EAST LANSING – Harlon Barnett looked and sounded like a man who had a lot he’d like to say.
The Michigan State secondary coach instead mostly kept those words to himself while clearing his throat for emphasis a few times when asked questions about the rivalry with Michigan.
“What keeps running through my head is ‘no billboard material,'” Barnett said on Tuesday.
Michigan State (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) plays at No. 4 Michigan (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday night in the 115th installment of the rivalry with the Paul Bunyan Trophy on the line. The game means a lot to both programs and Barnett is intimately familiar with it. He was an All-American defensive back for the Spartans, is now in his 14th season on staff with the program and was asked why the rivalry is personal.
“I said ‘no billboard material.’ I almost said something too,” Barnett said with a laugh before adding “It’s just a good, friendly rivalry, man.”
Michigan State showed ‘bulletin board material’ ahead of rivalry game at No. 4 Michigan
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker is the first in program history to start 2-0 against Michigan but on Monday said that is not part of his thinking. He also said there is no need to add to the hype of the rivalry and had a directive for his team.
“I made it clear to the players in terms of talking to the media and things like that, we’re talking about our preparation and things that we can control,” Tucker said, “and we’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
Tucker educated players on the rivalry on Monday morning and that included showing them “bulletin board material.” There certainly has been some provided from Ann Arbor with recent trash talk from the unbeaten Wolverines, who opened as 21.5-point favorites in Saturday’s game.
“We know we’re the better team, and we’ve got to go out there and prove it,” Michigan receiver Roman Wilson said. “We just can’t let bull-(expletive) happen.”
Tucker doesn’t want his own players pouring gas on the fire but using the words of the Wolverines for motivation is different. Are the Spartans aware of what has been said by their next opponent?
“Yeah, we are,” quarterback Payton Thorne said without adding anything else to the response.
Overheard at Mel Tucker’s press conference: Bragging rights and don’t add to the hype
The closest thing to come out of Tuesday’s press conference with Barnett and a trio of players that could even be construed as bulletin board material came from linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon and even that would be a stretch. He was asked about what it will be like to play at Michigan Stadium in front of 110,000 or so fans.
“Going into an environment like that, you’ve got to love being uncomfortable because that’s when you grow the most,” Windmon said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to and we look forward to quieting the crowd down.”
A year ago, Michigan State rallied for a 37-33 win against Michigan in a matchup between unbeaten top-10 teams in East Lansing. Following the game and before being asked a question, safety Xavier Henderson called out former Wolverines for talking trash with a headline-generating rant of his own. Now back for a fifth season with the Spartans after previously planning on leaving for the NFL after last year, Henderson was asked Tuesday if, in hindsight, he would have still made those comments.
“It was emotional,” said Henderson, who is known for speaking his mind and being honest. “I wasn’t trying to talk trash. It is what it is though. That’s in the past and I’m just looking forward to this game.”
Mel Tucker on building off win, team health and preparing for loud crowd at Michigan
Windmon, a New Orleans native who spent three seasons at UNLV before transferring to Michigan State in the offseason, is new to the rivalry. He said Tucker wasn’t that adamant about not talking trash publicly because the players already know that.
“We’re a player-led team and we know not to feed into the distractions,” Windmon said. “There wasn’t really too much he had to tell us because we already know how to conduct ourselves when we’re on the stage or conduct ourselves in front of a camera. It’s a difference between playing with emotions and being emotional while playing. I feel like you’ve got to represent yourself a certain way because it’s bigger than football.”
Now heading into his 18th game in the rivalry as a player or coach, Barnett admitted this is a week he would like to be playing. The Spartans were 1-3 against the Wolverines when he was still in uniform but turned around the rivalry after former coach Mark Dantonio was hired in 2007 and Tucker picked up where his predecessor left off. They’ve won 10 of the last 14 against Michigan and, when asked if that has led to more respect from the Wolverines, Barnett paused and chose his words carefully.
“I’ve been a Spartan for a long time, since 1985,” he said. “The first time that I can remember – I told people this – I heard us mentioned this summer about ‘got to beat us.’ The first time. … I thought that was pretty interesting.”
Related Michigan State football stories:
A monsoon in the Big House: Reliving the first night game in Michigan-MSU history
Rivalry reset: Your guide to Michigan-Michigan State week
Mel Tucker hopes Michigan State gets injured players back for trip to No. 4 Michigan
What’s the difference between Michigan and Michigan State fans? Income, education and more
Michigan State true freshmen tracker: Redshirts already burned and who is close