By Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

It’s been more than a year since Michigan’s traumatic loss to Michigan State, but for De’Veon Smith the wound still feels fresh.

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“Those last couple seconds, it’s still boiling, we still taste it in our mouth,” said the Wolverines’ senior running back. “We’re going to give Michigan State our all this week.”

At long last, the opportunity for revenge has arrived. No. 3 Michigan knocked off Illinois 41-8 on Saturday to move to 7-0 on the season and set their sights firmly on the Spartans.

“We’re definitely moving on from this,” said quarterback Wilton Speight. “We’ll eat our ice cream and enjoy this win and then around 9 or 10:00 tonight we’ll watch the ballgames going on today and then start getting our mind ready for this week. It’s nice – this isn’t a game that you have to motivate yourself for or get up for. It’s Michigan-Michigan State.”

Speight explained he’s never won against the Spartans and then looked down the podium to his right, where Smith and senior Dymonte Thomas nodded in agreement.

“So we’re hungry for that,” he said.

Everyone remembers how last season’s game ended. The botched snap. The calamitous turnover. The last-second touchdown for Michigan State in front of a stunned crowd at the Big House.

“We all thought the game was wrapped up,” Speight recalled. “That night, we went home and we were with some teammates and we didn’t really know what to say or what to do because we were all just kind of in shock.”

The tortuous loss was followed by a bye week, leaving the Wolverines stuck in their own despair. For Thomas, who was on the field when Michigan State scored as time expired, the time off was like reliving a nightmare.

“During that whole week it was the only thing I thought about, I couldn’t think about anything else. I just couldn’t wait to get revenge, and next Saturday we got our chance and our opportunity. So I’m just excited and ready to go out there and play with these guys,” he said.

Harbaugh took a more measured tone than most of his players following Saturday’s victory, speaking in clichés about each game being worth the same. He refused to mention Michigan State by name and steered clear of references to 2015.

“We’re going to prepare for a big game, a championship game. That’s going to be our mindset,” he said.

But isn’t this a bigger championship game, given the opponent and the history and the pain of last year – and the year before that, and the year before that?

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“Of course,” said senior defensive end Taco Charlton. “I mean, it’s a rivalry game. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, so it definitely means a lot and we definitely want it bad.”

Unlike Smith or Thomas, Charlton doesn’t think about the final play of last year’s game all that often.

“At this point, it’s over with, there’s nothing we can really do about that play,” he said. “But now we can make up for it by winning this game and continuing our road to a national championship.”

Where Michigan is driving toward history, the Spartans are headed in the other direction. They had lost four straight games entering this weekend’s action (they played at Maryland on Saturday night) and appear destined for one of their worst seasons under coach Mark Dantonio.

The Wolverines don’t want to hear it.

“They haven’t been playing as well this year but it’s a rivalry game and when it’s a rivalry game, no matter how either team is playing, that all goes out the window. The energy’s high and the adrenaline’s pumping a little harder,” Speight said.

“It’s true,” Charlton said, referencing Michigan’s game against Ohio State in 2013 when the unranked Wolverines lost by one point to the undefeated Buckeyes. “Especially with a rivalry game, the record’s go out. We’re going to get their best shot and we gotta be ready to bring it.”

The Spartans have won the last three games in the head-to-head series and seven of the last eight. They’ve won at least 11 games in each of the last three seasons.

“All I’ve ever known is a great Michigan State team,” said senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis. “All I remember is how dominant they’ve been over this long stretch.”

Lewis isn’t one to dwell on the past – “it rolls off my back,” he said – but Spartan Stadium has been the site of some painful memories.

“Every time we went up there in Lansing it was a terrible defeat. They executed every time they played us,” he said. “So we do want to go up there and compete, we’re excited to go up there and give it our all.”

The Wolverines have demons. Finally, after a long wait, they have the chance to slay them.

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“It’s definitely not going to be an easy game,” Charlton said. “But we’re ready.”