EAST LANSING - The Michigan State football team left Ann Arbor last fall feeling like it had been robbed - and the Spartans were accomplices in the heist.
After leading Michigan by 17 points in the fourth quarter, Michigan State just lost it - lost its composure, lost the lead, and then lost the game in triple overtime.
"It was there, but we kind of let it get taken away from us," Spartans senior center Chris Morris (Bedford High School) said about the game between the intense in-state rivals.
"It was a terrible feeling, because we had played so well most of the day and put together a lead, but we just didn't close it out. That's been eating at us for a long time."
Michigan State lost four of its final five games in 2004, starting with that collapse against Michigan, and finished 5-7. After that spectacular comeback, the Wolverines went 9-3, won a share of the Big Ten championship, and played in the Rose Bowl.
"A lot of guys were real down, we felt like losing that game there last year really hurt our chances to have a good season," MSU safety Eric Smith said.
"It was hard to deal with for all of us, and remembering how bad we felt, I think a lot of us are using that as motivation this year."
Michigan, which used a field goal and two pass plays to Braylon Edwards to erase that 17-point Spartan lead in less than six minutes, got the eventual game-winner in the third overtime on a 24-yard scoring pass from Chad Henne to Edwards. The Wolverines expect Michigan State to be still smarting from that 45-37 defeat, and when you throw in the rivalry to spice it up even further, things start to boil.
"I'm sure that losing in the triple overtime game gives them extra motivation," Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker said. "And because it's a rivalry game, there is always that extra hatred towards it. They are going to be playing at home and because they are 4-0, they are going to be ready to play us and we need to do the same thing."
Michigan linebacker David Harris said no team wants to dwell on the past or get too wrapped up in what happened in a previous meeting, but he expects a blow like Michigan State suffered last year in Michigan Stadium to linger.
"We put together a great win last year against Michigan State, and I'm pretty sure that's in their minds," Harris said. "They haven't forgotten about it. They pretty much dominated the whole game, and we've got to keep that in mind. They were up 27-10 late in the game and we came back, but we can't get in that predicament this year. We've got to stay in the game mentally and physically."
The Spartans, who just hammered Illinois 61-14 last week as quarterback Drew Stanton threw a school-record five touchdown passes and Michigan State rolled up a record 705 yards of offense, have Michigan's attention. Stanton, who gave the Wolverines fits in the first half of last year's game but missed the second half and the overtimes with an injury, is big, mobile, and leading the Big Ten with almost 300 passing yards per game.
"Drew Stanton is a great player and we'll have our hands full with him," Michigan cornerback Grant Mason said. "But I think we'll do some things that will mean he'll have his hands full figuring out what we're doing."
Michigan senior defensive tackle Pat Massey said the Spartans are not the only ones coming into the showdown highly motivated. The Wolverines, who have won seven of the last 10 against MSU, are unranked and facing a ranked Spartans team for the first time since 1968.
"I'm sure last year's game motivates them, but at the same time, being a defensive player, it motivates me because we didn't play our best game," Massey said. "So I think if you look at last year's film as a defensive player, we've got plenty to prove to ourselves because we didn't play our best game and we want to get another shot at them."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose team had been ranked as high as No. 3 in the country this year and was the pre-season pick to win a third straight Big Ten title, said he does not anticipate any motivational issues.
"I expect [the players] to respond like the people they are. They're people of character," Carr said. "They are a group of people who want very desperately to be as good as they can be. I don't worry about their attitude, work ethic and their spirit."
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