Hoke delivers Michigan victory as rivalry ramps up

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Brady Hoke was trying to get to one corner of Michigan Stadium, where his team had gathered to sing "The Victors," but with every step he took there was another person to hug.

There was athletic director David Brandon. There was defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. There was what appeared to be just a random fan, thankful that Hoke had, in just one season, restored the pride to the Michigan Wolverines, a 10-win, likely Sugar Bowl season capped by a 40-34 victory over Ohio State.

It was the first victory over the Buckeyes since 2003, and there's no downplaying the significance here.

"We end every meeting with, 'Beat Ohio,' " Hoke said.

A mass of 114,132 fans reportedly showed up here to take in the 108th Ohio State-Michigan game, and as surprisingly competitive as it was, the specter of one man who wasn't even here sort of hung over everything.

Urban Meyer soon will be named Ohio State's coach, instantly reinvigorating a Buckeyes program that's drifted for nearly a year amid busted secrets and lingering scandal.

He'll also add a measure of pop to this historic rivalry.

There is little question Hoke has the Wolverines pointed in the proper direction, a combination of attitude and aptitude even before his touted group of recruits hits campus.

And there is just as little doubt that Meyer will excel down the road in Columbus, where Ohio State's vast resources, proximity to talent and institutional commitment to winning await a coach who racked up two BCS titles at Florida and an unbeaten season at Utah.

Michigan and Ohio State still can crank out the pageantry as well as anyone; it was a typically spectacular scene Saturday. What it hasn't had much of over the past two decades is back-and-forth drama. Too often, it's been prolonged runs of success by one school over the other. Before this string of Buckeyes dominance, Michigan had gone 10-2-1 from 1988-2000.

It may be fun for whoever is in control, but the best rivalries are ones anyone can win, when things are even, when both sides are maximizing their potential.

It's that level of competition that's coming fast now: Might against might, strength against strength, two powerhouses that should be firing on all cylinders at the exact same time.

Maybe it won't be to the level of the so-called "Ten-Year War" (1969-78) between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes Michigan edged that out, 5-4-1.

It could be, though.

[Recap: Michigan 40, Ohio State 34]

What are Hoke's thoughts on competing against Meyer in the future?

"The good thing about coaches, we don't do the competing; it's the kids," he said. "It's the guys on the field."

That may be Hoke's first cop-out answer since arriving in Ann Arbor. He never has been shy about declaring his intentions. He promised success if only because "this is Michigan, for God's sake."

So he'll probably figure out a more pointed welcome to Meyer in the days to come since beating Ohio State never is far from Hoke's mind.

Actually, he won't even call it Ohio State, just "Ohio," which wasn't an uncommon way of describing the team in the 1970s but today feels like a pointed jab. It is, at the very least, a long way from the Buckeyes-preferred "The Ohio State University" and one that instead links the program with the Mid-American Conference's actual Ohio.

Ever heard him say the term "Ohio State"?

"No," said tight end Kevin Koger.

"Nope," said safety Jordan Kovacs.

Did he ever give a reason?

"No," Koger said. "Unexplained mystery, I guess."

Everyone up here has caught on. The players now call Ohio State just "Ohio." The fans chant "Beat Ohio." Even some of the media used the term in questions. This is something that, no doubt, will annoy Buckeyes fans to no end.

Of course, Hoke simply is taking a page from the Woody Hayes playbook. Hayes not only refused to say "Michigan" (preferring "that school up north"), but on recruiting trips to Michigan he famously refused to even buy gas until he got back to the proper side of the border.

And it was Jim Tressel who upon arriving from I-AA Youngstown State threw down the gauntlet at a basketball game by saying, "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community and, most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field."

He delivered; it was Buckeyes 26-20 in that one.

[Photos: Michigan ends 7-game skid to Ohio State]

It's this kind of ridiculous gamesmanship that has made this rivalry special, what makes it churn with equal amounts of animosity and respect. And it's what was needed after too much Ohio State dominance followed by this transitional year for the Buckeyes.

Interim coach Luke Fickell did his best, but beset with suspensions, distractions and divisions, 6-6 was probably all anyone could ask. The guy couldn't even prepare to beat the Wolverines in peace, word of his administration all but hiring Meyer leaking out last week.

He was so sick of answering questions about Meyer on Saturday that he slammed the postgame podium and demanded the attention return to this game.

Forget it. Every Buckeye wants to talk about Urban and all the wonderful things he did at past coaching stops. He stepped away from Florida after the 2010 season citing his health and a commitment to spending time with family, but he's apparently over all of that now.

Meyer knows only one way to compete - full throttle, with endless hours, hyper-intense recruiting and attention to detail. It darn near killed him at Florida, leaving a guy in his mid-40s hospitalized with heart issues.

"Self-destructive," Meyer called it then.

"Relentless effort," said Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who said he spent the last five years of Meyer's tenure in Gainesville fearing for his health. "You can't keep up that pace."

Meyer, 47, apparently is rested and ready, and anyone who thinks he'll slow down in Columbus doesn't know the man. He'll last as long as he can last. And he'll win in the meantime.

He no doubt watched Saturday's game and already is drawing up spring practice plans on how to maximize dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller and strategizing about how to lure the kind of game-breaking recruits the Buckeyes need.

How intense and creative is Meyer? He first impressed Percy Harvin, one of his Gator greats, when he showed up at the then-super recruit's Virginia high school in the middle of the school day. Instead of sitting around and waiting to talk to Harvin, Meyer and an assistant decided to jog a few miles around the school track, with all of Harvin's schoolmates looking out the window.

"They showered in [our] locker room," Harvin said then. "They were like at home."

Hoke probably isn't going to employ that tactic, but his folksy personality and obvious motivational skills were on display all season. He inherited a bottomed-out program from Rich Rodriguez, full of talent but little direction.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen]

Less than a year later, it's all pointing in the right direction – – wins racking up, recruits rolling in. He commands respect. He may not have the resume, but he'll be as formidable a foe as Meyer could ask.

"He is us, we are him," said center David Molk. "I'd do anything for him."

"The guy really cares about this program," said defensive tackle Mike Martin. "He's the most genuine coach. He's a guy who truly bleeds maize and blue."

And so here comes Michigan, back with power and purpose. And here comes Ohio State, about to land the most-coveted coaching candidate in the country.

They are both bringing it hard now, both programs seemingly on their game at the same time for the first time in a long time.

Woody and Bo. Brady and Urban. Fasten up the chinstraps in the Midwest. This is about to get really interesting.

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