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ANN ARBOR — If the University of Michigan football team needs a yardstick to measure its progress, it will come this weekend when it faces Michigan State.
Never mind that Michigan will face one of its traditional rivals.
The No. 24 Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) have the nation’s No. 1 defense, and have recovered from a spate of early-season struggles to become one of the leading contenders for the conference championship.
The No. 23 Wolverines (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) take note of their opponents’ overall consistency — and their own lack of consistency as of late. Saturday’s game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said, will clarify his team’s identity in one way or another.
“It’s an important football game, when you look at where we want to be and where they want to be at the end of November,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. “It gives you an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. There’s no doubt every part of this game, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan attached a heightened importance to Saturday’s Legends Division tilt. It could be the start of an uphill climb — or a downhill slide — for his team as it eyes a shot at playing for the Big Ten title.
“This is anyone’s biggest game of their life, right now,” Lewan said. “It’s the next game. If you want to win a Big Ten championship, we’ve got to win the rest.”
Two years ago, the Spartans not only knocked the Wolverines out of conference-title contention. They gave the Wolverines a wake-up call that still resonates today.
That game from two years ago — a 28-14 decision in favor of the Spartans — left an impression on Michigan.
“We talk about it all the time,” offensive lineman Mike Schofield said. “As a senior class, and there’s a good handful of us that were in that game, we try to remind the young guys of what happened, and we talk about that all the time. We don’t want to forget that.
“We describe it as 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness. It was a battle. It was a fight.”
The 2011 game provided another seminal moment in the rivalry, which dates back to 1898: Spartans defensive end William Gholston punched Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan in the neck, an action that drew a one-game suspension for Gholston, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“They were more physical than us, and that’s what we need to change,” Lewan said. “We need to be a more physical team every Saturday if you want to win championships, especially in the Big Ten. It’s a physical conference, and you’re going to get banged up a little bit, and that’s what happens. The great teams keep going, no matter what, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
TIGHT END SUSPENDED: Hoke announced in a statement that sophomore tight end A.J. Williams is suspended for Saturday's game for a violation of team rules.
According to a police report obtained from the Oxford Police Department, Williams was arrested Sunday morning in Oxford, Ohio, and charged with operation of a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, underage possession of alcohol, and running a stop sign.
Sgt. Jon Varley of the Oxford Police Department said Williams, 19, registered a .122 on a breathalyzer test administered at the scene and was arrested, processed, and released on his own recognizance. Varley said Williams has a court date of Thursday on the traffic violation.
Williams is a Cincinnati native who has played in six games at tight end, including four starts, and has also played on special teams for the Wolverines.
GAME TIME ANNOUNCED: Michigan announced Monday that it will host Nebraska at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Michigan Stadium. The television platform will be announced after Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State game.