Oct. 10, 2011
By Leah Howard, MGoBlue.com
When first asked about the Wolverines' upcoming game against in-state rival Michigan State, fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen tried downplay it. MSU was simply the next opponent on the schedule, he said. Sure, there's a little something more to it with the rivalry, but as far as games go, it's just another game.
Only it's not just another game, and Van Bergen knows it. And after a little more prodding, he conceded.
"When you come to Michigan to play football," he said, "your legacy is left by Big Ten championships, Rose Bowls and how you did against your rivals. Right now, the legacy with the seniors in my class, we're going to have to say we've lost to Michigan State three years in a row. Luckily, we have this year to change that, and that's our focus going forward."
Michigan has commanded the all-time series against the Spartans, holding a 67-31-5 record since 1898, but MSU has won each of the last three meetings -- its longest winning streak in the series since similarly winning three straight from 1965-67.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke coached in this series for eight seasons as a member of the Wolverines staff. On Monday (Oct. 10), he praised the passion on both sides of the rivalry and the physicality of the annual meeting. It's games just like this one, after all, that make college football so exciting.
"It was always going to be a dogfight, and every year, it was always going to be two teams that were going to be physical at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," said Hoke. "It was always going to be guys playing their best football and playing as tough and physical as they could. I'm a defensive line coach. They were going to try and pound you off the football and you had to match that intensity. You know they are going to punch you in the mouth, and you'd better punch back."
The physicality begins in the trenches and, as Hoke suggested, the Wolverines will need their best game of the season to get past Michigan State.
"There's not any doubt of their physicalness at the line of scrimmage and their ability to penetrate and be disruptive is a big part of what they do defensively," said Hoke. "I don't think there's any doubt we have to be better everywhere for us to win the football game. We have to be better at every position. We have to be better coaches; we have to be better trainers in how we tape ankles and all those things."
N O T E S
Through six games this season, the Wolverines owe much of their success to in-game adjustments and second-half surges. Michigan has outscored its opposition 114-21 in the second half, including a 28-0 edge in the second half against Northwestern last Saturday. U-M has held four of its six opponents scoreless after halftime.
"We've made some big adjustments at halftime," said Van Bergen. "We came in and coach (Greg) Mattison and all the defensive coaches -- Coach (Curt) Mallory, (Jerry) Montgomery, (Mark) Smith -- all sat us down by position and we went through some different things and simplified our defense a little bit because of the adjustments we were making -- we were making some extreme adjustments -- and different techniques even in the second half. In the second half, we've been pretty good. I don't know what it is about this season, but we don't give up many points after halftime. That's the signature of good adjustments and good defense."
"From an offensive standpoint, I think we see something different pretty much all the time and how people want to defend us offensively and really defend Denard (Robinson)," said Hoke. "So I think Al (Borges) does a tremendous job and his staff, Darrell Funk, (Jeff) Heck(linski), Fred (Jackson) and Dan (Ferrigno), I think they all do a tremendous job of getting together and talking during the course of the game, or the first half, and putting their ideas down and making the appropriate adjustments and changes. I think the same thing, defensively, Greg, Curt, Mark and Jerry do a tremendous job. The kids have been willing and they are listening, and I think they are learning."
Hoke believes a lot can be gained from the Wolverines' 6-0 start this season, but he's not sure how far it goes to establishing a team identity.
"I think you gain a little bit of confidence," said Hoke, "as long as that confidence is coming through understanding the preparation that helped you move the dial from a fundamental and technique standpoint, which we talk about and stress every day, and an attitude to prepare each week for and how we prepare. So, I think we are learning lessons as we go.
"That's probably the most significant thing I've seen out of our guys is that respect that they have for each other, the respect that they have for their opponents."
Michigan has lost the turnover battle in two of its last three games, including a -1 differential at Northwestern after three first-half interceptions. The Wolverines understand they cannot continue to with costly mistakes.
"If we turn the ball over we are not going to win," said senior tight end Kevin Koger. "It is just that simple. [Michigan State] is too good of a team for us to put the ball on the ground and throw three, four or five picks. If that happens, we will not win."
Despite Saturday's miscues, Michigan's +6 turnover margin is tied for first in the Big Ten and tied for 14th in the nation. The Wolverines have forced at least two turnovers in all six games this season, including a season-high five against Notre Dame.