Michigan quickly shifts focus to Ohio State
Ann Arbor — The chants began late in the game, and they became stronger outside Michigan Stadium after fans spilled out after the Wolverines’ perfect home record remained unblemished for the season.
“Beat Oh-HI-Oh!” they boomed.
Michigan is 10-1 after defeating Indiana, 20-10, Saturday in snowy conditions. Earlier in the day, Ohio State beat Michigan State to remain 10-1. Michigan needs to beat the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten East and play for its first conference championship since 2004 and, more importantly, a spot in the four-game national playoff. Ohio State needs to beat Michigan and hope Penn State loses to Michigan State to advance to the Big Ten title game.
The Game is Saturday at Ohio Stadium and Ohio State likely will be No. 2 in the College Football Playoff and if the rankings remain the same from last week when they are released Tuesday night, Michigan will be No. 3. It will be the biggest Michigan-Ohio State matchup since the 2006 game when No. 1 Ohio State faced No. 2 Michigan in one of the series’ most memorable games.
Michigan has not won in Columbus since 2000. Ohio State has won 13 of the last 15 games against Michigan and four straight, and Urban Meyer has a 1-0 record against Jim Harbaugh-coached Michigan.
Before every game this season, Harbaugh, in an attempt to maintain his players’ focus, reminded them the game for which they were about to take the field was the most important.
“Coach Harbaugh said, ‘At the end of the tunnel, you know who we got, so let’s focus on the game in front of us,’” safety Dymonte Thomas said. “But now that game we were looking at at the end of the tunnel is here. I can’t wait.”
Ohio State always is at the end of the tunnel for Michigan, and Michigan always is at the end of the tunnel for Ohio State.
That is a significant part of the beauty of the rivalry.
ESPN’s “College GameDay,” not surprisingly, will be in Columbus for its pregame show that will be extended two hours to five leading up to The Game. The official Twitter page of Ohio State athletics (@OhioStateFB) on Sunday replaced every M on its profile with a red X.
The Buckeyes opened as a 6.5-point favorite, and Michigan’s quarterback situation remains a big question mark. Harbaugh likely will not shed any light on it this week.
Starter Wilton Speight injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder late in the game against Iowa just more than a week ago and Harbaugh said his status remains as “day-to-day”. Backup John O’Korn got the start in the victory over Indiana, struggled in the first half, threw for 59 yards, but his 30-yard run in the third quarter gave the Wolverines a spark that led to their first touchdown.
It did not take long for the Wolverines to put that game to bed and begin to talk about facing Ohio State.
“Now it’s finally here we can zero in on it and put all our focus toward it, because this one is all for the marbles,” linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup, said of facing the Buckeyes. “Everything we want is right in front of us. We’ve just got to go out and execute.”
All but the freshmen remember last year’s Michigan-Ohio State game in Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes demolished the Wolverines, 42-13.
“It might get a little feisty in practice because we know what’s ahead,” linebacker Mike McCray said.
Ohio State fans know Mike McCray Sr., a former Buckeyes captain. But blood, apparently, is thicker than alma mater.
“He’s probably not going to trash talk at all,” McCray said, smiling. “He’s on our side now.”
Nose tackle Ryan Glasgow was three days removed from pectoral surgery and watched The Game on a 20-inch television in the training room last season. He wasn’t allowed on the field for fear he might get hit.
He is eager to play in the rivalry game he described as “pretty intense.”
“I’ve never beaten Ohio State,” Glasgow said. “I’ve never been on a team that’s beaten them, so that feeds into (the eagerness to play the Buckeyes) a little bit.”
Thomas is from Ohio. His older brother is an OSU fan who can’t quite bring himself to switching allegiances just for Thomas’ sake. He has been known to wear a Michigan shirt and a Buckeye hat as a small concession to his brother.
While the rivalry has not divided his family, Thomas understands as well as most how highly charged the atmosphere at Ohio Stadium will be.
“I just know it’s going to be a battle,” Thomas said. “The way I look at it, it’s going to be like two kids meeting in the alley to fight it out and the winner is going to take it all. It’s going to be a brawl. It’s going to be something fun, something exciting. It’s going to be something special. I can’t way to play with the guys, I can’t wait to go after them.”
Michigan fans, Thomas anticipates, will have a big showing in the stadium.
“That game’s going to be a shootout,” he said. “The way we look at it it’s like a playoff game. We know they need a win, (and) we need a win.
“I expect both teams to give it their all. It’s going to be a great game to watch and see. It’s going to be something exciting.”
The Wolverines know what a victory over the Buckeyes would mean. There are so many layers there, but above and beyond snapping a lengthy dominance is the opportunity to play for a Big Ten championship and a national playoff berth.
“We know what we want to be,” Peppers said. “We don’t have to harp on it or dwell on it.
“We don’t need to add any extra to the game. The game is big enough itself.”