The stage is set and the stakes are high. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh says his team has a playoff elimination mindset going into East Lansing against 7-0 Michigan State.
Michigan fell to the Spartans 27-24 in a pandemic-laden 2020 season, but now stand 7-0, ranked No. 6.
“Last year that kind left a bad taste in your mouth, especially with them,” Michigan DE/OLB Aidan Hutchinson told the media on Tuesday night. “It was a game that I really thought we should’ve won but we couldn’t close it out. This year, we’ve closed the book on last year and we’re ready to take them on this year. We’re a whole new team. Whole new culture and we’re just ready to go.”
No. 8 MSU represents Michigan’s biggest challenge yet, and they surely represent their most disliked foe to this point in the year. Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said it isn’t hard ingraining the hate and animosity of the rivalry in his newcomers and transfer players — noting the rivalry is in his face “every single day”.
The vitriol is mutual, but the trajectory of these two programs is not, it can’t be — one team has to lose on Saturday. For Hutchinson, winning on Saturday is mandatory for he and his team.
“If you’re a player at Michigan, you have to beat State,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a requirement. Every year — if you don’t, the season’s just not quite complete.”
When linebacker Josh Ross answered questions, he echoed Hutchinson’s comments and the importance the game has in the state of Michigan. “It’s definitely a physical, gritty game. It’s important for us guys in state, me and Aidan,” Ross said.” Specifically guys that are captains, guys that are leaders, guys that are from the state.”
Despite the rivalry, Michigan players continue to preach about opponents that are “faceless”, treating each threat the same.
“No one needs to be nudged to be nastier,” Hutchinson said. “Everyone’s going to know on Saturday it’s going to be a nasty game. It’s how these rivalry games go. The way that we play these nameless — faceless opponents just shows that no matter who we play if we execute, we’re going to be successful.”