'Bush league': UM-MSU rivalry boils over into war of words
East Lansing — Earlier in the week, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suggested there has been more civility in the rivalry with Michigan over the previous three years.
Those days appear to be long gone following No. 6 Michigan’s 21-7 victory over No. 24 Michigan State Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
It started with a heated exchange at midfield nearly two hours before kickoff and ended with more verbal sparring from the head coaches while the players for Michigan trotted out the old line that helped lead to Michigan State’s control of the series over the previous decade.
The result never seemed in doubt as Michigan had its way with a Michigan State offense that couldn’t produce even 100 total yards and scored its only touchdown thanks to a Wolverines turnover inside its own 10.
But that ended up secondary to the other storyline that began before the game and had Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh calling Michigan State “bush league” with Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio responding, “That’s BS.”
Before home games, Michigan State’s players link arms and walk the length of the field. Typically, no one from the opposing team is on the field. But several Michigan players were, including linebacker Devin Bush. As the Spartans walked toward midfield, the Michigan players stood their ground leading to an altercation that was mostly words.
As Michigan State players relinked and kept walking to the other end of the field, Bush turned and dug his feet into the Spartan logo at midfield, creating several large ruts in the natural grass turf.
After the game, Harbaugh was asked about the incident and said he didn’t see it but was told about it.
“Total bush league,” Harbaugh said. “Apparently, Coach Dantonio was 5 yards behind it all smiling. So, I think bush league, that’s my impression of it.”
When told of Harbaugh’s comments, Dantonio responded quickly.
“That’s BS,” Dantonio said. “You guys get your cameras out. It’s all on Fox. I’m not gonna go into that.”
Later, after waiting for another question, Dantonio uttered quietly, “Bush league? Mmm hmm.”
Bush said he and his teammates were simply warming up.
“Michigan State came out and spread out the whole 50 yards of the field and locked arms and walked 100 yards while we were trying to warm up,” Bush said. “Nobody told us to get off the field. As we were warming up they kept walking and they was all in our face. I don’t know what their tactic was. We pushed through the line and they ripped Lavert’s headphones off. They go mess with Lo (Lawrence Marshall) and they were gonna go mess with me.”
The Michigan folks clearly believed Michigan State was on the wrong, saying they arrived 10 minutes late for the pregame walk and the Michigan players had the right to be on the field. Michigan spokesman Dave Ablauf said before the game that Michigan players were “clotheslined.”
"Their staff should have stepped to the front and asked our guys to move or not allow Michigan State to walk out until the field was clear," Ablauf said. "That's a game management issue. That's why the incident took place.”
Added Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel, “Pretty clear what happened. (Devin) and a couple other guys came in the locker room, felt like we were disrespected that they tried to walk through us. It hit social media really fast, obviously. I don’t think that situation was our fault. We were on the field. We were told we could be on the field at the time. Nobody came and got any of the players off while they was there. I don’t think we were in the wrong in at all.”
Afterward, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke said he was told Michigan State strength coach Ken Mannie did, in fact, ask the players to step aside but was rebuffed.
For Michigan State, the players say it was business as usual.
“We walk field every game and they thought it was right to be on field when we were walking,” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “It’s something we do every game.”
He said he doesn’t remember there ever being an incident and dismissed Harbaugh’s characterization.
“I don’t control how their brain works and how they think,” Bachie said. “If that’s how they think over there that’s fine with me. Coach D has been doing a great job here. He’s won eight out of 12 against those guys. We’ll push forward and ignore what they say.”
There was more said than just during the pregame altercation. Michigan running back Karan Higdon said Michigan State players had been “talking trash all week.”
After the game, Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich was interviewed by Fox and used the old Mike Hart line that ignited the rivalry 12 years ago.
“We came in here, slashed their field before the game and we still came out here and just got after them every single play,” Winovich said. “This one was for our season. We knew they couldn’t hang with us and we did what had to do.
“Sometimes your little brother starts acting up and you just gotta put them in their place. They tried, they gave it their best and it just wasn’t enough. Our guys came out on top and we’re just gonna continue work and try to get better and go from here.”
It will be a long wait to see what happens next — the teams next meet on Nov. 16, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.