ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In the not-so-distant past, when the Ohio State game rolled around, then Michigan football would get to work on facing the Buckeyes. But then, things shifted last year with the ‘beat Ohio’ drill. This year, the Wolverines have amped up the intensity that much more.
Last week, head coach Jim Harbaugh revealed that the maize and blue have been actively planning for Ohio State for months, splitting some of the game planning for the upcoming opponent with that of the Buckeyes. But what exactly does that mean? What have the Wolverines been doing to get ready for this Saturday’s showdown between two of the four undefeated teams in the country?
Harbaugh elucidated a little on Monday.
“Keeping track of them,” Harbaugh said. “There’s things we do in practice to prepare for them. We know Ohio State’s our toughest, toughest competition. This will be our toughest test to date.”
While that may be what’s happened with the coaching staff and practice, senior defensive tackle Mazi Smith says that he and his teammates have let the coaches handle that element of The Game, while the players mostly did focus on the tasks at-hand.
It was a necessary scenario given that this team wanted to be 11-0 heading into Columbus. It’s not that Ohio State wasn’t an omnipresent thought, but that in order for this game to be at its best, the Wolverines had to hold up their end of the bargain.
“It’s kind of the players’ job to stay where they feet at and the coaches’ job to think ahead,” Smith said. “I think the coaches put little things around the building or pull up things in our head, plant the seeds, letting us know what we’re really preparing for. But they also always tell us to be right where our feet at and make sure we handle the business right now. Because if we don’t handle that business right now, we won’t be able to (focus on the game at-hand).”
That said, unlike some previous teams, everything this one has done has been because of Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the reason why Michigan worked to go 11-0, the reason they’ve worked out so hard, the reason why they’ve learned to dominate in the trenches.
Senior left tackle Ryan Hayes says that the mentality needed to beat OSU started as soon as the last season ended.
“Well, I think every day since January on, we always have them in the back of our mind,” Hayes said. “Everything we’re doing is about them. It’s about winning this game, the end of the season. So I think it just starts from January on. Always have them in the back of our heads. We do periods with the, we watch their film pretty much weekly. So just start with that.”
Will it work, the constant focus and maniacal preparation? Given the injury concerns, it’ll be a difficult proposition for either team. But the Wolverines have put themselves in the best position, injuries aside, to be able to pull of the upset and win their second-straight game against their hated rival for the first time in decades, regardless.