Thinking about his last two visits to East Lansing, Erik Magnuson can only smirk and shake his head. Matt Godin’s voice is filled with frustration when he talks about it.
The last two times the Michigan football team played at Michigan State, in 2013 and 2014, the Spartans outscored the Wolverines a combined 64-17.
Magnuson was part of an offensive line that allowed Michigan State to sack then-quarterback Devin Gardner nine times in two years and hold Michigan to negative-48 yards rushing in 2013. Godin was on the defensive line at the end of the 2014 contest, when he felt “disrespected” by the Spartans allegedly trying to run up the score.
Neither of those players nor the rest of the Wolverines’ current upperclassmen have any interest in pointing fingers, however — they put the blame squarely on their own shoulders.
“I remember being embarrassed,” Magnuson said. “Last time we played there was, overall, just embarrassing. We couldn’t run the ball, we had trouble pass protecting. We think that is embarrassing, and the time before that was even more embarrassing. Those memories definitely stick in my head.”
Two years later, the two teams appear to be moving in opposite directions as they approach their matchup this weekend. Michigan is 7-0, ranked second in the country and aiming for a berth in the College Football Playoff. The Spartans are on a five-game losing streak and in jeopardy of even reaching a bowl game.
But, having been on the losing end in seven of their last eight meetings, the Wolverines refuse to write off their in-state rival.
“They’re a good team,” Godin said. “Their record doesn’t show how good a team they are. We know they’re gonna come out swinging, come out playing hard.”
Some of the youngest members of the team don’t even know what it’s like to experience failure. Players like freshman offensive lineman Ben Bredeson weren’t even on the sideline last year, when Michigan appeared to have Michigan State beaten before the last 10 seconds changed everything.
The seniors haven’t forgotten anything, though. Tuesday, Magnuson said he and fellow fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kyle Kalis watched all three games they had played against the Spartans. As they watched numerous plays where they “just didn’t do (their) job,” two of the most outspoken personalities on the Wolverines’ roster were reduced to silence.
This week, the seniors on the O-line took it upon themselves to make sure their younger teammates knew how much another loss like that could sting.
“Some of the younger guys kind of take this season for granted,” Magnuson said. “They came in here and we’ve been winning ever since and everything like that. So they kind of haven’t been through the downs, and the bad times kind of make you a little bit tougher. … We try to remind them that just ’cause we’re 7-0 doesn’t mean that they’re gonna lay down and give it to us.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said all year that his team is approaching every game like a championship game, and most of his players say that this week has been no different. Still, many of the Wolverines who have been around for several years feel they’re in a better mindset heading into the rivalry game this year.
Godin said the Wolverines are ready to go. Thanks to the championship-game mentality, Magnuson thinks this is the most mature and mentally prepared team he’s ever been a part of.
The on-field preparation may be the same, but the problems of the past are fueling the fire.
“You get kind of sick of getting beat up, you know?” Magnuson said. “Like the kid on the playground who gets beat up all the time — eventually you’re gonna get sick of it, and you’ve gotta get personal sometimes and stand up for yourself.”