Mentality shift evident for Michigan and Ohio State at Big Ten media days

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Every Big Ten media days before the latest iteration, there were common themes when it came to the Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry. The Wolverine contingent would sullenly express how much it hoped to somehow take down the Buckeyes while the Ohio State representatives would approach the podium sessions with gusto, emboldened by years of superiority in the rivalry.

However, this week in Indianapolis, there was a decided role reversal.

Gone were the days when the Buckeyes would spend a good third of their allotted hour talking about Michigan. For Ryan Day, C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Ronnie Hickman, the topic couldn’t come and go fast enough. On the other hand, the Wolverines in attendance — Jim Harbaugh, Cade McNamara, Erick All, DJ Turner and Mazi Smith — the questions kept coming, and the confidence borne from last year’s win beget wry smiles, even as OSU returns as 2022 preseason favorites.

Of course, in speaking about last year’s win, there was no reason to shy away from the topic. Smith’s recollection of the 2021 version of The Game sounded awfully similar to the annual ripostes Buckeye players used to hurl back at media inquiring about the latest rivalry chapter.

“I saw Ohio State’s O-line and they were big, good football players, athletes,” Smith said. “We just wanted more at the end of the day, on both sides of the ball, just wanted it more, went out there and took it. It’s always there for the taking, always there for the taking — and that’s what we did.”

Similarly, McNamara was brimming with confidence, especially given the lopsided nature of the 42-27 drubbing in Ann Arbor. In the past 10 years, every player who wore a winged helmet that took the podium at Big Ten media days had their proverbial tail between their legs when recounting The Game from the year past.

However, in a role reversal, it was McNamara’s turn to stand tall, while Stroud had to sullenly express hopefulness that next year would provide a different outcome.

“In a sense, I was surprised how kind of out of hand I thought it was, I thought the gap was pretty big during that game,” McNamara said. “And I’m sure Ohio State didn’t feel very good about that. And, I know that the O-line was very confident in themselves going into that game. And that was our identity last season, was that we’re going to be physical and I do not see that changing.”

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“Something like that definitely does stick in your mind,” Stroud said. “But you’ve gotta be able to move on and just learn from it. I feel like every failure you don’t learn from is an ‘L,’ every failure you learn from is a ‘W.’ I definitely just learned from it, learned game management better from that game, when to take the shot, when not to, moving the pocket. There’s a lot of different things you can take take from that game. I think of it more as a positive, honestly — it sounds weird to say. I’m living my dream — even though I wanted to win so bad. I have another opportunity, hopefully, by the glory of God.

“So yeah, just working toward that in the offseason, and it’s always in the back of my mind.”

That’s about as much of a role reversal as there can possibly be.

Looking forward, Michigan is intent on not being complacent entering 2022, knowing that the great feeling provided by 2021 could be dissipated with a moribund outing this year. With The Game in Columbus for the first time since 2018, not many are giving the Wolverines a chance to repeat. But Jim Harbaugh doesn’t expect the maize and blue will enter The Shoe at all intimidated by a venue where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000.

“They’re not gonna flinch if that’s what you’re asking,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, there’s nothing really to teach them, or show them or tell them. I know our team really well by now. They don’t blink. They don’t flinch at stuff. And you know, just keep attacking and building and that’s definitely our goal — to win the championship again, and fight like hell for Michigan to get that done.”

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire