What's next? Michigan players insist they will avoid late-season swoon
The No. 11 Michigan football team (6-1, 2-1) was upset by No. 23 Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) on Saturday, its fourth consecutive loss to the in-state rival.
The 28-14 setback was demoralizing, especially for the seniors who leave school without ever beating the Spartans. It also leaves them 0-7 against Michigan State and Ohio State, the program's two biggest rivals.
"Today is going to be tough, but you just have to bounce back," senior defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "But the thing about this team is, I know for a fact this team will bounce back."
Now, the question is what do the Wolverines have to do avoid the same kind of precipitous letdown that followed their past two losses to Michigan State?
"I think it's easy to say that this is the same Michigan team from the last two years, but I have no doubt in my mind that we're not," junior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We're going to improve, learn from this game and win."
The Wolverines entered their past two games against Michigan State 9-0. They lost 26-20 in overtime in 2009, 34-17 last year and finished those seasons 3-13.
They were 6-0 this year, then again lost to the Spartans. Now what?
"I expect them to act like a Michigan football team, and that means that they will come to work," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
For the Wolverines, that means two weeks of work. They will be off next Saturday, which gives the players extra time to work out their kinks, get healthy — quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked out of the game on a late hit — and clear their minds.
Kovacs said there's two ways to approach the off week.
"Mentally, I'm ready to move on to the next one," he said. "But, it's probably a good thing we have the bye week, so we can physically get healthy. At the same time, though, I'm ready for the next one."
Michigan will host Purdue in two weeks, a very winnable game, then hit the road for tougher ones against Iowa and No. 16 Illinois.
For Michigan State, the road ahead gets equally tough, but it has the advantage of having some momentum. After all, coach Mark Dantonio treats the Michigan game as Michigan does the Ohio State game: It's the biggest of the year.
"This feels complete," Dantonio said of the win. "I feel very content. ... I feel like it all came to fruition for us.
"When you win, you know there is a lot of excitement about that. This is a big football game. It feels good. It feels complete."
Dantonio added the victory was a "program win," and gives the Spartans a lift heading into tilts against No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 14 Nebraska.
Those are crucial games for Michigan State, as it now is in control of the Legends Division race at 2-0.