ANN ARBOR — Growing up in western Michigan, Desmond Morgan knew where and how the loyalties in his hometown divided during football season.
Morgan grew up a Michigan football fan on the west side of Holland, a town known for its May tulip festival and its homage to the Netherlands. On that side of town, Morgan was well aware of his neighbors’ affinity for Michigan State.
“I got a lot of ‘Go Green’ and stuff like that, growing up,’ ”said Morgan, a junior linebacker for the Wolverines. “A lot of people would bring up scores, especially when [Michigan State] had the streak of four wins going on there. So I’d say they’re a little bit more favored there.”
No. 23 Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) prepares to face No. 24 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., and while Morgan grew up understanding the magnitude of the in-state rivalry, some of his teammates who came to UM as outsiders didn’t.
Receiver Jeremy Gallon noticed as soon as he arrived from his native Florida. But unlike some involved in the rivalry, either as players, alumni or impassioned fans, he doesn’t take it to an exaggerated level of loathing.
“I don’t hate anybody,” said Gallon, who is second in the Big Ten with 831 receiving yards, behind Penn State’s Allen Robinson (878). “I want to win. It’s about who wants to win more than the other players. In this game, the level of competing is higher.”
Anyone blind to the feud doesn’t need long to understand its significance.
“They pick that up pretty quickly,” said UM quarterback Devin Gardner, a Detroit native. “We’ve got signs reminding us of it around the building, and we talk about it in camp and everybody knows what this rivalry is all about.”
Added Morgan, “I don’t think anyone here needs to be taught what the rivalry means, especially after the last few years I’ve been a part of it. I grew up in the state so I had a little bit of a sense of what it was like.
“But anyone who’s been in this program knows exactly what this rivalry is all about.”
Gardner characterized the intensity of the rivalry in a few words.
“They hate us,” Gardner said. “It’s openly known and that’s why the intensity’s a little bit higher.”
Morgan delved deeper into that rivalry in 2011, his first year at Michigan, after he grew up as an invested observer.
“I was a freshman, and I was still kind of experiencing college football,” Morgan said. “But it was one of the games where I started to get a little more playing time, so I started to come into the game itself and learn about it from that aspect. But I definitely learned what the rivalry’s about and some of the nastiness that comes along with it, and the intensity on both sides of the ball.”
Can Morgan weigh the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry against the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry?
“That’s a difficult question because both are rivalry games and we respect both just as much as the other,” said Morgan, who has 47 tackles (26 solo), one sack and one interception in seven games. “For me, I have a little different perspective because as an in-state kid, I hear a lot more of the ‘Go Green’ than ‘Go Ohio State.’
“Ohio State goes back a little farther and there’s a lot more history, but both games are great rivalry games. It’s hard to distinguish if one’s set apart from the other.”
But Morgan will also explain the significance of playing Michigan State, a rivalry that some could argue gets lost in the pecking order behind Ohio State and Notre Dame.
“I don’t think it’s been disrespected, by any means,” Morgan said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s been known as a rivalry game. It’s a state championship game, and it’s an important game that’s been marked on our schedule every year. I don’t think it’s downplayed at all.”