Brady Hoke: Michigan's top priority remains beating Ohio State, despite 4-game skid against MSU
Coach Brady Hoke says the Michigan football team's top priority remains beating Ohio State, despite the Wolverines' current four-game losing streak against in-state rival Michigan State.
He knows Michigan State's priorities are a little different, noting Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has ramped up the rivalry by placing added focus on the Wolverines, his No. 1 target. But Hoke said he remains most concerned about the final game on his schedule.
"I think the in-state rivalry is always something that's important to us," said Hoke, speaking to a group of state sports reporters and editors Wednesday at Weber's Inn in Ann Arbor. "We have not done our job the last four years, if you're on the Michigan side of things, and that's coaching, and that has to be better.
"But the Ohio game's the Ohio game."
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Michigan lost 28-14 to Michigan State in Hoke's first year as coach, extending the Wolverines' losing streak in the series to four games. That ties a record in the Paul Bunyan Trophy era, which began when the Spartans joined the Big Ten in 1953.
The rivalry picked up some steam this offseason after Wolverines receivers coach (and recruiting coordinator) Jeff Hecklinski was cut off by Dantonio at a function in Kalamazoo.
Later, Dantonio told ESPN.com, "We're laying in the weeds. ... We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the the threat?"
"It's really important (to regain control), obviously," Hoke said. "We take a lot of pride in that. Paul Bunyan Trophy, that part of it, having that in Ann Arbor, is very important to us."
The Wolverines had also struggled against Ohio State before Hoke's hire, losing seven in a row. However, Hoke was able to stem that skid with a 40-34 victory in the regular-season finale.
And for Hoke, beating the Buckeyes remains his top priority.
"(But) that doesn't lessen anything on the Michigan State game, because we realize in this state, you draw a line in the sand," he said.
The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry has become increasingly contentious in the past year, fueled by Hoke's refusal to say "Ohio State." First-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer responded by calling Michigan "That Team Up North."
The series picked up steam natinonally in recent weeks after 2013 Michigan commit Logan Tuley-Tillman burned recruiting mail from Ohio State and posted it on Twitter. He received death threats from Buckeyes fans.
"Michigan and Ohio have been going at it for a long time, and I think that's part of it," Hoke said.
Michigan hosts Michigan State on Oct. 20, then closes the regular season Nov. 24 at Ohio State.