Associated Press, October 26, 2016
(AP) The memory of how Michigan lost to Michigan State last season is one of those indelible moments that never goes away.
Only 10 seconds away from winning, the Wolverines watched punter Blake O'Neill bobble a snap and inexplicably fumble the ball into the arms of Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson, who returned the ball 38 yards for the winning score as time expired.
The Spartans' insane 27-23 victory marked their seventh victory in the last eight meetings with the Wolverines. The teams meet again Saturday in East Lansing (Noon ET, ESPN) and the Michigan players are certainly anticipating the opportunity to exact revenge.
Senior safety Dymonte Thomas was on the punt team and has replayed last season's final play in his mind countless times.
"I was on the field when that play happened," Thomas said after last week's 41-8 trouncing of Illinois. "I just couldn't believe what took place, and we had that bye week after, and during that whole bye week that's the only thing I thought about. I couldn't think about anything else and couldn't wait to get revenge.
"Next Saturday, we've got our chance and our opportunity, and so I'm just excited and ready to go out and play with these guys. I love my teammates, and I love the way that we are playing together, and it's going to be fun playing next Saturday, especially since it's a rivalry game."
Michigan State (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten) has endured a down season to reduce the luster of this season's matchup. The Spartans have lost five consecutive games, including four by double digits.
The college football power in the state has seemingly switched hands with the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0) ranked second in the nation in only their second season under coach Jim Harbaugh.
"It doesn't matter what's happened before this week. For us or for our opponent, it never does," Harbaugh said at a press conference. "(What matters) is what happens on the game day. We know the task in front of us. We know the challenge.
"It's up to us to go out there and prepare for that game so we can go out there and be confident, execute and have a chance to be successful."
The Michigan State players know they are viewed as disappointments but also are aware that ending the current slide against their main rivals would be particularly sweet.
And a good number of them, such as senior linebacker Riley Bullough, have never walked off the field a loser against the Wolverines.
Bullough's lineage of family members as Spartans includes older and younger brothers, uncles, his father and a grandfather.
"I've been watching this game ever since I can remember, obviously been a Spartan fan my entire life, and growing up, it seems like it was Michigan's game," Bullough said at a press conference. "They were in control of the series when I was young, but that's kind of turned in the last few years, so to kind of be a part of that has meant a tremendous amount to me.
"So this game is huge for us this week and our entire season, I think, so we're going to go out and play hard and do everything we can to get a win."
Bullough was ejected for targeting in last week's 28-17 loss to Maryland as Michigan State's woes continued.
"We need to stay together, and we need to understand that we lost the football game, not one specific person, we lost the football game," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "If we can at least all accept responsibility in that, then I think we all move forward."
Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke will be the starting quarterback, making his third career start against perhaps the toughest defense in the nation.
Michigan allowed only 172 yards against Illinois, marking the fourth straight game that the unit gave up fewer than 200 yards.
The Wolverines rank first in the nation in scoring defense (10.0 points per game), total defense (207.0 yards per game), passing defense (111) and third-down conversion defense (13 percent). Michigan also ranks fourth in rushing defense at 96.0.
"It's a tribute to all of our hard work in the spring and the summer," cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. "It's paying off right now, the fruits of our labor."
Sophomore outside linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who has 10 tackles for losses, continues to dabble on offense while flashing his gamebreaking return skills.
Sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has thrown 13 touchdowns and been intercepted only twice for an offense averaging 48.7 points per game.