Ann Arbor – If the plan this week was for Michigan to avoid stirring the pot with Michigan State, then so far, the Wolverines have executed to near perfection.
It is four days before the Michigan-Michigan State game, four days before the "state championship" will be decided again, but it feels ho-hum here.
That is by design, of course, and realistically the only direction Michigan could go this week. To come off with any sort of bravado just couldn't work. How could the Wolverines back that up? After all, Michigan is 3-4 this season and has lost five of the last six meetings with Michigan State, and under coach Brady Hoke is 0-5 in rivalry road games.
The Wolverines are more than aware of the accomplishments of No. 8 Michigan State, which will host the game at Spartan Stadium for the second straight year because of a quirk in Big Ten scheduling after the conference expanded.
But after practice Tuesday, the players met with the media and had the week's script down cold. To paraphrase -- Michigan-Michigan State? Oh, that. Yeah, it's a rivalry game, but it's the next game. Nope, they don't feel like underdogs despite MSU being multiple-touchdown favorites. And, yes, Michigan State beat Michigan badly last season, and while disappointed with that outcome, it's about preparing now for the always-physical rivalry game.
You get the picture.
"It's a rivalry week, but we're just taking it as another week," junior receiver Devin Funchess said Tuesday. "We had a bye last week, before that we had Penn State, so this is Michigan State week. We take it as a rivalry week and just go to work."
Why so tame, though? Why no war of words this week, Funchess was asked. Why does Michigan's approach seem so different than Michigan State's?
"It's a ballgame," Funchess said. "They're the defending Big Ten champions. Rose Bowl champions. It's just another ball game to me."
"To you it might be different, but you're not in the pads the same as me," Funchess said. "I'm blessed to play this game, it's just another week here."
Funchess insists he looks at every game like this and doesn't have the faintest idea how Michigan State looks at the game with Michigan.
"I don't know what they think, I know what I think," he said. "I know what goes on in my head, and I just feel like it's another ball game for me."
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis said this game is about "grit, toughness, physicality," and playing with an edge.
If you play with those characteristics, he said, you have success.
"They had a chip on their shoulders, and we have to, too," Lewis said of Michigan State last season in the Michigan-Michigan State game. "So we have to, to get this win."
Lewis spoke of the Wolverines' disappointment after the 29-6 loss last season and said they are practicing this week to prepare for the physical nature of the game.
Lewis said underdogs play with grit and intensity, and that's what he said they need on Saturday. There are five games remaining for the Wolverines, who had high expectations entering the season. Finishing strong, which they were unable to do last season at this point, is what has to happen now for them.
"Every game is a must-win now," Lewis said, adding they prepare hard for every game, not just the rivalry games. "This game will catapult us over the top basically."
Linebacker Ben Gedeon spoke about Michigan-Michigan State as being a "fun game, always physical" and praised the Spartans' offense and physical nature.
Then he was asked if Michigan can beat Michigan State.
He paused for a moment before responding.
"It's going to be a physical football game," Gedeon said. "We play our football, they play their football. We have a lot of respect for them. We're excited to play them. They're a great football team."
It was as if to say, move along, no bulletin board material here.