ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As a custom on fall Saturdays, Michigan gave itself 24 hours to savor yet another lopsided victory this season.
The Wolverines busted out the chocolate ice cream — a favorite of second-year coach Jim Harbaugh — after Saturday’s 41-8 win against Illinois, wrapped their wounds and celebrated the fact they were 7-0 and atop the Big Ten’s East Division.
But around 7 Sunday night, Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten Conference) will turn its focus to one of the red-letter dates on its calendar: the annual showdown with Michigan State, at noon Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
The significance of the rivalry is well-noted in the Great Lakes State. These two teams – these two schools – really don’t like each other, and that’s an understatement.
Yet, Harbaugh attached the same superlative to Michigan State as he has to the week of preparation against Penn State, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Illinois.
“Big game,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “Championship game. For our team. We’re going to enjoy, celebrate all wins. But we’ll very quickly be focusing in on our next opponent.”
So Sunday night, Michigan will key in on bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Schembechler Hall for the first time since 2012. The Spartans (2-5, 0-4) have quickly become one of the Big Ten’s downtrodden teams.
Though, the Wolverines still feel the sting of last year’s 27-23 loss to the Spartans.
Less than an hour after Saturday’s win against Illinois, Michigan began fielding questions about Michigan State. In particular, about last year’s jaw-dropping, wacky-ending loss to the Spartans at Michigan Stadium.
“All I can say is, those last couple seconds are still boiling,” Michigan running back De’Veon Smith said. “We still taste them in our mouth. We’re going to give Michigan State our all.”
As for the Paul Bunyan Trophy? The talisman of the bearded, lumberjack of American folklore was so very close to the Wolverines last season.
Physically, at least, in Ann Arbor.
Within reach of Harbaugh, Smith and the rest of the Wolverines.
Within 10 seconds of it.
And then disaster struck, a snap bobbled by former Michigan punter Blake O’Neill that landed in the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who zipped it into the end zone for the game-winning tally.
“Those last few seconds, when we all thought the game was wrapped up, I was so shocked,” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I remember that night: I went home and was with some teammates and we didn’t really know what to say or what to do. We were all kind of in shock.”
The Wolverines had some extra time to think about that dramatic loss.
“We had that bye week after, and, that whole bye week, that was the only thing I could think about,” Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas said. “I couldn’t think about anything else.”
Then, Thomas said the “R” word. It’s not difficult to throw that around in this rivalry, which dates back to 1898.
“I just want to get revenge,” Thomas declared. “Next Saturday, we’ve got our chance and our opportunity.”
Will this become a litmus test for the Wolverines against an unusually amped-up Michigan State team, or will this simply be another romp through the Big Ten forest, en route to the end-of-the-season showdown at Ohio State?
That’s simply speculation. The Wolverines know this much:
“We’ll eat our ice cream and enjoy this win (against Illinois), and watch the other ballgames going on,” Speight said. “And then start getting our mind ready for this week. This isn’t a game you have to motivate yourself to get up for.
“This is Michigan-Michigan State. … We’re hungry for that. This is a big game.”