ANN ARBOR — Even though he grew up in Ohio, a state typically regarded as enemy territory among Michigan football fans, Wolverines safety Jordan Kovacs has varied memories of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.
Kovacs’ good recollection: The triple-overtime game in 2004 at Michigan Stadium, when the Wolverines won 45-37 on Braylon Edwards’ third touchdown catch.
His not-so-good recollection: “Clock Gate” in 2001 in East Lansing, when the clock at Spartan Stadium stopped to show one second left in the game — seemingly stopped before Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker could spike the ball. The gaffe allowed the Spartans to capitalize as T.J. Duckett caught Smoker’s one-yard pass to lift the Spartans to a 26-24 win.
"That was a long second, wasn’t it?” the Clay graduate said. “I just remember being disgusted and running out of the stadium. I was with my dad. We just got in the car and drove home, and I don’t know that we said a word on the way home.”
Kovacs most likely won’t dash away from Michigan Stadium in the moments following Saturday’s game against the Spartans, win or lose. But in preparing to face one of their traditional rivals, the No. 23 Wolverines (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) are deflecting the rivalry chatter and focusing on preparing for their first Legends Division game.
With that being said, Kovacs won’t place more weight on one rivalry over another — namely Michigan-Michigan State versus Michigan-Ohio State.
“To say one game’s bigger than the other, they’re both huge games,” Kovacs said. “Obviously, you want to win them both.”
Nor will Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, a Florida native who put Michigan-Michigan State in the same vein as Florida-Florida State. “It’s always a good rivalry,” Robinson said. “It’s always down to the final play or the final second, and it’s always a big game. It’s going to be physical, and you’ve got to be ready to play. It’s nasty, and you enjoy it. You embrace it.”
The Wolverines haven’t defeated the Spartans in four years, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked Monday if that fact has changed the perception of the rivalry.
“That’s probably a pretty good question,” Hoke said. “It’s an important one of the rivalries that we play in, obviously. In-state and the passion of both schools and teams and fans, yeah, it’s important.”
Hoke — who admitted that he won’t wear the colors red or green, symbolic of Ohio State and Michigan State — wouldn’t place an emphasis on one rivalry over the other, either. “They’re all important,” Hoke said.
But, given that this is a Legends Division matchup, is there a certain added value that comes with facing the Spartans?
“That helps,” Hoke said.
Still, Hoke finds a common thread when it comes to preparing for rivalry games: External factors, as well as past instances, rarely matter.
"When you're playing a rivalry game, your motivation had better come from within," Hoke said. "It's not something you put up or something you do. It usually comes from within."
ROBINSON “GOOD”: Two days after suffering an injury to his right hand in the win over Illinois, Robinson said he felt no lingering effects. “I’m ready to go,” Robinson said, “ready to play.”
BIG TEN HONORS RYAN: The Big Ten Conference named Jake Ryan the conference’s defensive player of the week. In Michigan’s 45-0 win against Illinois, Ryan, a sophomore linebacker, had a game-best 11 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. The Wolverines yielded just 134 yards to the Illini.
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