Michigan needs to push back vs. Spartans

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Michigan State's four-game winning streak over Michigan is not a fluke. It did not happen because of trick plays or Hail Marys or bad calls. The Spartans have simply imposed their will and pushed around their rivals, especially the past three years.

Brady Hoke and his staff were only been involved in last year's 28-14 loss, but they saw all they needed to see from that one to know the deal.

"We thoroughly got out butts kicked," he said on his radio show this week.

"They took it to us," echoed Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "You can cut it any way you want. They lined up and they ran the football and knocked us off the football."

The numbers don't lie. Michigan State rushed for 213 yards to just 82 for the Wolverines last year in East Lansing. In 2010, the Spartans won the rushing battle 249 to 162.

So Michigan knows that if it wants to reverse the trend in this rivalry -- and enhance its Big Ten title hopes -- it had better come out and push back when the game gets physical Saturday in Ann Arbor.

"Last year, they came out and out-toughed us," senior defensive tackle Will Campbell told ESPN.com. "One of the things we preach about and really take to heart is being the tougher opponent. You can't be out-toughed if you want to play Michigan football.

[+] EnlargeDenicos Allen sacks Denard Robinson
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State has beaten up on Denard Robinson and Michigan during a four-game win streak.
"If somebody tells you that you were out-toughed or that you were punked, it's going to get you fired up. You're going to work hard so it won't happen again."

Wolverines players and coaches have mostly tried to downplay the importance of this game in interviews this week. At times, they've said it's just another Saturday, that it's one of three rivalry games, along with Ohio State and Notre Dame. That's a pretty standard approach by Hoke. You get the feeling that if he were coaching a team of Earth all-stars against aliens for ownership of the planet, he'd call it just another step in winning the Big Ten title.

But don't believe the (lack of) hype. Michigan installed a countdown clock to the Michigan State game in its football complex this offseason to go along with one for the Ohio State game. The team also has a quote from Mark Dantonio hanging on its weight room wall. Don't think the Wolverines have forgotten about several Spartans players mocking Denard Robinson on Twitter as he struggled in the opener against Alabama.

This has always been a big game, but it's even bigger now for the Michigan players. Wolverines seniors have never beaten Michigan State, and with the two schools so close and so much familiarity on both sides, that eats away at them.

"I've been here five years, and it's been hard," senior receiver Roy Roundtree told ESPN.com. "Being in the same state, you hear that a lot, especially from the fans. But you can't look back like that."

"I'm from Detroit, so I hear it all the time," Campbell said. "I try to block it out, though."

At least this year, Michigan comes in with much more momentum than the 4-3 Spartans. The Wolverines have blasted their first two Big Ten opponents and have continued to improve on defense. Meanwhile, Robinson has rushed for 363 yards on just 35 carries (10.4 yards per carry) in his past two games while not turning the ball over. Robinson has had a marvelous career but a miserable time in this rivalry. Last year, he was held to just 42 yards on 18 carries. In 2010, he threw three interceptions.

Here's his last chance to beat Michigan State, which has found ways to contain, pressure and bother him in the past. But Robinson has been at peak form ever since a disastrous game at Notre Dame.

"I feel like that bye week really refreshed his mind," Roundtree said. "He's ready to go and take the lead. We've just got to cut down on our mistakes. When we get in the red zone, we've got to score."

And most importantly, Michigan had better not let Michigan State push it around again.

“It’s important for us to represent Michigan football, and we haven’t done that in four years, in my opinion," Hoke said on Thursday. "We need to play better, execute better, play more physical and all those things that go along with it.”

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