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Posted on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke expects 'a dog fight' against MSU, says 'you've got to punch back'

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan coach Brady Hoke expects his Wolverines to play their most physical game of the season Saturday in East Lansing. Running back Vincent Smith, above, got a taste of the hard-hitting rivalry during Michigan State's 34-17 win last season. file photo

Bo Schembechler lost his first Michigan-Michigan State game, although he's hardly unique.

He later said he wasn't prepared for the ferocity of that 1969 game, something other coaches have echoed since failing in their first forays into this rivalry.

First-year Michigan football coach Brady Hoke hopes to avoid that fate. He knows exactly what to expect Saturday when the 11th-ranked Wolverines visit No. 23 Michigan State (noon, BTN).

"It's going to be a dog fight," he said.

Hoke has a good feel for the matchup because he spent eight years as a Michigan defensive assistant from 1995-2002. And what did that time teach him about this rivalry?

He affirmed what former coach Lloyd Carr used to say about it: Michigan State is the Wolverines' most physical game of the season.

"I'm a defensive line coach, (and) they were going to try to pound you off the football," Hoke said. "You had to match that intensity, and they were going to punch you in the face, and you've got to punch back."

The statistics bear out this point.

The team with more rushing yards has won 38 of the past 41 games between Michigan and Michigan State, and rushing yards are strongly correlated to line play.

"One of the statistics coaches talk about in this game is it's won and lost by rushing and rushing yards," senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen said. "And when it comes to rushing, it’s all about who’s tougher up front, who’s more physical up front — and it’s always been about who’s going to hit who harder and who’s going to move people off the ball.

"So, yeah, this is our most physical game."

That should make this year's matchup even more intriguing.

Michigan (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) has the nation's No. 7 rushing attack, with dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson leading the way. He currently is the Big Ten's top rusher at 120.0 yards per game.

However, he'll be facing the nation's top overall defense. The Spartans are No. 3 against the run.

Who's going to budge?

Hoke said the key to cracking that defense will be improved play by Michigan's offensive line.

"I think there’s not any doubt that (MSU's) physicalness at the line of scrimmage and their ability to penetrate and be disruptive are a big part of what they do defensively," he said. "For us, we have to play our best game to this point in all areas, but specifically up front.”

That's experience talking. It could make a difference against the Spartans (4-1, 1-0).

No new coach has won a Michigan-Michigan State game since 1995, when a pair of first-timers faced each other. The Spartans' Nick Saban beat Carr. It has been 63 years since a first-year coach beat a returning coach, when the Wolverines' Bennie Oosterbaan did it in a 13-7 win in 1948.

But Hoke's already cut his teeth against Michigan State. He's experienced the good, such as Charles Woodson's memorable interception in a win in 1997.

He's also dealt with the bad, such as "The Clock" game in 2001, when the Spartans marched down the field and scored on a T.J. Duckett touchdown reception as time expired.

“Somebody was in charge of substitutions on defense, and we had a penalty that helped them get down the field — and that was me," Hoke said. "We had too many guys on the field. So, I remember (it well).”

An experience such as that could become valuable as Michigan tries to halt its three-game losing streak against the Spartans. Only once have the Wolverines lost four in a row to Michigan State, and that was from 1959-62.

Is Hoke using that as a motivational tool?

“I don’t think I have to remind our guys what the outcome has been," he said. "These are college students, and they’re in classes and stuff like that.

"I would hope that they’re smart enough to understand that we haven’t played Michigan football the way we need to.”

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

So many astute prognostications by the Wolverine faithful, unfortunately (for you) none of which came to fruition. You've heard of the "new normal" in our economy....looks to be spreading to campus. Every one loves a good growth story, and the tide in this State has turned.

Tony Dearing

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

A comment and several replies to it have been removed because they were off-topic.

Long Time No See

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:28 a.m.

"I don't think I have to remind our guys what the outcome has been," he said. "These are college students, and they're in classes and stuff like that. " This is a good example of why I like this coach.


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

RWBill, If you really look closely you will notice the play before the last play started with no time left. There was also a penalty on State the refs forgot about and that's really why we have instant replay now. Kyle Meinke, the four game stretch from '59-'62 was not the only four game winning streak for State. It happened several times. four games is just the longest. There was also and eight game unbeaten stretch in the '50's and '60's that included a couple ties. Why should facts get in the way of a good story. I'm surprised nobody complains about the no call pass intereference in the end zone in 1990?


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 6:36 p.m.

Hoke has this game down in all aspects. But I think he's better suited in temperament to handle MSU than any (and I mean ANY) former Michigan head coach. Watching him on the sidelines and seeing his demeanor in press conferences shows how cool he is. His passion for Michigan can't be questioned but, at the same time, he always seems (so far) to be the master of every aspect of this team and the strategies for handling opponents. So, literally, it all comes down to where the team is right now. They are still (as Hoke repeatedly says) a "work in progress." This is to be expected, they're mostly juniors with a sprinkling of under class men and seniors out there. Unless the Wolverines suddenly solidify Saturday, this game may become be another nail biter until the clock runs out. (And as RWBill says: we can be pretty sure the clock WILL run out at the proper time.) I'm calling this game against the Spartans the "Get Your Act Together Bowl" because that's what the Wolverines have to do if they really want to win. Go Blue!!


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

Just a clarification, the TJ Duckett touchdown was after time expired, in fact the play started after time had already expired. Sparty's brazen time-cheating was so overt and widely recognized that it caused the NCAA to create an entirely new rule banning home field clock operators.


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Having a tough test and some adversity last week at Northwestern will help us this week against MSU. I expect that Coach Hoke and the staff will have our team ready to fight and play well for the full 60 minutes. The MSU defense will be a challenge for our offense, but their offense will struggle more than ours will. Michigan - 28 MSU - 21 Go Blue !


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

You nailed it Bobby. Before the season it looked to me that ND, MSU, NEB, and OSU were gonna be losses, with ILL, NU, and even SDSU not exactly gimmes. Now it looks like the remaining games are all winnable, with the one this coming Saturday the toughest of the bunch. I'm surprised that UM is a 3 point favorite...home field advantage usually garners 3 points, so in effect UM is considered (by Vegas) to be 6 points stronger in this matchup. I expect to see Gardner on the field more this game than we saw him in the NU game last Saturday, and I'll bet Borges will be pulling some twisted sh!t out of his OC hat to keep the MSU D off balance and confused. I also expect that Mattison will be sending blitzes Cousin's way to get some hits on him and force him to man-up, if he can. If MSU can get their tailbacks going, we could be in for a long day. Our LB's really need to step up and make tackles before they can get to the second level. Minimize mistakes, play solid special teams, work the screens, quick slants, and get Koger involved in the passing game to open up the opportunity to run counters and dives and we can win this one. 7-0 !?!?!? Yep, I can see it now.


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

@burton163, are you sure about those odds you're quoting? According to, MSU (and not UM) opened as the 3-point favorite late Sunday afternoon. All the large Vegas casinos still have them as 2 to 3 point favorites as of this (Tuesday) afternoon.


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

Clearly MSU will be the strongest team we've faced yet this year, and we're playing in their house. Denard can't afford to make mistakes and throw interceptions if we are to win this game. It is one of only three or four games I think we could potentially lose this year, the others being Illinois, Nebraska, and possibly OSU since they'll have all their cheaters back by then. I think we'll beat Purdue, Iowa and hopefully OSU. That would put us at 10 and 3 IF we lose to MSU, Illinois and Nebraska. Not too shabby for a first year coach in a "rebuilding" year. If all goes well, we could possibly get even more wins than 10, which would be rather miraculous. Hey, anything more than 7 wins is pretty darn good for Hoke's first year. For me, MSU is the big hurdle! Three losses in a row are enough! Time to play MICHIGAN football against them again, now that we have a coach who understands what that means. Let's go play some BRADY BALL and hope their home field timekeeper is LEGIT this year! GO BLUE!!!!!!!


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

Being at home with a very stalwart defense, MSU should be favored to win this game. However, if Denard has a good passing game from start to finish and we don't put the ball on the ground, we will emerge victorious.

Bruce Kennedy

Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

I worry about DR's interceptions.


Tue, Oct 11, 2011 : 11:52 a.m.

Coach Hoke is right about the dog fight. He has his team focused and well aware of the importance of playing MSU. It will boil down to the fewest mistakes and turnovers as to who will win more than the rushing yards stat in this year's match up. Sparty tends to choke late in the game in tight situation. They tried to give the game to OSU a few weeks ago. They were outplayed against ND, so both were roads game for them. If the our defense can pressure MSU QB Cousins all day, we should force a few turnovers from him. We know what Denard has to do on our side of the ball. Let's "Hoke" for a big MEEEECHIGAN victory!!!