If you’ve been following anything coming out of Ann Arbor this season, you’ve probably noticed a bit of a change in how the Michigan coaches and players are treating The Game vs. Ohio State. There’s no doubt there is an increased amount of energy and focus placed on one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.
That is, of course, nothing new from the OSU sideline. Over the last couple of decades, Jim Tressel, then Urban Meyer, and now Ryan Day have embraced the rivalry and work on it year-round in some way, shape, or form. It has resulted in the Buckeyes winning 15 of the last 16 matchups and frankly, resetting expectations and a level of tolerance up at Michigan.
Even though Jim Harbaugh was brought in to swing the pendulum the other way, it hasn’t happened so far. Harbaugh has coached the Wolverines to 0-5 during his tenure, and the lack of success against his rivals led to some loud calls for a change to be made. However, instead of going in a different direction. the Michigan brass significantly restructured the new contract of Harbaugh, significantly downgrading the salary and buyout.
It was a message being sent without paying the ultimate price of losing his job, but it seems as though Harbaugh has taken it to heart, hiring a younger coaching staff and changing how the Wolverine program treats the rivalry game against Ohio State.
There’s now a sign in the Michigan weight room that says “What are you doing today to beat Ohio State?” The coaching staff instituted the “Beat Ohio drill,” one that has apparently been in place since the start of spring.
“It’s a run drill, Harbaugh explained. “Run drill and a run-stopping drill. All runs, all runs are between the tackles. Physicality, emphasis, and emphasis on Ohio State and keeping them on our minds every day of practice.”
Well, that’s new. Wolverine fans have long claimed real estate in OSU players and fans heads because the Buckeyes sleep, eat, and dream about beating Michigan. There’s a countdown clock in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center counting down to the Michigan game. Players punch bags with the block M on them in drills. It’s the way it’s been in Columbus for a long, long time.
Now, it appears that same mentality is starting to permeate practices, culture, and talk up in Ann Arbor. After all, maybe the way to beat Ohio State is to take a page out of the game plan and mentality when it comes to “The Game.”
But will it matter?
It seems like Michigan is trying nearly everything to try and get the OSU monkey off its back. After eight straight losses, fans, players, and coaches don’t care any longer if Ohio State seems obsessed with the game, because they themselves have become obsessed with losing to their neighbors to the south.
At the end of the day, it’s probably something that’s needed for Michigan. If the Buckeyes are focusing on the game more than the Wolverines are, then how can you possibly keep up? History would say that you simply can’t.
Still, it won’t matter if Michigan comes out on Saturday and lays another egg in a big game — in fact the biggest of games — against Darth Vader on national television. Ohio State still has more skill, more speed, but maybe, just maybe, a new mentality will help even the playing field.
We shall see. All of the changes with how Michigan men are treating this game should add a little color to everything, but we still like scarlet and gray topping maize and blue on Saturday.