'Break from the clichés': Harbaugh turns down volume in run-up to Michigan-MSU game

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is adept at revealing little at his weekly news conferences, and on Monday of Michigan-Michigan State week, he took it to another level.

Harbaugh tends to shut down a bit more during Michigan State and Ohio State weeks, answering with some of his tried and true mantras, like, be better today than you were yesterday. And now that the sixth-ranked Wolverines, who have won six straight, are preparing to face No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday at Spartan Stadium, Harbaugh had little to share.

Take for example this exchange when he was asked what he tells his team about the opportunity ahead to get a win in a rivalry that Michigan State has dominated the last decade, getting a rare win against a ranked opponent on the road while staying on pace in the Big Ten race.

“Hmmm, mmmm,” Harbaugh said. “Great opportunity.

“That’s it?’ the reporter responded.

“Yeah,” Harbaugh said.

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Harbaugh was asked if there’s a little extra emotion for the Michigan State game.

“Yes,” he said, almost deadpanned. “In-state rival, Big Ten opponent. It always has, is and always will be.”

That apparently is his go-to response this week. He was asked about playing at MSU in 1985 and how his coach, Bo Schembechler, prepared the team for that game and how Harbaugh approaches it.

“The way it always has been, the way it is, the way it always will be,” Harbaugh said. “Approach it the same as it always has. Big game.”

This week has always seemed to produce some level of trash talk between the teams, sometimes initiated by players and always escalated by the fan bases.

Harbaugh would not bite when asked if he issues a directive to his players to zip their mouths and avoid delivering bulletin board material to the gathered media.

“I think we could all use a break from the clichés that have been plowed so thoroughly on both sides,” Harbaugh said.

The players avoided any possibility of delivering controversial remarks.  

“Gotta be careful,” defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall said. “You don’t want nobody twisting your words around. No disrespect to y’all, but that’s how it goes.”

Marshall said the Wolverines just want to play. That’s it.

“We don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “We want to show our work on the field.”

The Wolverines have won six straight since dropping the season opener at Notre Dame and are coming off a 38-13 victory over Wisconsin. Michigan is 6-1, 4-0 Big Ten, while the Spartans are coming off an upset at Penn State, 21-17, and are 4-2, 2-1.

A hot topic this week is Michigan’s record against its rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State, under Harbaugh’s watch. The Wolverines are 1-5 combined against the two.

Michigan State has dominated the last 10 games against Michigan winning eight of those matchups. The Spartans have won four of the last five, including a 14-10 victory last year in a second-half downpour at Michigan Stadium. Michigan last won in 2016, 32-23, at Michigan State.

Michigan is in the midst of a tough three-game stretch that began last week against the Badgers. The Wolverines said that would be a statement game. That seems to be holding true this week as they prepare for the Spartans.

“I’ll call it a statement game, too. I believe this is much bigger,” tight end Nick Eubanks said Monday. “We’re just worried about what we need to do Saturday and get the job done.”

Linebacker Josh Ross said they’re all aware the Michigan program has lost 17 straight road games to ranked opponents. The Spartans are ranked 24th.

“My perspective is, historically we’re viewed as a team that don’t win a lot of big games on the road,” Ross said. “This is our time to silence everybody, silence the critics. At the end of the day, somebody is always going to say something bad about our team, somebody is always going to say something good about our team, but at the end of the day, how we feel in the locker room and how we feel on this team as players to each other, that’s the only that matters.

“I feel our confidence is at its highest right now. Going into this weekend, it’s natural to be excited for a game like this. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to play in-state rival, so coming into this weekend, it’s time to go get it. We’ve got to lay it all on the line and get after it. We’re ready to go for this last stretch of games.”

The Wolverines had a scare on the road at Northwestern and had to come back from a 17-point deficit before winning, 20-17. They bulldozed Maryland and Wisconsin the next two weeks at Michigan Stadium.

They’re trying to break another streak — no Big Ten title since 2004 and that means they need to keep winning. So that’s their overall incentive but there is a more urgent goal this weekend.

“I remember losing to them last year,” sophomore receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones said. “The vibe that brought to our team, it just wasn’t good. I think that’s all the motivation we need for this year.

“We never want to lose to Michigan State. The energy will be up. Big rivalry game, one that we definitely need. We have all the motivation we need.”


Twitter: @chengelis