EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) No matter how easily Michigan State beats Michigan these days, the Spartans always seem to find a reason to feel disrespected.
And the Wolverines always seem to provide one.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke apologized Sunday for his team’s stunt the previous afternoon, when the Wolverines drove a tent stake into the ground before kickoff at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State won the game 35-11 – then seized on Michigan’s pregame behavior as another example of arrogance by the Wolverines.
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”We all saw them throw the stake in the ground,” Spartans offensive lineman Jack Conklin said. ”I saw them throw it in the ground. It just fueled us. Everyone was angry about it, obviously.”
Hoke issued a public apology Sunday. He said during a team meeting Friday, a tent stake was presented as a symbol in a lesson about commitment and teamwork in a tough environment.
”The stake was brought into our locker room as a visual reminder, and one of our team leaders chose to take it out on the field,” Hoke said. ”As the leader of our football program, I take full responsibility for the actions of our team. We believe in displaying a high level of respect at the University of Michigan and unfortunately that was not reflected by this action prior to kickoff.”
Hoke, whose status in Ann Arbor seems tenuous at best, called Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on Sunday.
”I think that conversation is probably private,” Dantonio said. ”But I will say that Brady and I have a very good relationship and I have a lot of respect for him.”
On Saturday after the game, Dantonio made it clear he wasn’t pleased with Michigan’s stake stunt. He had nothing to add on Sunday.
”It’s my feeling as a person, not as a coach, but as a person, I really don’t care to cause pain for anybody. That’s not why I’m here. I’m good to go. We’ll focus on the future,” Dantonio said.
The weekend as a whole – an emphatic loss followed by an apology to an in-state rival – was another low point for the Wolverines (3-5, 1-3), who have dropped six of seven in this series.
Michigan State, meanwhile, held steady at No. 8 in the AP poll and can now set its sights on another huge game in two weeks – at home against No. 13 Ohio State. The Spartans have an open date before then.
”Every November is very critical to every football team. It defines you,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State also needs to worry about respect from college football’s playoff committee. The Spartans are among several one-loss teams hoping for a spot in the four-team tournament that will determine the national champion. Even if Michigan State wins its remaining games, there’s no guarantee the Spartans will make it.
Dantonio said he’ll keep an eye on the rankings and figures a 12-1 Big Ten champion should be worthy of a spot in the biggest postseason games.
Michigan State’s only loss this season was at Oregon, and there’s no shame in that. But the Spartans have had a hard time proving themselves in what has been perceived as a disappointing year for the Big Ten. This marquee matchup with Ohio State presents an opportunity.
”We’ve got an off week so we should be able to get fresh emotionally,” Dantonio said. ”And fresh as far as physically and having a little additional time to work on Ohio State. We’ll be ready to play.”
One player who could use a breather is Jeremy Langford, who ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries against Michigan. The Spartans outrushed the Wolverines 219-65, and Dantonio was pleased with his offensive line’s performance.
Saturday’s game was reasonably similar to Michigan State’s victory over Michigan last season, when the final score was 29-6. The Wolverines did score a touchdown this time – the first time they’d managed that against the Spartans since 2011 – but it came late in the fourth quarter.
Then the Spartans drove back themselves and scored a TD with 28 seconds left, and they admitted afterward that it was basically in response to what Michigan did before the game.
”I guess I’m kind of happy they did that, for the younger guys,” Michigan State defensive end Marcus Rush said. ”It makes them understand a little bit more of what this game was all about.”