Kovacs knows rivals’ worth

Clay grad well aware how intense UM-MSU can be

10/16/2012
BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

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.

Con­tact Rachel Lenzi at:

rlenzi@the­blade.com,

419-724-6510 or on

Twit­ter @RLen­ziBlade.