Michigan offensive tackle Mason Cole talks about the Wolverines’ preparation for the Spartans. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan co-captain Mason Cole was asked for a word or phrase to describe the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.
The No. 7 Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) face the Spartans (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday at Michigan Stadium in the first primetime meeting in the series. Michigan State has won seven of the last nine meetings, and Michigan is coming off a 32-23 victory last year at Spartan Stadium.
“I don’t know if you want to hear any of the words I say,” Cole said Monday with a laugh, “but just physical. This game’s always been physical. Our two teams don’t really like each other. They’re kind of hated. Our fans don’t like each other, our teams don’t like each other. It’s always been like that, at least since I’ve been here.”
Cole grew up in Florida, so he heard about the in-state rivalry from teammates his freshman year when he was a starting left tackle.
It didn’t take long to ascertain how different this game feels.
“My freshman year we played at Michigan State, running on the field there, it’s just different,” Cole said. “You run out on the field at Purdue, you’re hated. You’re at an away game, you’re always kind of hated, but running out on the field at Michigan State, you’re really not welcome there. It’s a little different. Going into (my) fourth year, I don’t think much has changed. It’s a rivalry game, it’s always been a physical game and will be this year, too.”
Michigan players say the Michigan State game is often the hardest hitting of the season.
“Both teams just come out and play as hard as possible,” senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said Monday. “When you’re battling an in-state team, everything really matters about this win because the recruits care about it and the people in the state care about it a lot.
“You hear about it for the entire year. It brings out the best in people because a lot of these guys know each other and a lot of them are from the same areas or from similar backgrounds.”
Michigan fullback Khalid Hill on being prepared for Michigan State’s best effort. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Hurst is from the northeast and didn’t know much about the in-state rivalry. Like Cole, he also learned early and very quickly what takes this game to a different level.
“I found out while playing in it just hearing about it from a lot of teammates this is going to be a tough game, everyone is going to be playing through the whistle,” Hurst said. “It was exactly that. It’s the same thing every year whether we’re having a down year, they’re having a down year, we’re both having up years, it’s always going to be a tough-fought game.”
This game has a different meaning for players from the state. Senior linebacker Mike McCray is from Ohio, and his father was an Ohio State captain, so that game has added personal significance. He said some of the players from the state have emphasized what this game on Saturday means to them.
“A few of the guys talked about it already, (and said) ‘We’ve got to get this one,’ ” McCray said.
They’ve also thought about that game two years ago at Michigan Stadium.
In the most famous final 10 seconds of the heated in-state rivalry, Michigan punter Blake O’Neill mishandled the snap and fumbled. Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson ran 38 yards for a touchdown in the stunning 27-23 Spartans victory at Michigan Stadium, the last time the teams met in Ann Arbor.
“Whenever you lose, it’s bad, and you get that bad taste in your mouth,” Cole said. “When you lose at home and lose the way we did two years ago, that bad taste stays in your mouth a long time. We want to set that straight.”
McCray said the players talked about that game Sunday.
“It’s one of the things that’s in the back of your mind,” he said. “You still think about it; they came in here and beat us. I was on the sideline. It was one of those plays that you will never forget.
Michigan fullback Khalid Hill on how he would react to any hits after the whistle against Michigan State. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
It was one of the most memorable losses ever.”
For the seniors, this is their final game against Michigan State.
“They’ve gotten the better hand from me, at least since I’ve been here,” Hurst said. “We’ve lost three of the four games, so excited to get another chance to play these guys and get some revenge for past years.”
Hurst was standing on Michigan’s sideline toward the end zone in the 2015 game.
“Just kind of sure the game was over that point, but it wasn’t,” Hurst said.
Like his teammates, he hasn’t forgotten what those final 10 seconds felt like.
“It sticks a lot, especially being there and experiencing a lot of that post-game sadness and seeing all the players run on the field and just celebrating a long time after we were done,” Hurst said. “It hurts and it sticks.”
While the players have not forgotten about 2015, it hasn’t consumed them, either.
“You think about it, but it’s not, ‘Oh we’re going to sit here and dwell on it,’” Hill said. “It happened. Nobody in the world thought that was going to happen, but it did. You never want that to happen again. We’re just focused on winning the game.”
Michigan did not have a game last Saturday, while Michigan State defeated Iowa, 17-10.
“The records, and how teams are playing the weeks before, none of it matters,” Cole said. “They’re going to get our best, and we’re going to get their best every time this game comes around.
“It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be a dogfight, but it’s going to be fun.”
Michigan vs. Michigan State
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV / radio: ABC / WJR 760 WWJ 950
Records: Michigan 4-0, Michigan State 3-1
Line: Michigan by 12.5