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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Wolverines look to win back bragging rights from MSU

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UM's Obi Ezeh recovers a fumble. Ezeh has been getting an earful from friends at MSU ever since  the Spartans' victory last year. UM's Obi Ezeh recovers a fumble. Ezeh has been getting an earful from friends at MSU ever since the Spartans' victory last year.
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ANN ARBOR — Returning home to Grand Rapids, Mich. and no longer being confronted by playful jabs from his former high school classmates —well, that would be a nice change for Obi Ezeh.

The past two years Ezeh has gotten an earful from his friends who attend Michigan State, and the only way for Ezeh to end that trend is for the Wolverines to end MSU's winning streak in the series Saturday at the Big House.

“It's not easy, it's not fun to hear that from those guys,” Ezeh said Monday. “But obviously they won. They've earned bragging rights for the year. That's part of our motivation, to get those bragging rights back.”

Both teams are unbeaten at 5-0. For No. 18 UM, a win would be its first over the Spartans since 2008, back when coach Rich Rodriguez was at West Virginia and the Wolverine seniors were freshmen. MSU has not won three in a row in the series since 1965-67 and UM has a firm command overall, leading 67-30-5, and winning seven of the last 10.

“The more you win, there's more at stake and there's more at stake this year because both teams are undefeated,” Rodriguez said. “It's a huge game and our guys understand that and I'm sure their players do too.”

No. 17 MSU beat previously unbeaten Wisconsin 34-24 at home Saturday for its first 5-0 start since 1999. It was the second straight game missed by Spartans coach Mark Dantonio who suffered a heart attack Sept. 19, hours after his team beat Notre Dame.

Should it prevail Saturday, UM would notch its sixth win of the season, thus making it eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

“It's in the back of your mind,” Ezeh said. “You think about it, but it's not our priority right now. I feel like if we take care of all the things we want to take care of, [achieving bowl eligibility] will take care of itself.”

MSU won last year's game in East Lansing, 26-20, in overtime. It marked the 14th win by the home team in the last 18 meetings.

“It's a huge rivalry,” UM guard Steve Schilling said. “When I first got here they told us if you don't win this game, even if you win the Big Ten, you didn't win the state championship.”

SHAW LIKELY: Rodriguez said he is optimistic that starting running back Michael Shaw, who missed Saturday's game at Indiana with a knee injury, will be available against MSU. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (shoulder) is day-to-day. Quarterback Denard Robinson (knee), and defensive lineman Greg Banks (calf) were expected to be limited in yesterday's practice but are otherwise fine.

ROBINSON HONORED: For the third time this season, Robinson has been named Big Ten offensive player of the week after amassing 494 combined yards against Indiana. Robinson scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run during UM's final possession and earlier scored on a 72-yard run. He also threw for three touchdowns. Robinson is 95 rushing yards shy of 1,000, and 87 total yards shy of 2,000.

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION: UM is second nationally in total offense, averaging 565 yards per game. Oregon is first at 569.2. The Wolverines have scored points in 40 of 42 red-zone opportunities, including 38 touchdowns. They are averaging 8.1 yards per play, which is best in the nation and exceeds Oregon's mark by more than one yard.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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