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Rodriguez v. Dantonio

While Rich Rodriguez, Michigan coach, has never faced off against Mark Dantonio, Michigan State coach, the two individuals have coached against each other in a former life. In 2005, Dantonio was the headman at Cincinnati, the new kid on the block in the Big East. Rodriguez was just starting his multi-year romp through the Big East. The Bearcats and Mountaineers squared off in Nippert Stadium, then met again in Morgantown the following year.

Can that series tell us anything about how the contest in Ann Arbor this weekend is going to turn out? While those were the same coaches, they were with different teams, in drastically different situations. West Virginia was in the midst of making the entire conference its bitch, while Cincinnati was just moving up from Conference-USA. However, Mark Dantonio is a defensively-oriented coach (he was Ohio State's defensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003), while Rich Rodriguez spends the majority of his energy on offense. Perhaps there are some relevant tidbits to tell us a little something about how Saturday's game will transpire.

2005
38 West Virginia-Cincinnati 0
The Mountaineers rushed for 297 yards (Cincinnati only gained 269 total yards), with Steve Slaton leading the way, gaining 129 on 25 carries (5.16/carry). Pat White had success one the ground as well, gaining 111 yards to accompany his 100 through the air (on 7-12 passing with one TD).

Since Michigan doesn't have Pat White, what can we glean from this performance? For starters, West Virginia scored on their first drive. This is a tribute to good game planning by Calvin Magee and Rich Rodriguez, and allowed the Mountaineers to put their opponents on their heels from the beginning of the game. In addition, the Bearcats gave up 100-yard rushing performances to two, players, which they rarely did under Dantonio (with the caveat that one of them was White, of course). Cincinnati's leading tackler was a safety, which isn't out of the ordinary, but maybe troubling when playing a team that did most of its damage on the ground. Cincinnati also did manage a few tackles for loss, sacks, and hurries. With a less mobile quarterback, that may mean that State can force Michigan into similar situations with its defensive schemes.

2006
42 West Virginia-Cincinnati 24
The rushing attack of West Virginia was once again potent in Year 2 of the Dantonio-Rodriguez rivalry. This time, the Mountaineers gained 313 yards on the ground, with 148 of them coming on the legs of Steve Slaton (on just 12 carries, for an eye-popping average of 12.33/carry). Pat White contributed 93 yards of his own, while going 7-13 for 98 yards and a TD over the air. Though Cincinnati scored the game's first points on a field goal, it was all Mountaineers from there until the game was out of reach.

What can this tell us for a game between Michigan and Michigan State? Even if the Wolverines get down early, the quick-strike capability of this offense can keep them in the game. Also, although team speed is largely a matter of recruiting, even Cincinnati's press release for this game acknowledged that the offensive schemes of West Virginia had the Cincinnati defensive braintrust stumped. Add in that Michigan has been building and recruiting for speed (and has had much better recruiting success that Michigan State in recent years), and the Wolverines could have success soon.

Analysis
West Virginia won by a comfortable margin in each game, averaging 40 points. The success on offense may lead one to believe that Mark Dantonio has trouble defending Rodriguez's particular implementation of the spread. An interesting note may be that West Virginia was more dominant in 2005, the year in which they scored first (despite being on the road). If Michigan can draw first blood, perhaps the Spartans will be on their heels. Can RichRod make the struggles continue at a new school? We'll find out Saturday afternoon.

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“Rodriguez v. Dantonio”