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'We can't underestimate them': Michigan not taking Michigan State lightly, despite loss

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he didn’t have a chance to watch Michigan State’s opener but is certain the Spartan’s seven turnovers in their season-opening loss were an anomaly.

The 13th-ranked Wolverines, coming off a 49-24 victory at Minnesota last Saturday night, have their home opener at Michigan Stadium on Saturday with a noon kickoff against in-state rival Michigan State. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance is restricted to family members.

Michigan defensive back Vincent Gray (4), a former Rochester Adams standout, is one of a number of state of Michigan players who will take the field in Saturday's in-state showdown with Michigan State.

MSU, in Mel Tucker’s first game as head coach, lost 38-27 to Rutgers. Of those seven turnovers, five were fumbles. Michigan exited the Minnesota game plus-two in turnover margin as the Gophers had an interception and fumble.

“Wouldn’t expect there be that many turnovers the next time they play,” Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly news conference of Michigan State. “That obviously hurt them very badly in this past game.”

Michigan gained two turnovers against Minnesota, an interception by Josh Ross, and Michael Barrett forced a fumble that Donovan Jeter then took 15 yards for the touchdown.

“We’re a very aggressive, fast defense and I saw they had all those turnovers last week, and I’m hoping we can do the same,” said defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who had eight tackles against the Gophers.

Starting cornerback Vincent Gray said generating turnovers is vital any game.

“Getting turnovers and getting off the field,” Gray said. “If they’re going to allow us to get those opportunities to make turnovers, we’re for sure going to take them. Bring it for real.”

Hutchinson and Gray grew up in the state and have a deep understanding of the rivalry. Gray attended Rochester Adams, while Hutchinson went to Dearborn Divine Child where he built a friendship with Theo Day, now a backup quarterback at Michigan State.

Day and Hutchinson spoke on Sunday and have been texting a bit about the game. When they were home during quarantine, they worked out together and Day would throw to his old high school teammate.

“I was pretty much his tight end, kind of like the good ol’ days,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson grew up in Plymouth and his father, Chris, was an All-American at Michigan in the early ‘90s, so he has always known about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. He didn’t watch MSU’s opener until Monday morning during a film session.

“We can’t underestimate them,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter who they lost to or who we beat. At the end of the day, it’s who shows up on Saturday.”

Michigan has won the last two against Michigan State and three of the last four meetings. Prior to that, Michigan State had won seven of eight (2008-2015).

“When you enter any program and they have their rivalries, you don’t want to lose any of those games.” Hutchinson said. “I’m 2-0 against them so far and I’m really grateful to have that record against them. We’ve worked really hard for that. We’re just hoping to get the win on Saturday.”

Although this game will miss the packed-house atmosphere and tailgating of an in-state rivalry game, Harbaugh said there will be no letdown from either team.

“The red blood is pumping and it will be really pumping for both sides in this game, no question about that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s for the state championship. A lot of players can relate to that who might have been playing for a state championship when they were in high school. It’s really been a big deal.”

Twitter: @chengelis