- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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The driver's seat in the Legends division is up for grabs Saturday in East Lansing, and the Spartans have a bit of head start going in to that race. Here are five things to keep your eyes on as Michigan and Michigan State take the field in Spartan Stadium...
1. The offense's productivity. The Wolverines offense had a ridiculous showing against Indiana. And yes, that was Indiana, but it definitely got in a groove, and if it can keep up any of that momentum, it'll be a very good thing. The Spartans defense is giving up just 216 yards per game, so while the Wolverines most likely won't be able to put up 700-plus yards again, getting even one third of that total could tilt the scale in Michigan's favor. The main key here is going to be getting the attack started up front with a rushing attack. Whether that be via running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (what Michigan really wants) or quarterback Devin Gardner (less desired, but possibly more likely), the Wolverines need to make sure its rushing attack can open up the passing game.
2. Speaking of the Michigan passing game... That's also key. Basically every aspect of the offense and every player within the offense is key in order for Michigan to have a chance in this game. The Spartans have recorded nine interceptions in eight games and their secondary is led by senior Darqueze Dennard, who has two interceptions and seven pass breakups. Gardner is going to need to take his shots downfield and when called upon, Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess will need to rise to the occasion in order to make those shots count. Gardner has gone one game without an interception. If he can get through a second consecutive game --especially considering the second game is coming against the Spartans -- that would be a big, big deal.
3. The Spartans pass rush. It only makes sense that the first three things to watch about this game are in regard to the MSU defense because it's very, very good. If Michigan's offense is very good, then it'll be interesting to watch because of how well-played the game could be, but if Michigan's offense isn't good, then the Spartans defense will be making plays and providing highlights. But keep an eye on the pass rush because if Gardner throws an interception, it'll likely be because he gets forced out of the pocket because of the MSU pass rush. The Spartans have recorded 18 sacks this season, 13 of those coming from four defensive linemen -- Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone.
4. Michigan defense's response. Enough talk of the MSU defense; let's discuss the Wolverines' defense -- which needs to make a big statement after the unimpressive performance against Indiana. The Michigan defensive line, which hasn't provided a consistent pass rush, will attempt to get MSU quarterback Connor Cook out of his comfort zone. But it'll need to be stout against the run too, as Jeremy Langford is really coming in to his own at running back.
5. The environment. Spartan Stadium is going to be rocking. "Comments" are going to be flying between the two teams. And the Wolverines, who've looked far from consistent on the road this season, will be thrown right in the middle of it. Redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson and true freshman Kyle Bosch will likely be starting on the offensive line. Funchess, a sophomore, will be expected to make big plays. Freshman Derrick Green could be used to pick up some yardage. And freshmen Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis, who've been so close to making plays in the Wolverines secondary, could get picked apart if they aren't on their 'A' games. This will be a big moment on a huge stage, and anything less than perfect could spell disaster for Michigan.