Michigan taking fresh approach to stop slide against Ohio State

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis  — After Ohio State beat Michigan for the eighth straight time in 2019, then-OSU quarterback Justin Fields said, when asked why he thinks the Buckeyes have dominated the series the last two decades, that they take the rivalry game more seriously.

Ohio State has won 16 of the last 18 against the Wolverines. The teams did not play last fall in Ohio Stadium because of Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak. Michigan canceled its final three games.

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson talks with reporters during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, Thursday, July 22, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

“I just think it means more for Ohio State,” Fields said after that 56-27 win in Ann Arbor. He said they already were preparing for the next game.

The Wolverines are coming off a dreadful 2-4 season and Jim Harbaugh is back for his seventh season. He is 0-5 against Ohio State and 3-3 against in-state rival Michigan State. There has been a significant staff overhaul in the offseason, and Harbaugh signed an extension that will pay him roughly half what he was making. But also among those changes, the players said there has been a shift in approach to arch-rival Ohio State.

“We change and adjust things every single offseason, and that’s one thing we did is just to put more of that emphasis on Ohio State and that’s because of coach Harbaugh,” defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson said Thursday at Big Ten media days in Lucas Oil Stadium.

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How are the Wolverines emphasizing it more? “We are emphasizing it in ways you cannot imagine,” Hutchinson said coyly.

The players would not share specifics.

“We have a lot of things, whether that be signs, whether that be other things that remind us of Ohio State,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve never done some of the things we’ve done.”

Linebacker Josh Ross said Ohio State, the top-tier team in the Big Ten and nationally, is the Wolverines’ focus.

“Stacking the days. That’s what it’s about,” Ross said. “It’s not about looking too far in the future, it’s not about none of that. It's about stacking today and having a purpose, and our purpose is to beat Ohio State. What are we doing today? ... I want to have the best workouts, I’m going to have the best practice, just stack them days, with that mindset, we’re going to be where we want to be.”

During his media session on Thursday, Harbaugh said that he’s energized to win the Big Ten title.

“To beat Ohio and our rival Michigan State,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we want to do. And we’re going to do it or die trying.”

Harbaugh openly spoke about Ohio State again during a one-hour session Thursday with reporters.

“They’re on top of the perch, right?” he said. “Somebody’s gotta knock ‘em off that perch, and why not us? Let it be us and let us do everything in our power to get that done.”

Hutchinson made clear that Michigan has always wanted to beat Ohio State. But hearing the players talk openly about their daily focus on the Buckeyes is as big a change as these visual and mental adjustments regarding the rivalry he said they've made.

“Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m not just saying that we’re just now realizing that Ohio State is our rival,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve always thought of Ohio State, we always can’t wait for that game until the end of November. It’s not like because they have their stuff in their facilities that makes them want it more than us. That’s not the case.

“However, it’s just this season, we’re putting a little more into it, visually, mentally we’re doing things that are emphasizing it. It’s not like we have not recognized this rivalry until this year. We’ve always recognized it, we’ve always emphasized it, we always can’t wait to play scarlet and gray in November.”

This approach to the Ohio State game, also includes, Hutchinson said, their desire to beat Michigan State.

“Ohio State has been consistently in the Big Ten championship, consistently one of the best teams in the Big Ten and college football, so if we aim to beat them, no one can beat us,” he said.


Twitter: @chengelis