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Jim Harbaugh on Inside Michigan Football: Games like Saturday’s against Michigan State are ‘the best part’

It’s time for the annual in-state battle.

Colorado State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

When it all comes down to it, these are the games that you play for. Saturday’s matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans is monumental. Even though the Wolverines are ranked and Michigan State is a sizable underdog, every one of these players has had this game circled on their calendar for quite some time. “It’s the best part.” Harbaugh said on Inside Michigan Football with Jon Jansen, “These rivalry games are the best part.”

“You just sense it, know it. It’s a big game. And everyone knows it. Everyone wants to win.” Harbaugh said, “Coaches on both sides. Players on both sides. It’s the kind of game that makes or breaks your season.”

Last year, Michigan went to East Lansing and fell to the Spartans in their only blemish of the regular season. Heading into this game on Saturday, Harbaugh said that “no one has watched the highlights or film of that game more than we have. You really want to know them. Master what they are doing so you can use it against them... In every aspect, getting as prepared as possible.”

There are some big name players on both sides this weekend, and Harbaugh touched on two of them on the offensive end for the Spartans, starting with quarterback Payton Thorne.

Last season, Thorne threw for 196 yards and two interceptions in a game where Kenneth Walker III tormented the Michigan defense. But, Harbaugh was still concerned about Thorne because he is “an accurate thrower, slippery, (and) he can run. He throws well on the run. He has a lot of experience, and he’s played really well against us. We expect him to be confident. We need to play good. We’ll have to play our best.”

Then, he moved to Thorne’s greatest weapon, wideout Jayden Reed. The senior had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2021 and is coming off a performance against Wisconsin where he took over with nine receptions for 117 yards. “(Reed) is fast. He plucks the ball out of the air. As good as anybody with the 50/50 ball.” Harbaugh exclaimed. “He’s a good runner of the ball after the catch. He doesn’t go down easy either. He is always making a cut, keeping it alive. You’ve got to cover him.”

However, Harbaugh knows this game is going to be won or lost on the ground. He praised the Michigan State defensive line and the overall veteran experience on this Spartan defense.

He then focused on the three-headed rushing attack that includes the likes of Jarek Broussard, Jalen Burger, and Elijah Collins. “There is a fastball, curve, kind of situation when you have really good backs you are going against. That’s something they had success in doing last year. It’s something we want to defend much better this year.”

Back to his own team, Harbaugh said he is excited about J.J. McCarthy and was happy he got a few snaps against the Spartans last season. His mentality seems to match that of his head coach as Harbaugh said he “always has a bounce in his step. He always does. He’s like a kid in a candy store, chomping at the bit to play.” His favorite on-the-field part is that “he doesn’t repeat mistakes. He doesn’t linger on it either. He has some experience. You don’t have to worry about J.J.”

Another guy to look out for this week is sophomore linebacker Junior Colson. Harbaugh spoke about players rising to the occasion in games like the one coming on Saturday against the Spartans. He expects Colson to do just that: “Junior Colson knows. He feels it. That the rest of the guys on the team are counting on him. He is one of the kinds of guys that gets elevated in these type of games.”