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Jim Harbaugh vs. Michigan State: One Broken Arm, Two Victories

As Michigan's starting quarterback, Jim Harbaugh faced our intrastate rival three times, winning the latter two meetings. Take away his broken arm in '84, and there's a decent chance he'd hold a perfect record against Michigan State as a player heading into Saturday's game.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There's a reason why a Michigan State game never made it into one of Ace's "Great Moments in Harbaugh" features this offseason at MGoBlog: Harbaugh never played all that great against the Spartans. However, he won his final two contests against our intrastate rival and may have been able to win his first appearance if not for a broken arm. So, in honor of Harbaugh's first game against the Spartans as Michigan's head coach, let's take a look back at the three Michigan State games Harbaugh played in as the Wolverines quarterback.

1984: An Upset and Broken Arm

#13 Michigan 7, Michigan State 19

Harbaugh's Stats: 7/14 passing for 101 yards, and 6 rushes for 26 yards

Harbaugh probably doesn't like recalling this one. Coming into the game, the Wolverines were favorites as they held a 3-1 record including a season-opening victory against #1 Miami and a Week 2 loss against #16 Washington. On the other side, Michigan State entered with a three-game losing streak after winning their opener at Colorado. However, the Spartans outplayed Michigan early on, jumping out to a 13-0 lead behind an 87-yard punt return by sophomore reserve running back Bobby Morse and a one-yard touchdown rush by back Carl Butler. The punt return score marked Michigan State's first against Michigan since 1971.

Michigan responded later in the second quarter with a touchdown run by running back Eddie Garrett to cut State's lead to 13-7 heading into halftime. Unfortunately, that would be as close as Michigan came that Saturday as the offense derailed following a heartbreaking third quarter play:

Source of gif and more highlights lowlights found here, courtesy of MSUAndyHRCMB

On the above play, Michigan running back Jamie Morris coughed up the football, and Harbaugh dove to recover it. He collided with Spartan Thomas Tyree, who ended up breaking Harbaugh's arm on the play and grabbing the loose ball. Backups Russell Rein and Chris Zurbrugg replaced Harbaugh and combined for a miserable 33 yards and three interceptions on 3/11 passing to finish the game. While Harbaugh's stat line pre-injury doesn't jump off the page, it's hard to imagine him performing worse than his replacements. Using four second-half turnovers to their advantage, State added a couple of field goals to clinch the upset victory and hand Michigan their first loss in the rivalry since 1978.

After the game, head coach Bo Schembechler noted the painful reality surrounding Harbaugh's injury: "We trained Jim Harbaugh for three years, and he was just at the point to take us to another step. Now we've got to start all over."

Game notes gathered from New York TimesGainesville SunDetroit Free Press

1985: Shutout Redemption

#3 Michigan 31, Michigan State 0

Harbaugh's Stats: 13/23 passing for 149 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 7 rushes for 21 yards

One year later with a healthy arm, Harbaugh helped lead Michigan to a dominant shutout against Michigan State. Michigan carried a 4-0 record into the meeting and had surrendered only one touchdown so far that season, while State limped to the field with a 2-2 mark. In the first four minutes and one second of the game, the Wolverines scored two touchdowns, and the game was essentially over. It all started when Spartan quarterback Bobby McAllister fumbled the second snap of the game. Three plays later, Harbaugh found tight end Eric Kattus for a nine-yard touchdown:

Michigan forced State to punt seven plays later, and this happened:

Following the early flurry of points, the Wolverines cruised to victory on offense by running the ball - 47 rushing plays - and throwing short passes - Harbaugh's longest completion was 19 yards. Harbaugh found Kattus again for another touchdown later in the game:

Source of gifs and more highlights found here, courtesy of WolverineHistorian

It also helped that Michigan's defense forced four turnovers - all turned into Wolverines points - and held State running back Lorenzo White, who was averaging 166 rushing yards per game coming into the matchup, to 47 yards on 18 carries. The 31-0 score could have been even worse had Harbaugh not thrown all three of his interceptions deep in Michigan State territory. After the game, Bo commented on Michigan's quick start: "I don't feel sorry for Michigan State, but when you're 14 down, it's a bad way to start out against a traditional rival."

Game notes gathered from New York TimesLos Angeles TimesGainesville Sun

1986: Senior Victory

#4 Michigan 27, Michigan State 6

Harbaugh's Stats: 14/22 passing for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 8 rushes for 25 yards, 1 touchdown

The Wolverines defeated all three of their biggest rivals in Harbaugh's senior season, and like the previous two iterations, the Michigan-Michigan State game was won with stout defense and solid special teams play. Same as the previous year, Michigan entered the annual rivalry game undefeated at 4-0 while State was 2-2. The Spartans were also missing All-American Lorenzo White - who led the nation in rushing yards in '85 - due to injury.

The game watched a slow, plodding Michigan offense rush for 194 yards on 51(!) carries but find more efficiency through the air, evidenced by Harbaugh's 15.6 yards per completion. The then-future Michigan head coach accounted for all three of the Wolverines touchdowns on the day, marking his best performance against the Spartans. Watch all three touchdowns below:

1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter

42-yard touchdown pass to wideout John Kolesar in the third quarter

7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Brown in the fourth quarter

Source of gifs and more highlights found here, courtesy of WolverineHistorian

As for Michigan's defense, they held to 193 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers, and tallied six sacks for a cumulative loss of 63 yards. The Spartans scored via two field goals and never came all that close to the end zone, making it two years in a row without scoring a touchdown against the Wolverines. Michigan also blocked a punt, which is kind of like a cherry on top for this game. Following the win, Bo praised the defense: "Our defense overall played its best game this season. It hustled, tackled hard and played hard. I had expected this one to go down to the wire."

Game notes gathered from New York TimesLos Angeles TimesGainesville Sun


This conversation happened after Harbaugh threw an interception - one of three on the day - in Michigan State's endzone. Look familiar?