ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s state championship week in Ann Arbor as the undefeated Michigan Wolverines will play host to the Michigan State Spartans Saturday under the lights at The Big House.
The 3-4 Spartans come into the matchup as heavy underdogs, with oddsmakers having the 7-0 Wolverines favored by 22.5 points. But if you’re a representative of MSU, then you have the Wolverines right where you want them.
The matchup between the in-state rivals is something made in a horror film with the Spartans, as heavy underdogs, have defeated Michigan on the regular in the Jim Harbaugh era.
Saturday could once again be scary hours for the Wolverines as Harbaugh is 3-4 against MSU, and under his regime, the men in maize have suffered some miraculous defeats as they did in 2021.
With fans back in the stadiums, Seattle Seahawks breakout star Kenneth Walker III rallied the Spartans back from a 16-point deficit as he ran all over the Wolverines for 195 yards and five touchdowns.
Like this season, the Spartans in 2021 were underdogs to the then-undefeated Wolverines in East Lansing when they ended their chances of an undefeated season.
In 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season, Mel Tucker and his Spartan dogs came into Michigan Stadium and again took down the Wolverines on Halloween.
Rocky Lombardi completed 17-32 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target was wide receiver Ricky White, who caught eight receptions for 196 yards and one touchdown. Connor Heyward caught two receptions for 15 yards and two scores.
In 2019 the Wolverines turned on the jets and boat raced the Spartans in former head coach Mark Dantonio’s last season as Shea Patterson had the game of his life, throwing for 384 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-10 rout.
In 2018 the Wolverines, who had the better team, needed a prayer as Patterson, the quarterback savior, threw a hailmary to Donovan Peoples-Jones (Mr. Paul Bunyan) down the sidelines to get the victory.
In 2017 the Wolverines, led by John O’Korn, were 13.5 point favorites, but they didn’t score their first touchdown until the third quarter and trailed 14-10; then the fourth quarter monsoon came, and as they say, the rest is history.
It’s still head-scratching that Harbaugh had O’Korn pass 35 times, considering the poor weather conditions. MSU ended up forcing three interceptions.
In 2016 the game was too close for Michigan’s comfort as the Spartans turned the ball over while going for a two-point conversion when swizz army knife Jabrill Peppers returned the two-point try the other way as he slid out the back of the end zone to seal the deal.
The infamous 2015 Big House blunder heard around the world when punter Blake O’Neil fumbled the snap during an all-out blitz by the Spartans punt team ended up in the endzone by cornerback Jalen Watts-Jackson.
The debacle even made alumnus Chris Baldwin an instant celebrity as he became the official mascot of the surrender cobra.
Read: Michigan football fan shares story of becoming viral meme after 2015 loss to Michigan State
The last two seasons have dropped Harbaugh to 0-2 against Tucker, but the former Wolverines quarterback and current leader of men said they are more determined than ever to stay on track to achieve their goals, which are still well within reach.
“Conference championships every year,” said Harbaugh. “It’s the same now. We’ve told you how we feel about it, as beating Michigan State is one of our four goals.”
The goals that Harbaugh and his players have for the 2022 season are:
- Beat Michigan State
- Beat Ohio State
- Repeat as Big Ten Champions
- Win the National Championship
Although a win on Saturday (Oct. 29) under the lights would bring the men in maize one step closer to achieving their goals, Tucker and the Spartans have their minds set on taking it one day at a time.
“What matters most is today,” said Tucker. “It’s a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing our guys play their best 60 (minutes) of the season.”
Both teams had two weeks to prepare for the matchup as they’re coming off their bye week. Harbaugh has been calling the battle against MSU “State Championship Week” as many families and friends will be divided come kickoff.
Tucker has been the rightful owner of the Paul Bunyan Trophy in his first two years. Still, Harbaugh’s mantra has been spreading throughout the locker room of the Wolverines as they’re very confident heading into the matchup.
Everyone knows how much this one means.— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 26, 2022
It's go time!#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/fJvjIkGhS3
“I think coming here, everybody just knows how much it means,” said Wolverines defensive back Makari Paige. “Just being around the environment and the culture, you just know Michigan State week. It’s time to go.”
Playing for a championship this weekend.#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/vvLksgJpyH— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 24, 2022
“You look at the history of the rivalry, and you see why players play harder in this game,” said Wolverines defensive tackle Mazi Smith. “You see why this game is taken more serious. You see why each team is willing to do whatever it takes to win this game. No matter what. It’s a state championship that we get to play for in the regular season. Who doesn’t want that.”
Smith sounds very excited about the matchup, but he’s not as confident as Michigan running back Donovan Edwards.
“We’re going to win,” said Edwards. “We’re going to win, and we’re going to, like, leave them a no-mercy kind of a deal. That’s what we want to do. We want to bring Paul back. We know what we have to do this week.”
“We’re going to win,” said #DonovanEdwards “We’re going to win, and we’re going to, like, leave them a no-mercy kind of a deal. That’s what we want to do. We want to bring Paul back. We know what we have to do this week.” pic.twitter.com/cQvI4R3cF6— Brandon L. Carr (@Carrpediem21) October 28, 2022
Edwards is giving MSU some bulletin board material. But the Spartans don’t need any extra motivation as they are the rightful owners of the Paul Bunyan Trophy and have been the representatives of the state championship over the past two years.
Dantonio once coined the phrase “Pride comes before the fall” in response to current Wolverines running backs coach Mike Hart who called them MSU “Little Brother” in 2007.
Both responses made the rivalry what it is today.
After listening to Edwards make his guarantee, it brought back memories of what MSU senior safety Xavier Henderson said in victory when Michigan blew another winnable game last year.
“What they talking about now, huh,” said Henderson. It sounded good before the game. Coach D (Mark Dantonio) said it would never be over, and it’s still not over. Thanks, Mike Hart. Thanks (Chase) Winovich. Thanks, (Taylor) Lewan. Thanks, Braylon Edwards. I bet you know Chuck Brantley’s name now, don’t you? I don’t know what they talking about now.”
@MSU_Football senior safety #XavierHenderson last season after 16 point comeback against @UMichFootball pic.twitter.com/z2ghDG26Zn— Brandon L. Carr (@Carrpediem21) October 27, 2022
Fans of the men in maize feel different about this year’s matchup because they have Heisman candidate Blake Corum who, through seven games, is on pace to break the mold.
Corum has 901 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 146 carries. He has six fewer carries and one more touchdown than Derrick Henry back in 2015 when he won the prestigious award for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Henry, through seven games, had 881 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 152 carries.
Another running back that won the Heisman Trophy was Henry’s Crimson Tide bredren Mark Ingram II in 2009. Ingram II, through seven games, had 905 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 135 carries.
As Michigan and Michigan State are set to play this weekend, #Michigan RB Blake Corum has had 666 rush yards in his last 4 games.— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) October 24, 2022
That's the most by a Michigan running back in a 4-game span since Mike Hart in 2004 per @ESPNStatsInfo.
In his last four games, Corum has combined for 666 rushing yards which are the most in a four-game span since coach Hart.
Corum’s run would be one for the ages, as he is on pace to conclude the regular season, (per the Winged Helmet), with 1,545 yards and 22 touchdowns. Those numbers would place him seventh all-time on the Wolverines’ rushing list, and the 22 touchdowns would place him second all-time on the single-season rushing list behind Albert Herrnstein (26).
The way he could finish the remaining five games of the regular season would put him in the halls of Michigan legends Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, and Tom Harmon.
Choose your side
Tucker and Dantonio have the most wins in the rivalry during their matchups again Harbaugh, especially when they were heavy underdogs. Since 2008, MSU has won 10 of 14, and since 2015, during the Harbaugh era, the Spartans are 4-3.
Will history repeat itself with the MSU retaining the state championship, or will Harbaugh get over the hump this Saturday?