EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Brady Hoke was the last person to enter Michigan’s locker room, a couple of state troopers trailing behind him waited outside.
Moments later, Hoke’s voice boomed loud enough to be heard through the concrete walls and into the hallway.
The coach challenged his team to get back to work and laid the blame for the Wolverines’ latest loss to rival Michigan State on himself.
“I didn’t prepare you well enough,” he yelled.
It was brief.
There’s not much left to say.
Nothing seems to be changing for Michigan. Certainly not against No. 8 Michigan State.
The latest mauling of the Wolverines by the Spartans ended 35-11 on Saturday.
Michigan (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, its first against their rivals since 2011. Whether or not the Wolverines could get into the end zone was the only interesting thing about the fourth quarter.
“We’re all very disappointed and should be,” Hoke said. “No. 1 a rivalry game and it’s a Big Ten game. The message also is we’re going back to work. We have each other.”
It used to be news when Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) beat Michigan, when little brother rose up and knocked the mighty Wolverines down a peg. Now it’s routine and the Paul Bunyan Trophy has taken up almost permanent residence in East Lansing. The Spartans have won six of seven, and the last two have been noncompetitive.
Michigan State has stepped on Michigan on its way to the top of the Big Ten, and the Wolverines inability to keep that from happening, to swing the rivalry back toward Michigan, is one of the reasons Hoke’s future as coach in Ann Arbor is in serious doubt.
Win totals have been on the decline at Michigan since Hoke’s first season, when he took a team left behind by Rich Rodriguez to the Sugar Bowl. Then it was eight wins in 2012 and seven last year. He came into this season needing to reverse that trend. Instead, the slide continues.
You know it’s looking bad for a coach when the rival fans start begging for him to stay. Before Saturday’s game a plane flew a banner over Spartan Stadium that read: U OF M – KEEP BRADY HOKE – PLZZZ. Michigan State fans chanted “Keep Brady.”
“No,” senior linebacker Jake Ryan said when asked if he heard the sarcastic chants. “We’re going into work tomorrow.”
Michigan needs to win three of its last four just to be bowl eligible, and finishes the season at rival Ohio State.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to go back to work,” defensive end Frank Clark said, repeating the only solution his coach seems to have. “It’s not the last game of the season. We have more season left to play.”
It’s already been a long one.
The Wolverines have been shut out by Notre Dame, routed at home by Minnesota, pounded by Utah — in a game delayed by severe weather that turned the Big House into the Big Empty — and now toyed with by Michigan State, again.
Even when the Wolverines try to make a bold statement, it backfires.
Before the game Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the field at Spartan Stadium with his teammates gathered around, getting fired up. Hoke said he heard about it, but wasn’t exactly sure what went down.
Whatever it was, Michigan State used it as motivation and answered the perceived slight by scoring a touchdown with 28 second left in the game.
“I just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
As if the Spartans hadn’t already. Michigan State outgained Michigan 446-186.
Hoke said he had no problem with the Spartans’ exclamation point.
“We have 11 guys out there. They have 11 guys out there. We’re trying to compete. They’re trying to compete,” he said.
He did take issue with a question suggesting his team didn’t show up. He defended their effort.
“You’re wrong. They did show up,” he said. “Am I angry? I’m angry when they don’t get the rewards they worked so hard for.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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