, of course, Gardner turns the ball over, giving them defensive points or at least good field position.
Gardner is far from a game manager; he has way too much talent to be restricted like that. But there are times when he has to care more about protecting the ball than making the big play. If he is turnover free against State, it would be a shock if Michigan lost. However, he has thrown four multi-interception games already this year. And Michigan hasn’t played against a defense like Michigan State’s yet.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB.