Looking at the numbers from last seasons Michigan/Michigan State clash provides plenty of insight as to why the Wolverines came up short for the fourth straight year. Denard Robinson completed just 12 of 31 passes for 168 yards. The Wolverines were an abysmal 3 for 15 in third down situations. Michigan was outgained on the ground by MSU, 213 to just 82.
"They played last year how we want to play," said senior captain Jordan Kovacs. "We want to be able to run the ball down hill. We want to control the game with our offense."
"The team that runs the ball better usually wins this game," Kovacs added. "That's what it comes down to year in and year out so we've got to be more physical than them and as defensive backs we can't give up that big play."
Michigan ranks first in the Big Ten in total defense through two conference games, giving up 140 less yards per game than any other team in the conference. In order to reverse their recent trouble with Michigan State and snatch a win Saturday afternoon, the defense will need to rise to the challenge up front. After holding Illinois to just 56 total rushing yards Saturday, the Wolverines will face a different demon with the Spartans ground and pound attack as opposed to the spread.
"I think that it does start with Le'Veon Bell," said Kovacs. "They like to run the ball. I think that's no secret and we're going to have our hands full with them."
"I think he's their guy on offense," added Kovacs. "I think he's the leading rusher in the Big Ten but I think they have a pretty tough quarterback as well."
Personal for Kovacs
While Michigan State has had the Wolverines number of late, Kovacs ties to the rivalry began far before his first game appearance in the rivalry back in 2009. The Ohio native who's father Louis played defensive back for the Wolverines, lettering in 1982, brought his son up to see several games between the in-state rivals.
"I went up to East Lansing in '01," said Kovacs. "I think that was the phantom second play. Don't get me started on that one."
"That was a long second wasn't it?" added Kovacs. "I just remember being disgusted and running out of the stadium. We took off. I think it was like a mile run to the car and we didn't stop, didn't want to hear from anybody. I was with my dad and we just got in the car and drove home. I don't know if we said a word."
Fortunately for Kovacs, he was also in attendance for another classic between the two rivals including one that didn't start in favor of the Wolverines but certainly ended in celebration.
"I went to the, I think it was '04 when it was triple overtime here," said Kovacs. "So I've been to some pretty good games. They're usually dogfights. That's what this rivalry is about."
Come Saturday, the leashes will come off once again as Michigan looks to capture the program's 900th victory in 133 years of football.
To watch video of Kovacs from Monday's press conference, press play below.