Michigan Emphasizing Ohio State Rivalry ‘In Ways You Cannot Imagine’

Michigan football is going to beat Ohio State and get to the top of the Big Ten and college football mountaintop, “or die trying,” head coach Jim Harbaugh says.

The Wolverines have emphasized ‘The Game’ with Ohio State in years past, and previously, any notion of added focus on the rivalry would be scoffed at from Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

The days of calling the annual tilt with the Buckeyes one of 12 “championship games” appear to be over. The Wolverines aren’t shying away from the fact that there’s no game on their schedule more important than the one at the end of it. In fact, they’re embracing it more than in the past.

There is no red allowed inside Schembechler Hall, and pictures of a sign in the weight room that reads “What are you doing today to beat Ohio State?” have surfaced on social media. But simple demonstrations like that aren’t the only thing Michigan is doing on a daily basis to knock off its rival, the Wolverines’ players say, though the trade secrets are staying in house for the time being.

“We are emphasizing it in ways that you cannot imagine,” junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “We have a lot of things, whether that be signs, whether that be other things that remind us of Ohio State.

“We’ve never done some of the things that we’ve done. Our philosophy is, if we plan for Ohio State, we can beat any team. Ohio State has been consistently in the Big Ten Championship, consistently one of the best teams in the Big Ten, in college football. So, if we aim to beat them, no one can beat us.”

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Michigan Wolverines football junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson led U-M with 10 tackles against Ohio State in 2019. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

“Ohio State is on our mind every day. Every. Day,” redshirt junior linebacker Josh Ross, who missed the 2019 edition of ‘The Game’ due to an injury, said. “And how we beat them is not then, it’s today. It’s tomorrow. It’s the next day. You stack those days up, and you look up at all these days, just winning those days and attacking it and getting better. Look up, and we’re in the position we want to be in. That’s how we’re going to do that.”

“We’re always preparing for that game, and just know we’re coming out and are going to be ready,” redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins added. “It’s going to be a war, but we’re going to be ready.”

Ultimately, Harbaugh decided to make preparing for Ohio State more of a focal point within the program, but it’s happening naturally, as well. The additions of running backs coach Mike Hart

, the program’s all-time leading rusher, and safeties coach Ron Bellamy, a former Wolverine wide receiver — two players who have won Big Ten titles and played in numerous Michigan-Ohio State matchups — have only ramped things up.

“It’s a culmination of everything,” Hutchinson explained of the added emphasis on the Buckeyes. “It’s a culmination of getting these new coaches, new blood, new energy.

“Coach Hart, who has played in the rivalry, who hates these guys just as much as we do. Then you’ve got Coach Harbaugh, who is putting much more of an emphasis on it. We kind of change, we adjust things every single offseason. That’s one thing we did — put more emphasis on Ohio State. That’s because of Coach Harbaugh. You bring in young guys like Coach Bellamy, Coach Hart — those guys have played here; they’ve been in the thick of it. Having those guys here, it makes it all the better.”

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Michigan didn’t even have the chance to knock off its rival last season, with a COVID-19 outbreak that forced roughly 50 players to miss team activities being the reason why the Wolverines and Buckeyes didn’t square off for the first time since 1917. When the Maize and Blue and Scarlet and Gray clash in Ann Arbor Nov. 27, it will have been 728 days since the two teams met. That is likely a motivator on both sides.

On the Michigan side of things, Harbaugh is 0-5 as a coach against Ohio State, and the Wolverines haven’t beaten OSU since 2011. The Buckeyes have won 15 of 16 games (including the 2010 victory, which was later vacated due to the Buckeyes’ NCAA violations). Ohio State has won the Big Ten title the last four years, and is on top of the conference’s perch.

“I feel like it has been more [focus on Ohio State] this year, because we’re just tired of it, especially players and everybody,” Haskins said.

Michigan Wolverines football redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins gained 78 rushing yards on 12 carries in his first start against Ohio State in 2019.
Michigan Wolverines football redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins gained 78 rushing yards on 12 carries in his first start against Ohio State in 2019. (USA Today Sports Images)

Added Haskins: “It’s definitely time for a change [at the top of the Big Ten], and I think Michigan is the team to do that, for sure. I’ve got 100 percent confidence that we can. We’ve just got to dial in, focus each week. Just dial in for that game. I’ve got confidence that we can beat them.”

At the same time, Michigan is focusing on the present, not defeats of years past.

“The past is the past. It’s time for the new — what are we going to do next year? We know what happened in the past, we know what happened last year, we know that feeling we get thinking about last year,” Ross said. “We know all that. What we ‘bout to do this year? What are we about to do in winter, spring, summer, leading up into camp, which we’re about to go into in a couple weeks? It’s exciting because we’re in a good place.

“It’s some of our guys’ last go. Why not us, you know? Why can’t we do it? There’s no reason we can’t. We’ve just got to do it every day, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

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