EAST LANSING, Mich. — When the Michigan football team faces Michigan State today, it's likely that the rivalry game will uncover a few truths about the No. 23 Wolverines.
Brady Hoke doesn't necessarily think the game at Spartan Stadium will be a defining moment for his team, but instead a learning moment.
“You learn a little bit more about your guys as a team,” Hoke said. “But until you put anybody in those kinds of games in that environment, that’s where we’ve got to do a good job of what we do and the preparation for them.”
The Wolverines might find out how good they are at taking care of the football against an opportunistic defense; entering the weekend, they've turned the ball over 17 times, the highest total in the Big Ten.
They'll find out how their running, which behind quarterback Devin Gardner has been erratic, will fare against a team that has allowed less than 55 rushing yards a game.
Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) and No. 24 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) will find out if either is on track to represent the Legends Division at next month’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
Michigan is tied for second in the Legends with Nebraska, both behind Michigan State.
“We’ve set ourselves up and we're right where we want to be going into this game,” Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. “We’ve set ourselves up in terms of our previous game to have this game mean something because it’s the next game, it means something because it’s the Michigan game, and it means something because it has a lot of impact on who will be playing in that championship game.”
Gardner believes today’s game will prove his worth as a quarterback at Michigan.
“They’re a really good defense, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to work our game plan and see what we can do against them,” Gardner said. “They’re really aggressive, they fly to the ball ... they stop the run, they've got the No. 1 [rushing] defense, so they're pretty much solid, all around.
“They’re the No. 1 defense for a reason.”
The Wolverines acknowledge that the Spartans play with an edge, and UM offensive coordinator Al Borges labeled the Michigan-Michigan State game a “figurative street fight.”
Composure, Borges said, will be key.
“You want to go out there and match and exceed the intensity of your opponent,” Borges said. “That’s the only way you’re going to play games like this. These aren’t finesse games. When push comes to shove, the winner is going to be the guy that’s most physical and won’t back down and still be smart and not throw punches when you might be tempted to throw punches. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff, but that generally doesn’t win football games. That loses football games.”
And, yes, the Wolverines will find out the level of hatred between the two programs and their fan bases.
“This is more for the state,” said linebacker Jake Ryan, whom Hoke said earlier this week should start against the Spartans. “We don’t like them and they don't like us. I think that’s good. I think it’s fun. It’s going to be a fun game to play in. Hostile.”