EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Last year, Michigan State’s win over Michigan sent the teams in opposite directions.
The Spartans ended up sharing the Big Ten title, while the Wolverines stumbled down the stretch.
Michigan State hopes its 28-14 victory over Michigan on Saturday will have the same effect, while the Wolverines insist this season is different.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, it’s the same Michigan team of the last two years’ _ but I have no doubt in my mind that we’re not,” Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. “We’re going to improve. We’re to learn from this game. We’re going to win.”
The Spartans moved up to No. 15 in the AP poll on Sunday, while Michigan dropped to 18th. Michigan State, which took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten’s Legends Division with its victory Saturday, won’t have much of a chance to rest. The Spartans host No. 4 Wisconsin next Saturday night.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, have an open date next weekend before beginning the stretch run with a home game against Purdue.
Michigan State beat Michigan for the fourth straight time, equaling its longest streak in the series. Last year, the teams were undefeated when they met in October. The Spartans went on to lose only once during the regular season, while Michigan went 7-5, was blown out in its bowl and fired coach Rich Rodriguez.
This is the third straight season the Wolverines were undefeated before losing to Michigan State.
“It’s very special, and I feel like we as a team and we as individuals have been overlooked and underestimated for a large part of our careers,” Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Wins like this are very satisfying for that reason.”
Michigan State beat Wisconsin at home last season _ the only regular-season loss for the Badgers, who went to the Rose Bowl anyway because of a Big Ten tiebreaker. The Spartans had to settle for a Capital One Bowl berth and were blown out by Alabama.
Although Michigan State dropped an early game this season to Notre Dame, the Spartans look every bit as capable as last season’s team. They are ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense.
“We just want to win on Saturday, that’s all that matters,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “All that defense stuff _ stats, you guys know how I feel about stats _ it doesn’t matter. That win right there, that’s the most important thing.”
Wisconsin is averaging 50.2 points per game, the best mark in the nation.
Michigan’s defense is improved from last season, when it was clearly a liability. The Wolverines had a chance to tie Saturday’s game in the fourth quarter, but Denard Robinson was sacked on fourth down deep in Michigan State territory.
Robinson was kept in check by the Spartans throughout the day and eventually left the game in the final minutes after a hit. He’ll have an extra week to recover now.
Although another loss to Michigan State stung, the Wolverines will ultimately be judged on how they finish. They host Nebraska and Ohio State to end the regular season next month.
“I know that we have great leadership on this team, including myself,” Michigan senior defensive tackle Mike Martin said. “We have a bye week coming up and I know guys are going to be hungry. … These seniors and these leaders are going to get this team right.”