For the 9th time in this interstate rivalry, the Central Michigan Chippewas and Michigan State Spartans will meet on Saturday. However this year is different, because it is the Spartans who will be the visiting team, making the hour long drive up US 127 to Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
CMU and MSU have met eight times prior to this seasons meeting, and CMU has had pretty good success against their Big Ten neighbors to the south, going 3-5 all-time. These two teams met last season, and CMU was dismantled at Spartan Stadium 45-7
Location: Kelly/Shorts Stadium. A record crowd of 32, 855 is expected.
Michigan State is coming off a 17-13 victory over Boise State last week.
Now we'll hand things off to Chris, to see what he and the rest of the Spartan Nation had to say about this Saturday's game.
1. After the first game, what have you learned about MSU? What are going to be some of their biggest strengths and weaknesses going forward?
Well, the first game of the year went pretty much according to plan. MSU's defense is as fierce as advertised, and the offense is going to rely on Le'Veon Bell and the running game. Andrew Maxwell had some early struggles in his first start, but that wasn't a surprise. MSU's offensive line is supposed to be a strength. They opened up good holes in the running game, but had some problems trying to pass block. The defense actually allowed fewer points than the offense did. All in all, the opener was a solid win against a good Boise state team, and fans are feeling good moving forward.
2. MSU is breaking in a new quarterback early in the season, how has he looked, and what are some areas where he needs to improve if the Spartans are going to be successful this year?
The first half was what everyone feared, and the second half was what everyone hoped for. Maxwell threw three interceptions in the first half, one of which wasn't his fault. But after a touchdown on the opening drive, the quarterback and receivers just weren't on the same page. In the second half, he stuck to shorter, safer passes and did a great job taking care of the ball. He needs to work on not Brett Favre-ing it - meaning he throws every pass at 100 mph - but the second half showed that he can do a good job and get things done playing it safe. There isn't much a worry with Maxwell moving forward, but the receivers will have to tighten things up. Tight end Dion Sims is Maxwell's safety blanket, and the only receiver Maxwell looked comfortable with last week.
3. Outside of Le'Veon Bell and William Gohlston, who are some playmakers we might not know about that CMU has to watch out for on Saturday?
As mentioned above, the receivers are going to need to improve, and the most-likely candidate on that end is Bennie Fowler. He's the most experienced receiver and seems primed for a big year. He had two catches for 36 yards in the opener. Another receiver with big play potential is Tony Lippett. Now, Lippett couldn't handle a perfect throw, which led to an interception, and fumbled after a big gain on another play, but he showed the ability to get separation. He just needs to work on holding on to the ball. MSU also tried a reverse with Lippett, who looked like he was going to throw the ball, but the defense stopped him for a big loss.
On defense, tackle Micajah Reynolds has seemingly come out of nowhere to start on a defense that completely shut down Boise's running game. While the defense returned nine starters from the Outback Bowl, Reynolds was a bright spot among newcomers. Cornerback Johnny Adams is getting hyped as a first-round pick, so the Broncos tried to target the other corner, Darqueze Dennard. That didn't work, either. Adams is the headline-grabber in the secondary, but the junior Dennard can more than hold his own.
4. CMU has had a good deal of success in the past against MSU, particularly for a MAC team, going 3-5 against them all-time, are you concerned this might be a "trap" game, and what is the general feeling among Spartans fans about this game, especially since it is being playing in Mt. Pleasant this year?
I not worried. Those MSU teams that CMU has defeated just weren't very good. I'd even say the 2009 CMU team was just a better team. This is a very good MSU team, and it's going to take something unforeseen, like a major injury, to change that feeling. Dan LeFevour isn't walking through that door (hopefully).
I think most MSU fans are just looking forward to the party. I imagine a large group of fans without tickets will still head to Mt. Pleasant. Usually, MSU or U-M fans get to host the party, but now, it's your turn, and MSU fans are looking forward to it. Honestly, this is going to be a much more fun experience than hosting an FCS team or something. The goal was to "Celebrate the State," and that's what it's going to do. I just wish you guys could have gotten better TV coverage than ESPNU, as I'm probably not going to be able to watch the game.
5. MSU is the obvious favorite Saturday, so rather than a prediction, what are some things that MSU must avoid in order to keep CMU from pulling off the upset?
Pretty much just stay healthy. That means pass-blocking like no other and only giving Le'Veon Bell like, 15 carries. That should score enough points and I trust the defense. I don't expect many CMU runs to get to the second level if the MSU linebackers play like they should. No offense to the Chippewas (I thought about going there and we love Dan Enos), but the hope is that this game will be over by halftime and MSU and CMU fans can party together for the rest of the night.
Once again I would like to thank Chris Vannini for taking the time to answer these questions, and for allowing me the same opportunity at his place.
Photo Courtesy of CMU Athletics