ANN ARBOR, Mich. – What wild moment or unexpected performance will define this year’s battle between Michigan football and Michigan State?
It’s remarkable, really, how every meeting between these teams since the start of the Jim Harbaugh era can be identified by a few words. Some are more memorable than others, but they’ve all been distinctly different.
2015: “Trouble with the snap”
The first Harbaugh vs. Mark Dantonio match is the most infamous of them all, with Michigan suffering one of the most heartbreaking losses in college football history.
The Wolverines had all but wrapped up the game in the final moments when punter Blake O’Neill dropped a snap and sent the ball ricocheting perfectly into the arms of Jalen Watts-Jackson.
Watts-Jackson grossed the goal line after the clock had struck zero to turn a 23-21 Michigan victory into a crushing 27-23 defeat. Nobody who watched this game will ever forget that moment.
2016: Jabrill Peppers’ 2-point conversion
As is often the case, the sequel didn’t live up to the hype of the original Michigan-Michigan State matchup, as the Wolverines controlled this game for most of the afternoon.
There was a brief moment, though, when the Spartans scored to pull within 30-23. A single second remained on the clock.
Dantonio decided to attempt a two-point conversation, and a wayward pitch was scooped up by Jabrill Peppers and returned 87 yards for a score. The moment he crossed the goal line and officially put the game away proved to be the most iconic image from that otherwise unexceptional contest.
2017: ‘The monsoon game’
This was by far the ugliest game of this era.
In 2017, a strong rainstorm before and during the game made both of these teams look like an alternate form of 2022 Iowa.
They combined for just 552 yards and Michigan turned the ball over five times. The two teams punted a total of 18 times and committed 18 penalties for a combined 134 yards. They went 7-for-31 on third-down attempts.
Ty Isaac’s fumble after a strong Wolverines start turned the tide in the very first quarter, and a dropped pass right through the arms of Eddie McDoom sealed their fate.
Saturday will be the first night game between the two teams since that meeting five years ago.
2018: Paul Bunyan pose
Two moments stand out from the 2018 matchup -- one before kickoff and one to win the game.
Devin Bush is remembered to this day for tearing up the grass on the Spartan logo pregame, when there was some sort of altercation between players on both teams. MSU players were doing a linked-arm walk across the field while Michigan players warmed up.
Shocking that the two sides didn’t handle that well.
But the most iconic moment came with 2:24 left in the third quarter. The game was tied 7-7 when Shea Patterson hit Donovan Peoples-Jones down the right sideline for a 79-yard touchdown.
After reaching the end zone, Peoples-Jones struck the Paul Bunyan pose. Michigan ultimately took the trophy home after holding the Spartans to 94 yards of total offense.
2019: The Shea Patterson game
The only true blowout of this era came in 2019, when Michigan overcame a slow start to win 44-10.
Michigan quarterbacks aren’t known for stuffing the staff sheet because of Harbaugh’s run-heavy offense, but this game was an exception.
Patterson completed 24 of 33 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns. He had no turnovers and ran for 28 yards on four (non-sack) carries.
Of the last seven meetings, this one is definitely the least memorable because it wasn’t competitive in the second half.
2020: COVID game
Something just wasn’t right for either team during the infamous COVID season, but the rivalry game was one bright spot for the Spartans.
Michigan Stadium was eerily quiet and empty due to fan restrictions during the pandemic, and Michigan State’s Ricky White dominated jump ball after jump ball, finishing with 198 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The Wolverines made a late push, but they never led in a game that was controlled start to finish by the Spartans.
Just like this season, Michigan opened as a three-touchdown favorite. Michigan State had just lost the opener by double digits to Rutgers, while Michigan went on the road and beat a ranked Minnesota team. This shocking upset might have been the low point of the Harbaugh era.
2021: The Kenneth Walker game
Michigan dominated last year’s game from the opening kickoff, jumping out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and methodically building that lead to 16 deep into the third.
But one of the best players in Michigan State history had his most memorable performance, putting the team on his back with 208 total yards and five touchdowns.
Kenneth Walker III ripped off long run after long run, even when it looked like Michigan’s defense had him wrapped up for short gains. He was the only Spartan to reach the end zone that day, except for a pair of two-point conversions.
Walker was excellent throughout his year in East Lansing, but he’ll be remembered for that unbelievable performance against Michigan.
2022: What’s in store?
If Michigan State finds a way to beat Michigan once again, this year’s story will be that it was one of the greatest upsets in the rivalry’s history. The spread has grown to 23 points -- uncharted territory for these two teams in the modern era.
Maybe we’ll see another legendary individual performance, perhaps from Blake Corum, J.J. McCarthy, Keon Coleman, or Jayden Reed? All four are capable of putting up huge numbers on a rivalry stage.
Who knows, maybe there will be a moment we could never predict beforehand, like the ending of the 2015 game, or the Paul Bunyan pose?
Michigan State will be ready, and Michigan wants revenge. Saturday should be another epic chapter in a rivalry that always seems to deliver.