Michigan football’s approach vs. Michigan State not conventional

The cliché bingo card was entirely checked off in Schembechler Hall on Monday when Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and select players spoke about the upcoming rivalry game against Michigan State.

“It’s a red letter game,” said Harbaugh, who added it’s been that way since he suited up for Bo Schembechler in the 1980s.

“We focus on them every year,” said senior offensive lineman Ryan Hayes. “We don’t look at the records.”

Jaylen Harrell, a Florida native, discussed finally understanding the importance of the rivalry last year. As a freshman in 2020, there were no fans in the stands due to the pandemic, so he couldn’t get a true sense of the atmosphere. The top-10 matchup a season ago changed that.

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“I really didn’t get the understanding of it, but last year it really hit me,” Harrell said. “That bus ride back (from East Lansing) really hit me, so I definitely understand it now. “

For Mazi Smith, who grew up in Grand Rapids, the rivalry has been in the air since he could remember college football.

“It’s a championship game we get to play in the regular season,” he said. “I mean, who doesn’t want that?”

Once the platitudes were out of the way, those who spoke did detail what they believe to be the points of emphasis in order to win this rivalry game for the first time in three years.

‘If we stop the run we’ll be good’

A season ago, Kenneth Walker III stole the show in MSU’s 37-33 win with 197 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He was the No. 1 factor in keeping a significant trend alive; the team who has rushed for more yards in the game has won 46 of the past 52 meetings.

Michigan State Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs for a first down against the Michigan Wolverines during second half action Saturday, Oct.  30, 2021.

“Stopping the run is key in every game,” he said. “We see teams who get pass heavy, but when a team can keep a balanced rushing attack, they’re usually able to keep a defense on its toes and surprise the defense with certain plays and be explosive.

“Last year, they did a great job of that. They had a special back back there and them boys play hard no matter what, so it’s always important to stop the run … if we stop the run we’ll be good. “

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