Not long after Michigan’s victory at Indiana, Jim Harbaugh offered a clinical explanation for his typical post-win celebration schedule.
The Wolverines had just overwhelmed the Hoosiers, 39-14, quarterback Shea Patterson threw for five touchdowns, Nico Collins caught three of them, and Josh Uche had a strip-sack that led to a touchdown.
“On average I would say after a win, I pretty much enjoy it anywhere from four to six hours,” Harbaugh said, drawing some laughs at his news conference. “Then after about hour six, I stop thinking about this game and go pretty much right to the next one.
But Ohio State is not your average opponent. The unbeaten Buckeyes have already clinched the Big Ten East Division title and will play for the conference championship and a shot at the four-team national playoff. Ohio State has won seven straight against Michigan and 14 of the last 15, and the arch-rivals will meet again Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
The Wolverines stumbled in the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin and nearly came back to beat Penn State on the road. They are 9-2, 6-2 Big Ten and most observers, as well as several of the Michigan players, point to the second half of the Penn State game when they nearly pulled off the comeback after trailing, 21-0, as the critical shift in the season.
Michigan has since won four straight since and averaged 41.5 points in those games.
Harbaugh didn’t want to discuss the Buckeyes just yet — that will come this week — but fiery sophomore defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, whose father, Chris, was an All-American at Michigan in the early 1990s, has lived and breathed the rivalry since he was a youngster and said the players’ attention turned to the Buckeyes immediately.
“We were all in the locker room, (and) no one was even talking about this game,” Hutchinson said after the victory at Indiana. “We’re all ready for next week.”
The players know what the upcoming game means. The Wolverines haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2011, 40-34, under Brady Hoke when Luke Fickell was OSU’s interim head coach. Harbaugh is 0-4 against OSU.
“Obviously this game is the biggest of our schedule and we’re going to come out there and do our thing,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t see them as unbeatable. Every team can be beat, and we’re gonna go out there and just do our job.”
The Buckeyes are ranked first nationally in total defense, yielding an average 217.4 yards a game and are sixth in total offense (530.4) and first in scoring (49.4 average). Michigan is ranked No. 4 in total defense (267.0) and 69th in offense (402.6).
Patterson has been on a hot streak and thrown for 750 yards and nine touchdowns the last two weeks against Michigan State and Indiana. He took over as starter last season after transferring from Ole Miss and returned for this season in large part for another shot at the Buckeyes, which pounded Michigan 62-39 last season.
“I just thought to myself there’s no way in hell I’m leaving this place on that note,” Patterson told The Detroit News last December when he revealed he would return to Michigan. “I think one of the biggest things that impacted me coming back —one of them — was that last game in Columbus.”
As fiery as Hutchinson is, Patterson is subdued. Even after the win over Indiana, the Wolverines’ seventh victory in the last eight, he maintained an even voice — as he usually does — when responding to a question about Ohio State.
“We understand the level of intensity this game brings,” Patterson said. “Everything we do leading up to this game next week is already planned throughout the season. Just Ohio State, the word Ohio State in itself, is enough for us.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day was asked after the Buckeyes’ victory over Penn State on Saturday his philosophy on Michigan. He reiterated what he said in July at Big Ten media days.
“We live it every day,” Day told reporters. “The Team up North is something that we talk about every single day. And the best way to respect a rivalry is to work it every day, and we do.”
Like Harbaugh, Day said he would enjoy Saturday’s victory, then move on.
“We quickly transition to that rivalry game, which means everything to us,” he said.
Even as Michigan and its fans have been mired in such a losing slump to the Buckeyes, this game means everything to them, as well. That was evident late at Indiana when Michigan fans at Memorial Stadium started the “Beat Ohio”.
“That’s something that’s really cool to listen to and watch,” left tackle Jon Runyan said. “We were still kind of on the field when that was going on. I’m proud of my teammates. Wins in college football are hard to come by. I’m going to enjoy this one until midnight then we’ll get on to next week.
“We know what we’ve got ahead of us and looking forward to getting back to work.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 10 Michigan 9-2, 6-2 Big Ten; No. 2 Ohio State 11-0, 8-0
Line: Ohio State by 10