Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses the pregame issue between Michigan-Michigan State. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
East Lansing — The dust has hardly settled from Michigan State’s loss at home to Michigan on Saturday, even as the Spartans attempt to rebound from their second loss in three games.
Purdue is up next, as the Boilermakers visit Spartan Stadium for a noon kickoff Saturday. They do so coming off a thorough whipping of Ohio State for their fourth consecutive victory after opening the season losing three straight.
But on Monday, there was little talk about what’s next for the Spartans (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten). Much of that was because coach Mark Dantonio has his weekly press conference on Tuesday, which leaves Monday as a relatively quiet period. However, in Ann Arbor, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was busy doubling down on his criticism of Dantonio and his program after a pregame altercation on the field Saturday some two hours before kickoff.
“I see where they’re using the word juvenile,” Harbaugh said, responding to Dantonio’s comment Sunday night during his weekly teleconference. “I think that’s trying to brush it under the carpet because their strength coaches were out there leading it. Their assistant coaches were out there. Coach Dantonio was right behind it. That had all the ear-markings and evidence of an orchestrated stormtrooper march.”
Aside from the coaches and players trading barbs, the crux of the issue seems to be timing. Michigan’s players said Michigan State was late for their pregame walk and by the time they arrived, the field was open. Michigan State says the schedule was clear and it had been communicated, and that when officials asked Michigan players to move, they did not.
On Monday afternoon, Ben Phlegar, athletic communications associate director, issued a statement spelling out Michigan State’s stance.
“Regarding last Saturday’s pregame timeline, both teams were distributed pregame timing sheets and were in communication earlier in the week about Michigan State’s pregame tradition of walking the field upon arrival to Spartan Stadium. There has never been an on-field issue with this tradition in the 12 years under head coach Mark Dantonio,” the statement said. “The timing of Saturday’s pregame tradition did not change from previous games, nor did the communication change between both schools. MSU was scheduled to leave the Kellogg Center for its walk to the stadium at 9:45 a.m. and left at 9:47 a.m. The team was scheduled to arrive at Spartan Stadium at approximately 10 a.m. and walked the field at approximately 10:02 a.m.
“As a courtesy, Michigan was granted field access before MSU’s arrival with the understanding from both sides that the U of M student-athletes would leave the field during this tradition. Michigan was on the field prior to 10 a.m. as previously agreed upon, but when multiple MSU staff members asked both U of M student-athletes and staff members to please move off the field for the pregame field walk, this did not occur.”
What happened at that point was Michigan State began its walk as Michigan players Devin Bush, Lavert Hill and Lawrence Marshall were on the field. When MSU’s players approached the Michigan players, neither side gave any ground, which led to mostly shouting back and forth and later Bush tearing up the turf on the Spartan logo at midfield.
After the game, Harbaugh called it “bush league,” to which Dantonio responded it was “B.S.”
Sunday night, Dantonio called the whole thing “juvenile” and Harbaugh wasn’t changing his tune at his weekly press conference on Monday.
“As I said, it’s the opposite of B.S. Coach said that was B.S., but that’s not B.S. That’s fact,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something now the two athletic directors really need to get together and talk about. I’ll go one step forward and use Coach Dantonio’s words from a few years back, ‘It’s not a product of a team but their program.’ Again, that’s using his words. That could have been an unfortunate deal. And I’m proud of our guys for keeping their cool and waiting for the game.”
Those words originally came after Michigan State’s win over Michigan in 2014 when the Spartans scored a late touchdown of a 35-11 victory in apparent retaliation of the Wolverines driving a spike in the Spartan Stadium turf before the game.
When asked about that touchdown in the final minutes, Dantonio said “It got shoved,” and went on to say the bad blood in the series wasn’t the fault of then-Michigan coach Brady Hoke, but a program issue.
Dantonio will meet with the media again Tuesday and he’ll likely do his best to turn the attention to Purdue (4-3, 3-1) which is riding high after a dominating win over Ohio State.
Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm is confident his team won’t let the euphoria of last week’s win linger headed into Spartan Stadium.
“We need to make sure we do handle this moment, and you know what, you never know for sure,” Brohm said. “I mean, this is a team that's learned a lot. I think we've gotten better. I think we do understand it's a one-game season and we've had some extreme highs and some extreme lows all in one season. So anything can happen when we play the game if we're not fully ready and hitting on all cylinders.
“We know (Michigan State) will come ready to play and if we don't play well, we'll get blown off the field, so we have to do all the small things to give ourselves a chance to win and we're going to work very hard to do that.”