Michigan looks to end four-year skid vs. MSU
October 20, 2012: Michigan State
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By BEN ESTES
Daily Sports Editor
The Paul Bunyan Trophy might
just be the ugliest thing in college
Whoever designed it nearly 60
years ago seemed to eschew logic
in some of the choices made. They
decided, for one, to color it instead
of leaving its natural metallic hue,
the way most
trophies are. And MU a
their choice of
paint is question- Michigan
able at best, with Matchup:
the mythical fig- MSU 4-3;
ure wearing an Michigan 4-2
orange-brown When: Satur-
shirt and dark day 3:30 p.m.
green trousers. Where Michi-
(One would hope gan Stadium
have better fash- TV/Radio:
ion sense, if he BTN
Yet never has anyone desired
such an unsightly object as much
as the Michigan football team
wants that trophy.
The Wolverines will welcome
Michigan State on Saturday for
the 105th edition of the schools'
heated in-state rivalry, hoping
to reclaim that trophy. With the
Spartans having won the last four
games in the series, it's been in
their possession since 2008.
This is typically the most physi-
cal and most intense game on the
schedule for both teams. Perhaps
Michigan's rivalry with Ohio State
is more important, but it doesn't
match the hatred that permeates
the in-state clash.
Look no further than last sea-
son's game, which is remembered
as much for the tussles between
Michigan offensive tackle Taylor
Lewan and Spartan defensive end
William Gholston as it is for the
r result itself - a 28-14 Michigan
To a man, the Wolverines know
what Saturday's game will be like.
"It's a rivalry game. It's going to
be intense," said fifth-year senior
center Elliott Mealer. "It'll be my
first time starting against Michi-
gan State and I'm excited about
it. ... Everybody knows what to
expect going into a game like this.
It's going to be physical."
Beyond getting that ugly trophy
back, Michigan will be trying to
prevent Michigan State from mak-
The Spartans' four-game win-
ning streak is their longest since
they also won four straight from
1959-62, and should the Wol-
verines lose again this season,
it'd mark the first time ever that
they've lost five straight games to
their brethren from East Lansing.
But if you believe the team, the
ignominious recent history isn't
on its mind.
All week, players have said that
they aren't thinking about the los-
ing streak - they're just focusing
on this year's game. And Michi-
gan coach Brady Hoke denied
that he was feeling any pressure
to reverse the current direction
of the rivalry. Clearly, Hoke has
more than bragging rights on his
"I think it's important because
we're trying to get our fifth win,"
Hoke said. "We're trying to get a
conference championship just like
everyone else. That's important.
(But) obviously the in-state - you
know there's a pretty direct line
drawn in the sand about if you're
University of Michigan or Michi-
gan State. You understand."
The prospects of that confer-
ence championship that Michigan
so desires look much rosier now,
after the Wolverines' two domi-
nant wins over Purdue and Illinois
to open Big Ten play.
The defense is coming off a
shutout against the Fighting Illini,
and the offense hasn't been slowed
much since the second half of the
Notre Dame game.
A rededication to the running
game has fueled the offense's
resurgence, with offensive coordi-
nator Al Borges relying on senior
quarterback Denard Robinson's
legs more than ever. (The run-
ning backs flashed improvement
against Illinois, but there's still
no consistent threat with redshirt
junior Fitzgerald Toussaint find-
ing it difficult to replicate his form
of last season.)
It's probably no coincidence
that Robinson's passing has also
been better since the change in
strategy, since he's had less pres-
sure to make plays with his arm.
After he threw a career-high four
interceptions against Notre Dame,
Robinson hasn't thrown any in the
last two games - it's the first time
in his three years as the starter
that he's done so during confer-
"I think he's just gotten more
comfortable," Borges said. "He's
more grounded. His fundamentals
have improved. The Notre Dame
game had an effect on him, a great
effect on him."
Robinson, though, will have to
buck the trend of his play against
Like the team at large, he's
struggled against Michigan State.
In two games as the starter, the
Deerfield Beach, Fla. native has
combined to complete 26-of-53
passes with four interceptions,
and he's averaged just 3.3 yards
Should the quarterback and the
rest of the offense put up a better
showing this season, it'll help the
defense that much more, though
the rapidly-improving unit hasn't
looked like it has needed any help
recently in holding its last four
opponents to 39 combined points.
The defense will face a chal-
lenge in that, after playing more
unique offenses in the last five
games, the group returns to play-
ing a smashmouth-type attack in
Michigan State's traditional pro-
"They've been the same for
a while," said senior defensive
end Craig Roh. "Power offense.
It's going to be a physical game.
They're going to try to run the
ball at us and we've got to stop the
But just like Michigan State's
offense, the results of the rivalry
also haven't changed much in
recent years. The Wolverines,
clicking on all cylinders now, will
try to remedy that on Saturday.
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