ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh has had his share of heartbreaking losses as a player and a coach.
As a quarterback, he almost completed a Hail Mary in the 1995 AFC championship game that could have lifted the Indianapolis Colts into the Super Bowl. As Michigan's coach two years ago, he watched from the sideline as his team botched a punt that would've sealed a win against Michigan State and a potential win turned into an improbable loss as time expired.Where does that rank among disappointing setbacks?
"I didn't bring that list with me," Harbaugh said.
For the first time since that unforgettable game, the seventh-ranked Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will host the rival Spartans (3-1, 1-0) Saturday night.
Spartans preview Saturday's Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy vs Michigan. pic.twitter.com/95wp9XTORS— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) October 3, 2017
Michigan lined up to punt with 10 seconds left and the leading, needing to snap the ball, punt it and avoid giving up a touchdown. The routine play turned out to be anything but as punter Blake O'Neill failed to handle the snap and Jalen Watts-Jackson grabbed the ball out of the air with his right hand, cradled it to his body and ran it into the end zone to give Michigan State the 27-23 victory.
"Just kind of sure the game was over that point, but it wasn't," Wolverines defensive tackle senior Maurice Hurst recalled.
Here are some things to watch Saturday night at Michigan Stadium:
PLANNING A PAYBACK
Michigan won last year's matchup 32-23, ending a three-game losing streak in the series. The Spartans have won seven of the last nine games in a series Michigan has historically handled, going 69-35-5.
"They have gotten the better hand since I've been here," Hurst said. "It is exciting to get another opportunity to play these guys and get some revenge for past years."
Michigan prides itself on playing man-to-man defense. That could help Michigan State move the ball on the ground with quarterback Brian Lewerke. The sophomore leads the team with 62 yards rushing per game and two rushing touchdowns. If Lewerke rolls out and his teammates can keep defensive ends and outside linebackers on the inside, he may have room to run.
How does cornerback Lavert Hill handle the challenge of covering receivers down the field when the quarterback may tuck the ball and run?
"Just stay your eyes on the man at all times," Hill said. "Just don't look back at the quarterback until the ball's in the air and you know you can get it."
Lewerke played against Michigan last year as a backup, throwing for 100 yards and a touchdown, but broke his leg during the game and missed the rest of the season.
Michigan quarterback John O'Korn will make his first start of the season, filling in for Wilton Speight, who is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury.
"I don't know if that changes who they are offensively or what they are going to call," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think they are sort of similar in a lot of ways."
SHUTTING IT DOWN
Michigan has not allowed its first four opponents to score in the fourth quarter and is allowing just 13.5 points per game.
We're just one day away... pic.twitter.com/OaulOZyJNS— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) October 6, 2017
PLEADING FOR PEACE
The emotionally packed rivalry, which divides the state and some households, will be played at night for the first time. That led to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis teaming up to ask fans to behave.
"On behalf of both institutions, we invite you all to represent yourself and your favorite side in a manner befitting our proud communities," they wrote in a letter addressed to the public.