ANN ARBOR -- Rich Rodriguez watched Mississippi State play on live TV a handful of times this season, but not on Sept. 9.
On that Thursday, when the Bulldogs lost a tough 17-14 contest to eventual SEC champion Auburn, Rodriguez was likely in his office preparing for that Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
So, when it was revealed that Michigan will play Mississippi State in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl, Rodriguez inspected the Bulldogs' entire regular season.
What did he learn from MSU's game against Auburn?
"They probably did the best job of anybody all year against Cam Newton," Rodriguez said Saturday before practice.
Newton, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, was solid that night, throwing two touchdowns against one interception but only accumulating 136 passing yards. Rodriguez said because Michigan's offense shares similarities with Auburn's -- beginning with dual-threat quarterbacks Newton and Denard Robinson -- he and his staff will watch more film in hopes of determining precisely how the Bulldogs managed to limit Newton's explosiveness.
"With so much time between that game until now, you have to figure they're going to do some different things," Rodriguez said.
Robinson expects to be up to the challenge physically. Constantly bothered by an aching knee in the regular season, Robinson, according to his coach, "has a bounce in his step" and is also recovered from a hurt shoulder.
MSU ranks 27th nationally in points allowed at 20.3 per game. Sure to gain Robinson's attention is linebacker Chris White, who leads the team in tackles (105), tackles for loss (15.5), and sacks (six).
"I was very impressed with how hard they play," Rodriguez said.
ITINERARY: After an early practice Wednesday, players will be free to go home. Some will report back in time for a Dec. 26 team flight to Jacksonville, while others will meet up with their teammates down there.
The team will practice later in the day.
Rodriguez said the possibility of flying down on Christmas was stymied because the team hotel will be in use by the Washington Redskins, who are in town to play the Jacksonville Jaguars the 26th.
In terms of practice, Rodriguez said Sunday the team will switch gears from a "spring practice" mode of developing some of the younger players to focusing on Mississippi State.
Because the game is being played on a Saturday, Rodriguez said his team will prepare with the same weekly routine they have all season.
ACADEMICS: Rodriguez said "we're not anticipating" any players being ruled academically ineligible for the game, but he won't know definitively until later this week. Finals conclude Wednesday, and grades should be released shortly thereafter.
SHORT YARDS: Players and staff members rang cowbells throughout practice in an effort to simulate the expected Gator Bowl environment. Ringing cowbells is a tradition among MSU fans. … Aside from players lost for the season due to injury, the Wolverines are relatively healthy. Receiver Je'Ron Stokes is being withheld from some drills because of an undisclosed injury. … Saturday was the final day of the "contact period" between college coaches and prospective recruits. Rodriguez and his staff were expected to visit recruits' homes after practice.
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