Michigan understands agony of defeat against Michigan State
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan spent the better part of Monday's weekly news conference downplaying its rivalry against Michigan State, noting its importance but that it doesn't stand out against other rivalry games.
It ducked and dodged questions as best it could about the four-game losing streak against its in-state rival. Coach Brady Hoke's closest acknowledgment of any added importance in Saturday's matchup (3:30 p.m., BTN) was noting this is an intradivision game that has title implications.
But No. 23 Michigan (4-2, 2-0) also understands one reality about games such as this: The agony of defeat often outweighs the thrill of victory.
"Every loss hurts," Hoke said. "You always remember losses."
Hoke said his most vivid memory from nine encounters against Michigan State, after spending eight years as a Michigan assistant, was the 2001 game at Spartan Stadium. The infamous "Clock Game," where the Spartans were able to get off one last play in a final second that seemed, at least to some, to last more than a second.
T.J. Duckett caught a touchdown pass on that play, and Michigan lost 26-24.
Senior safety Jordan Kovacs said that's also one of his foremost memories of the series, even though he was just 11 years old. He attended the game with his father, former Michigan player Louis Kovacs.
"That was a long second, wasn't it?" Kovacs said. "I just remember being disgusted and just running out of the stadium. I think it was like a mile back to the car. Didn't stop, didn't want to hear from anybody.
"We just got in the car and drove home, and I don't know if we said a word on the way home. We were both disgusted."
There's been more disgust in recent years, as Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) has reeled off a program-best four consecutive wins against Michigan.
No current Wolverines player saw the field the last time Michigan beat the Spartans.
Hoke said he is not using that as motivation heading into this year's game.
"I think when you're playing a rivalry game, you're motivation better come from within," Hoke said. "It's not something you put up or something you do. It usually comes from within."
Yet, Michigan was left with a particular distaste after last year's 28-14 loss in East Lansing largely because it was beaten at its own game.
The Wolverines want to beat teams up front. Hoke preaches physicality and toughenss.
But Michigan was, as Kovacs put it last year, "beat up" in last year's game. That was particularly true up front.
"It's guys getting of blocks and (the Spartans) do a good job of that," Hoke said of this year's game. "They flow to the football and do a very good job of that.
"Again, it goes back to the front, on both sides of the ball, if you want to be successful."
Players often not that the Michigan State game is the most physical of the season, and that was true last year, highlighted by a few sequences that former MSU defensive lineman Jerel Worthy called "dirty" both ways.
Significant among those plays for Michigan were offensive lineman Taylor Lewan taking a punch from MSU defensive lineman William Gholston and quarterback Denard Robinson having his head wrenched after a run.
Receiver Roy Roundtree said Michigan isn't thinking about those plays this year.
"The punch, it got someone in trouble and suspended, and I'm sure they won't want that to happen again and neither do we, because we want all our players here," he said.
Then, with a smile, Roundtree added, "It's going to be a game you got to get your mind right for."