Michigan faces huge task as Spartans game arrives
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Brady Hoke knew that having a bye week before taking on No. 8 Michigan State could be a good thing for his struggling Wolverines.
He just needed to make sure that he didn't try to fix a bad season in one quiet weekend.
''The bye week came at a good time for us, because we were able to rest some guys who have a lot of bumps and bruises after four weeks of camp and seven straight games,'' he said Monday. ''We also had some very good practices where we were able to correct things that we've needed to fix, but you can't try to do too much.''
Both Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison stressed that they wanted to avoid the trap of using the bye week to reinvent the wheel.
''There are times where you get too smart as a coach, and you try to change your system,'' Hoke said. ''You look at your tendencies and you start trying to add things, but if you add too much, you get into trouble. We have to get back to what we want to do, which is run the ball.''
The temptation to tinker is certainly understandable, though. Michigan is 3-4, including home losses to Utah and Minnesota, and Hoke and athletic director David Brandon are under even more pressure after Shane Morris was allowed to play against Rutgers with a concussion.
In contrast, the Spartans are looking for a second straight Big Ten championship and, if things go right, a berth in the NCAA's first four-team playoff.
''I think that's a terrific football team,'' Hoke said. ''They are the returning Big Ten champs, and I think 17 of their 22 starters are either fourth- or fifth-year players. They are scoring a lot and defensively, they haven't missed a step at all. They've got a lot of weapons.''
Mattison's defense has been outstanding against the run, which is Michigan State's offensive focus, but he knows that the Spartans are far from one-dimensional.
''They are not a passing team - make no mistake, they want to run the ball - but they will beat you with the pass if you let them,'' Mattison said. ''We're going to have to get pressure on them.''
Michigan's offense has been a serious weakness all season, and didn't look much better in a 18-13 victory over Penn State on Oct. 11. Now they face the Spartans, who haven't allowed them a touchdown in the last two meetings. Last year, the Wolverines finished with minus-48 yards rushing in a 29-6 defeat.
''They are an outstanding football team that does a great job of stopping the run,'' offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. ''We have to understand how they are going to line up, we have to understand our plan and we have to execute.''
If all goes well, the Wolverines could walk out of Spartan Stadium having ruined Michigan State's national-title hopes, but they insist that's not their focus.
''We're not thinking about ruining their season,'' quarterback Devin Gardner said. ''This is about us. I want to win this game as bad as I've wanted to win any game.''