Michigan on wrong side of power shift in rivalry

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Ed Davis and the Spartans pressured Devin Gardner throughout last year's game.

Two decades ago, Michigan was dominant over Michigan State.

There was, for example, that stretch extending from the mid-1990s for 12 seasons when Michigan won 10 games against their rivals.

But things are different now, and the power has shifted.

Eighth-ranked Michigan State, coached by Mark Dantonio, is 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten to lead the East Division. Michigan, coached by Brady Hoke, is 3-4, 1-2 and was off last weekend, while MSU beat Indiana. Michigan snapped a three-game losing streak with a victory at home against Penn State on Oct. 11, the last game it played.

The teams meet Saturday in East Lansing and MSU is an early 17-point favorite.

Right now for the Spartans, though, it goes deeper than just beating up the Wolverines.

Michigan State has not only taken over the in-state rivalry with Michigan, winning five of the last six, but the Spartans have become a consistent top Big Ten team and, now, a player in the national playoff discussion.

"I say for now (it's a power shift)," former MSU linebacker Eric Gordon said. "I hope it is forever, but football trends go back and forth.

"But with Coach D's foundation at Michigan State, I can't see it breaking. He brought back all of the tradition of Michigan State football. That's back to the Biggie Munn days, the days of Duffy Daugherty and George Perles. Those were the great days. As long as that tradition stays, I don't see things changing too soon here."

The last time Michigan endured such a slump in the rivalry with Michigan State was in an 18-game span from 1950 through 1967. Michigan State dominated the series going 13-3-2.

Is this cyclical or is this something more indicative of a bigger shift where Michigan State not only pounds Michigan but is one of the most respected teams across the country?

"I think we're taking our lumps now," former UM running back Jamie Morris said. "Michigan State used to take their lumps. And back in the day, Michigan State used to kick Michigan's (butt), and then Michigan kicked Michigan State's (butt).

"It's cyclical, and we've got to turn it around. When you look at it, things are in disarray in Ann Arbor and things up there are rosey. Things are stable there."

It goes beyond how the teams have fared against each other. In some ways, Michigan sees what it once was in the what Michigan State currently is.

The Spartans under Dantonio last season won the Big Ten championship, defeating unbeaten Ohio State. Michigan State has made appearances in two of the Big Ten championship games. Michigan has not yet appeared in one.

And then after beating Ohio State last season, Michigan State went to Pasadena and won the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines, who haven't won a Big Ten championship since 2004, have had their share of issues. After a three-season record of 15-22 under coach Rich Rodriguez, the job went to Brady Hoke. Hoke is 1-2 against MSU and has watched the Michigan program slide from an 11-2 record his first season to 8-5 and 7-6 last season.

Former Michigan quarterback/tight end Andy Mignery grew up in the Cincinnati area and was recruited to Michigan State by Dantonio.

"He presented a fantastic case why I should be going to Michigan State," Mignery said. "I didn't consider MSU because of (Nick) Saban but because of Dantonio and the recruiter he is.

"Dantonio has done a fantastic job at Michigan State. He's laid the foundation. He's coming off a great year and capitalized in recruiting. I'm not from Michigan, I don't have that massive hate for Michigan State. So when Dantonio got that job, from my previous experience with him in recruiting, I knew things were going to change (for MSU). I'm a fan of Dantonio and what he's done for the Big Ten, and we need other programs to get back to where they used to be."

Gordon grew up in a family that leaned more toward Michigan. He laughs now about being the one kid in school who rooted hard for the Spartans when that wasn't the popular thing to do.

He's the one laughing now.

"I was part of the 2007 game that was a close one but we lost (28-24)," Gordon said. "That was probably one of the worst losses I ever had, because we were so amped up. It's been good since then. It's bragging rights."

It absolutely is about state bragging rights.

"I'm not different than any fan now," Morris said. "I want them to do well, I pray for them to do well, especially during this week and the other week (heading into Ohio State). But especially this week because I live in this state."

Mignery believes Michigan State has in this rivalry what Michigan once had — the confidence to win. Michigan State dominated Michigan in every phase last season in a 29-6 victory in East Lansing, and knowing the Spartans did that once, Mignery said, gives the players who are back this season the belief they can do it again on Saturday.

"When I played, we had a tremendous amount of confidence we were going to win against Michigan State," he said. "But when you have a team that hasn't won convincingly against Michigan State, it's hard to have that confidence. To that point, you're preparation has to be that much more this week.

"Michigan State has formed a cohesive team that is confident against the University of Michigan right now. They have seniors who beat Michigan in a dominating fashion last year. They took it to Michigan, and as a Michigan man it was sad to see. I haven't seen a game like that against Michigan State. This is really going to test the soul and the gut and the heart of the team — are you going to let what Michigan State did to you last year happen again?

"It's a function of time to get where we need to get to. We just don't know how long it's going to be. Hopefully Coach Hoke is going to right the ship and we got to East Lansing and get a big win. And then we can look back at it and say, 'Oh, that was a big shift in the rivalry.' "



Diminishing returns

Michigan has scored fewer points in every game against Michigan State since a victory in 2004:

2004: Michigan 45, Michigan State 37 (3 OT)

2005: Michigan 34, Michigan State 31 (OT)

2006: Michigan 31, Michigan State 13

2007: Michigan 28, Michigan State 24

2008: Michigan State 35, Michigan 21

2009: Michigan State 26, Michigan 20 (OT)

2010: Michigan State 34, Michigan 17

2011: Michigan State 28, Michigan 14

2012: Michigan 12, Michigan State 10

2013: Michigan State 29, Michigan 6