'We're taking this game personally': Wolverines weigh value of win over Ohio State
Ann Arbor — In case anyone believed differently, Michigan players think about Ohio State all the time.
The sendoff from Columbus last year, a 62-39 loss to their arch-rivals, was particularly stinging, and the pain hasn’t dulled. The unbeaten Buckeyes have won seven straight against Michigan and 14 of the last 15, but that loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Wolverines and ended their “Revenge Tour” with a thud.
Michigan and Ohio State play at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the 116th meeting. The Wolverines are ranked No. 10 and are 9-2, 6-2 Big Ten and have won seven of their last eight heading into this game. The Buckeyes are (11-0) and the Big Ten East division champions.
“We know how big this game is. We know what it means to us,” left guard and offensive captain Ben Bredeson said. “Really, we’ve been taking this game personally all year. We’ve been preparing for it since last year. Very excited to have that chance to go play.”
It was a crushing loss at Ohio State last year and before the start of spring practice, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gave the players T-shirts with co-Big Ten East champs on the front and the scores of the three games they lost on the back.
This certainly was not meant to be a keepsake but a reminder of what separated them from realizing their goals.
“We’ve focused on it every single day always knowing — we always know when this game’s coming in the schedule,” Bredeson said. “We were looking forward to this from the end of last year. Going into senior day, talking to the other seniors, you’re last game at Michigan Stadium, you want to go out with a win. There’s no other team we’d rather player in our last game here than Ohio State.”
Harbaugh may not pound the podium and get red-faced as he discusses the Michigan-Ohio State game, but he certainly knows what this week means. He played in the rivalry, once guaranteed a victory and backed that up with his teammates. This will be his fifth time coaching against the Buckeyes.
Michigan already has beaten two rivals this season, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
“Very aware of the rivalry, having played in it, having coached in it, grew up here, my dad was a coach,” Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference. “As I likened the Michigan State game to a state championship, this is even bigger – this two states’ championship, Michigan and Ohio. We’re excited about it. We’re excited for the challenge. I’m excited for the game. Up for and ready for the challenge.”
What would a win mean?
“It would be the state championship between two states,” Harbaugh said. “It would be big. Always is.”
Much has changed for the Buckeyes since last season.
Urban Meyer retired and is working as a television analyst for Fox, and Ryan Day was elevated to head coach. Among Day’s first moves was hiring longtime Michigan assistant Greg Mattison, who has been Harbaugh’s defensive line coach, as co-defensive coordinator, and also Michigan linebackers coach Al Washington, whose father had played for the Buckeyes and raised his family in Columbus.
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But what can never change is the score from last season. The returning defensive players understand that and have embraced it as they’ve prepared for this upcoming game. Clearly, defensive coordinator Don Brown made defensive scheme adjustments this season because of how much success the Buckeyes had against the Wolverines' highly rated defense.
“It fuels us,” linebacker Khaleke Hudson said. “We know what happened last year, we know the things that we did, the things that we messed up on and what we're going to do this year to fix the problems.
"The score last year is what it is, you can't change it. All you can do is focus on this year's game. We control our own destiny for how the game will go.”
Bredeson, though, said it is time to move on to the latest edition of The Game.
“We’ve closed the book on last year,” Bredeson said. “We know what happened, they know what happened.”
Michigan has plenty on the line — a 10-win regular season, for one, not to mention ending the Buckeyes’ seven-game win streak in the rivalry.
“It means a lot just to be able to continue on with the season, being able to win the next game,” said Kemp, a starting defensive tackle and co-captain. “It's also important because the next game that we have is this huge rivalry. Being able to represent -- I really mean it when I say it's a huge honor to be able to represent Michigan in this rivalry and be able to play for all the players who have taken the field to play in this game, and be able to get a win for Michigan is very important.”
The Michigan players said the game defines the season for both teams. For the Wolverines, a win on Saturday would certainly say a lot about this team.
“I believe this game is a big part of our season,” Hudson said. “It’s the icing on top of our season. It's huge for us. I feel like we don't have anything to lose. We're going out there with a dog mentality. Just go out there and try to ruin everything they've got planned on going, while still staying on our tasks, staying true to what we want to do for the rest of the season, and just going out there and being the best team.”