Seasons turn on game against Spartans

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan/Michigan State rivalry game is always a benchmark on each team's schedule. But recently for No. 11 Michigan, it has been more of a scar than anything else.

In 2010, the Wolverines spent four weeks ranked in the top 25 before playing then-No. 17 Michigan State. And after losing that game, Michigan dropped out of the rankings and went 2-5 through the rest of its schedule.

In 2009, after winning just two games, Michigan cracked the AP Top 25 and spent three weeks there before facing the unranked Spartans. Then-No. 22 Michigan was able to force an overtime, but a Tate Forcier interception spelled doom for the Wolverines, and they lost the game, their ranking and their season -- closing 2009 out 1-6.

"It has definitely been a turning point in our season," senior tight end Kevin Koger said. "The past couple years, it really makes or breaks our season. So we have to take this week very seriously and prepared like we never have before."

With the MSU game countdown clock on the wall in Schembechler Hall, this game has been on the minds of Michigan players all season. But they're trying to keep a certain perspective.

"We're just concentrating on ourselves right now -- just improving intensity and getting as much film as we can," junior defensive end Craig Roh said. "We're thinking about, 'What can I do today to make Michigan better?' "

A big part of that is making sure quarterback Denard Robinson doesn't have the same kind of game he had in 2010.

Heading into last year's matchup, Robinson was averaging 181 rushing yards per game and more than 9 yards per carry. But the Spartans stepped up their rushing defense and keyed in on him, making him rely more on his arm than his feet. He finished with only 86 yards on 21 carries.

Even with the focus on the rushing defense, Michigan State's pass defense didn't lose a step. Robinson threw for 215 yards, which was more than he was averaging per game (202), but the Spartans forced him to throw three interceptions. Through the first five games he'd only thrown one.

The Wolverines' other chief focus is not to get too emotional. They've lost three in a row to the Spartans, but they still have to keep their heads about them.

Senior defensive tackle Mike Martin explained how important it is for each player to have "controlled anger," which he explained as the ability for each player to have energy from the game but to use it smartly in executing his position.

Too much or too little emotion could be what tips the scales.

"If you need motivation for this game, I feel bad for you," Martin said. "I've been a Michigan fan my whole life. This has always been a big game for me, if I was 8 years old or now if I'm playing.

"We've had struggles in the past, but we're on to a new year."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.