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Spartan LIFE
Tim Layden
November 03, 1997
After a grueling week of pain and preparation, Michigan State put its pride and hopes on the line against Michigan
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November 03, 1997

Spartan Life

After a grueling week of pain and preparation, Michigan State put its pride and hopes on the line against Michigan

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Tuesday, 3:15 p.m.

Pees runs the defensive team meeting and shouts one point among many: "They will try to screw you with substitution late." The coaches feel that the Michigan offense takes unfair advantage of the liberal rules regarding substitution, running players into the game very late in the cycle of the 25-second play clock and even hiding them near the sideline (one instance of that was seen on film, in Michigan's Oct. 4 win over Indiana) to make it nearly impossible for opponents to make matching defensive substitutions. "The rule says, Don't attempt to confuse," says Saban. "I think they've gotten away with murder with respect to that rule."

The Spartans' coaches also suspect the Wolverines of stealing the signals that backup quarterbacks send from the sideline to the signal-caller who's in the game. For Saturday's game, Williams, who gets the play from Tranquill via headset, will be flanked by two quarterbacks, each signaling. "One signal will be real, the other one won't," says Williams.

Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
Schultz bends awkwardly to retrieve a dropped snap late in practice and injures his lower back, which had also been hit in the Northwestern game. He gingerly walks off the field and desperately seeks out assistant athletic trainer Sally Nogle. "Sally," he says. "Where's Sally?" He doesn't take another snap.

Tuesday, 6:10 p.m.
Practice has been sloppy and lethargic, inexcusable for the week leading up to the game against Michigan. Saban gathers the Spartans at the finish and erupts. "You just got your asses kicked by Northwestern," he screams. "And if you keep practicing like this, you're going to get your asses kicked by these guys. Again! You control your own destiny. You've got your big games in your own stadium, and how are you getting ready? Like horses—-! Somebody better call a team meeting, and I mean right away." The next morning, after watching tape of the practice, he'll say, "Practice wasn't as bad as I acted, but it's a good thing [the players] think it was."

Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Head trainer Jeff Monroe gives Schultz an injection of Toradol, an anti-inflammatory drug, in hopes of unlocking his back and allowing him to sleep.

Wednesday, 9:20 a.m.
Schultz walks into the training room rigid with pain, his eyes glassy from sleeplessness, and says plaintively to graduate assistant athletic trainer Mike Peters, "Help." As Peters guides Schultz to a rubbing table, Schultz says, "That was the longest night of my life. I didn't sleep. I couldn't move." Nogle hurries over and begins massaging his back. Schultz groans. "S—-! Oh, s—-!" he says. At this moment, it seems inconceivable that Schultz, who is also still receiving therapy for his sprained ankle, will be able to play a game anytime soon.

Wednesday, 10:35 a.m.

The defensive staff finishes its plan for Michigan. Pees sits at one end of a conference table, surrounded by outside linebackers coach Greg Colby, secondary coach Mark Dantonio and line coach Todd Grantham. Saban, who was defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 1991 through '94, also attends most of the defensive meetings. "I know a lot of defensive guys who get a head-coaching job and right away decide to start drawing offensive plays," says Saban. "I don't want to do that."

The defense's preparation for Michigan has been astounding, including an exhaustive film study of the Wolverines done last summer. From the study, the Spartans' staff confirmed what it had suspected: Michigan uses a run-heavy, two-tight-end, two-flanker, one-back formation (called Silver in Michigan State terminology) far more often against the Spartans than against any other team: 61 out of 76 snaps against Michigan State in 1996 compared with less than 25% of snaps against other opponents. The Wolverines have other obvious tendencies: When true freshmen running backs Anthony Thomas and Demetrius Smith are in the game together, Michigan almost always runs the ball. When junior Clarence Williams is in the backfield with senior Chris Howard, the Wolverines almost always pass. When they line up in Silver Trips (the Silver formation with both wide receivers to one side), they almost always have Griese throw a bootleg pass. Also, tight end Jerame Tuman is dangerous but runs virtually only two patterns: a deep corner route and a cross with his counterpart on the opposite side. The double cross is Michigan's pet play on passing downs.

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