The Michigan State-Michigan rivalry always comes down to physicality, and that was clear during Michigan’s press conferences on Monday.
When it comes to physicality, Hoke wants to see the Wolverines measure up. Michigan’s offensive line has been maligned this season, as the coaches mix and match guys to find the right fit. Hoke knows what he’s going to get from MSU in the trenches. Will his team answer the bell?
“Well you hope your team does the same thing,” Hoke said. “We’ve been inconsistent in that department, so they all know, the guys who’ve been here. I think there are 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago. It’s not a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Since Hoke returned to Ann Arbor in 2011, he brought an emphasis on physicality and line play not seen during the Rich Rodriguez era. It was supposed to be a return to the days of Bo Schembechler, when opponents would know for the next week that they played the Wolverines, because of the tough play.
But that hasn’t been the case consistently, especially in 2013. A reporter made a comment that Hoke seemed to be hoping his players would be physical, rather than expecting them to be.
“Yeah, I would say this in answering that: I think there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps,” Hoke said. “They understand it. There’s some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game. But you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game’s got to be a physical game.
“I think, from that standpoint, yeah, there are some guys who don’t know it yet. I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices. … I’m not hoping. It’s not hope. I don’t know if hope’s the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
When it was time for Michigan players to speak, there was one idea that kept coming up: that the Spartans pushed the Wolverines around and bullied them at Spartan Stadium in 2011.
In that previous meeting in East Lansing in 2011, MSU recorded seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss in the 28-14 win. MSU also had 13 penalties, and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said after the game that MSU wanted “60 minutes of unnecessary roughness.”
Narduzzi would later apologize for the comment, but he wasn’t wrong.
“We talk about it all the time,” senior offensive tackle Michael Schofield said. “The senior class, there’s a good handful of us that were in that game, and we try to remind the younger guys what happened. We talk about that all the time. We don’t want to forget what happened. … One of them described it as 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness, and that’s pretty much how we describe it. It was a battle. It was a fight. That’s how we’ve been describing it.”
Specifically, those unnecessary roughness and other personal fouls kept some drives alive for Michigan. MSU’s margin of victory could have been greater without them, but MSU has always been near the top of the Big Ten in penalties. The MSU defense plays with that extra edge, and sometimes, it carries over into penalties. But with the way the defense makes up for them, you can live with it.
“It does bother me. We don’t forget it, either,” Schofield said about the personal fouls. “We want to make sure we go to State this year and make sure we’re ready for that. I’m not saying we’re going to go start fighting, but we’ve got to be a tough team, too, there.”
The comments kept coming back to the 2011 game, even though the Wolverines ended a four-game losing streak to MSU by winning in Ann Arbor last season. Michigan hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2007. Senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan would not confirm nor deny that he kept a photo of Will Gholston on his phone for motivation. Gholston was suspended after the 2011 game for punching Lewan during a play.
Gholston is gone, but Lewan’s motivation from that 2011 performance is still there.
“If someone came up to you and hit you in the face, would you take that personally?” Lewan said. “Yeah, I take it personally. I take it personally every single time. No one likes to get bullied, and that’s what they did to you. They bullied us. That’s tough for me to admit, because I don’t like getting bullied. I just don’t want it to happen. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a very physical game. We’re not going to get bullied this year.”