Progressive Gator Bowl keys for Michigan

Let's look at three keys for Michigan heading into its Progressive Gator Bowl matchup against Mississippi State.

1. Strong defensive line play: Everyone knows Michigan's biggest weakness is the secondary, including Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his players. The Wolverines need to help their shaky defensive backs with strong play up front. Nose tackle Mike Martin must be a difference maker, and Michigan needs Craig Roh and others to penetrate the backfield. Bowl prep provides Michigan's young defenders the time to improve, but the Wolverines don't win this game without a good performance up front.

2. Hang onto the ball: This applies not only to Michigan players who have the ball, but Wolverines receivers trying to catch it. Michigan had too many dropped passes at critical times, and Denard Robinson needs Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and others to be sure-handed in this game. Turnovers were a real problem down the stretch in Big Ten play, and Michigan will need to make the most of every possession in this game.

3. Start fast: If Michigan wins, I see the game playing out much like the season opener against Connecticut. The Wolverines must set the tone from the get-go, score some points, avoid drive-killing turnovers and gain the emotional edge. Michigan fell behind big in too many Big Ten games before finding a rhythm on offense. That formula won't cut it against Mississippi State in Jacksonville.