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Rivalry 'definitely personal' for UM's Desmond Morgan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Desmond Morgan

Ann Arbor – Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan is more than aware of the imprint left by Michigan State the last few seasons, the bullying, as it was described.

Michigan State has won six of the last seven meetings in the in-state rivalry, and comes to Michigan State for the first time since 2012, the last time the Wolverines won, on Saturday. The national spotlight will be on No. 7 and unbeaten Michigan State and No. 12 Michigan, which has shut out its last three opponents, as ESPN's GameDay selection, not to mention the Big Ten East Division implications involved.

The Wolverines steered clear of saying anything controversial about the Spartans during the weekly news conference on Monday, mirroring head coach Jim Harbaugh, who consistently rules out making comparisons to previous teams or looking back at the past.

Still, for the players from the state, winning this game is a top priority.

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"I think you always remember it, it would be lying to say you don't remember it because you read it and everything like that," Morgan, a fifth-year senior from Holland, Mich., said, referring to the physical nature with which MSU has played Michigan the last several years. "Do we thrive on it? No. We know what kind of program they have, we know they're a good football team that deserves respect, but we're excited.

"It's a big game. There's no question it's a rivalry. Taking it personally? Yeah, I'm a kid from the state of Michigan. I know what this game is, I know how important it is, and it's definitely something that's personal."

Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis said there’s nothing gained by focusing on the recent losses to Michigan State.

“They beat us,” Lewis said. “It’s a humbling experience, but we can’t dwell on it.”

Harbaugh praised Michigan State but said there's no way to make bigger a game that has always been meaningful for Michigan and Michigan State. He has maintained each and every week that the team has focused on the next game and nothing beyond.

"We've been going about our business at Schembechler Halll," Harbaugh said. "I'm sure that there will be a lot of attempts made to make it ... but it's already big. The game is big enough. Fair, healthy, honest competition with a heck of a good opponent. That's enough."

When asked what the rivalry means, Harbaugh described as a "trophy game," adding the goal is always to win the most awards, and a trophy is, of course, an award.

Harbaugh has made movie references each of the last four weeks, and Monday was no different. He drew upon the "Lion King" when responding to a question about the physical nature with which Michigan State has controlled the series under coach Mark Dantonio.

"Think about the Lion King," Harbaugh said. "Simba gets hit over the head and tells him, 'Yeah, the past can hurt. You can either run from it or embrace it and learn from it,' I think is exactly what he said. So, those seem like very wise words."

Later, Harbaugh, while declining to really answer a question about when he played in the rivalry while at Michigan, asked to clarify who actually made that comment in the movie to Simba.

“Who said that? Fiki?"

He was told it was Rafiki.

"Rafiki?" Harbaugh said, his smile broadening. "Wise words."

The four Michigan players who spoke to media on Monday might have sounded a tad rehearsed in their responses to questions about Michigan State, but they quickly pointed out they have taken the approach of saying as little as possible this season to fuel any opponent.

“Usually the message is stay low key and let your play do the speaking for you,” Morgan said. “We’re not a team that’s going to be about talking. That’s not for us. We don’t need to talk about it, we just need to be about it. That’s what Coach Harbaugh says.

"We don’t need to take shots in the media, we don’t need to get some headline quote out there, things like that. We’re going to focus on what we do in practice this week. I think it’s been understood since the year started.”

Jake Butt and the Michigan Wolverines meet the Ohio State State Buckeyes on Nov. 28 at Michigan Stadium. Kickoff is at noon.

Tight end Jake Butt said nothing changes this week in terms of practice.

“We’re going to prepare how we have been,” Butt said. “We’re going as hard as we can every single day, and that’s not going to change this week. “It helps having a great leader. They’re not going to let us get a big head. These (coaches) know how to win. They’ve won just about everywhere they’ve been.

“We’ve got a run-game coordinator, a pass-game coordinator and Coach Harbaugh, who oversees it all. That’s such an advantage for us. Whatever we need to do on first down, second down, third down, we’ve got guys who are specializing in those areas. They’ve game-planned against NFL teams, so NFL teams are going to be really good disguising what they’re doing. When you go through something as hard as that, it probably makes it a little bit easier to understand the college level and communicate it to us what we’ve got to get done.”

Butt said the team is confident after winning five straight, including outscoring their last three opponents, including two ranked, 97-0.

“We just knew we weren’t going to accept losing this year,” Butt said. “Since the end of last year we had a worker’s mentality.”

Harbaugh refers to it as blue-collar approach, not unique in sports but not always easy to maintain.

“We’re looking forward to a great week of preparation,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to have to have it. Big task this week. Our guys will be excited for it.”

Stribling available

Harbaugh said cornerback Channing Stribling, who did not play last Saturday against Northwestern, will be available for the MSU game. His injury was not disclosed.

"He was very, very close this past weekend," Harbaugh said. "He could have played, but I thought it was more prudent to not play him."