Rivalry games are always physical. Each hit has an added level of emotion and pride to it. But when Michigan and Michigan State take the field this Saturday, it’ll be even more than that. This game takes it to another level.
“There’s always going to be that extra physical-ness before and a little bit after the whistle -- that’s what these games are all about,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That’s the beauty of a rivalry.”
Last season, this game accounted for 13 total penalties, which was actually an improvement from the previous season in Spartan Stadium, which saw 18.
But the problem with that is that the Wolverines admit that they were outmuscled when it came to that physicality two years ago in East Lansing when they lost, 28-14.
And for a team that prides itself on physicality, especially in the trenches, that added insult to injury as the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor.
“I take it personally,” Lewan said. “Nobody likes to get bullied and that’s what they did two years ago, they bullied us, and that’s tough. ... I don’t like getting bullied, I don’t want it to happen. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a very physical game. We’re not going to get bullied this year.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke prides his teams on their ability to match up physically to anyone in the country, though in each of the Wolverines’ losses over the past few seasons -- like the one in East Lansing two years ago -- it could be argued that his group was on the lesser end of the physicality scale.
The Wolverines will need to match up with the Spartans up front, which will be a tall task.
The Spartans defensive front has given up an FBS-low 10 rushes of 10 yards or more this season. Alabama, Memphis and Ohio State are tied for second with 17 rushes of 10 yards or more. And 34 percent of opponent rushes against the Spartans gain zero or negative yards.
Undoubtedly, it’s a big measuring stick for the Wolverines offense, which will try to match the physicality and play of the Spartans, but Hoke avoided putting too many eggs in that basket earlier this week.
“Would this be a defining moment? I don’t know,” Hoke said. “I think it’s a learning moment. You learn a little bit more about your guys as a team. Until you put anybody in those kinds of games in that environment, and that’s where we’ve got to do a good job of what we do and the preparation for them.”
But a lot of that preparation will be for the Spartans’ level of physicality. Hoke said that this week in practice things have gotten chippy between a few players, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it shows that guys are willing to practice and play with an edge.
And they’re going to need that edge in East Lansing.
“We need to be the more physical team every single Saturday,” Lewan said. “If you want to win championships, especially in the Big Ten, it’s a physical conference, you’re going to get banged up a little bit. That’s what happens. You have to power through. ... The great teams keep going no matter what.”