While Ohio State has long placed a year-round emphasis on beating “the team up north,” Michigan hasn’t always taken the same approach.
During the Wolverines’ last appearance at Big Ten Media Days two years ago, Michigan players were hesitant to put too much emphasis on the importance of beating Ohio State. Michigan guard Ben Bredeson said then that he thought the Wolverines needed to focus on one day at a time rather than looking ahead to November. Former Michigan linebacker Jordan Glasgow said the Wolverines needed “to look at the season as a whole” rather than prioritizing a rivalry game.
Going into this season, however, Michigan isn’t shying away from the notion that it needs to beat Ohio State more than anyone else.
As has been seen in multiple images that have surfaced on social media this summer, there’s a new sign inside Michigan’s football facility this offseason: “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?” And multiple Michigan players said Thursday, during their appearances at this year’s Big Ten Media Days, that they have been taking an everyday approach to beating Ohio State this offseason.
“Every day. Every day. That’s what it’s about. It’s about beating them. Every single day,” Michigan linebacker Josh Ross said. “And that’s one thing that’s been a focus for our program, for the players, coaches, make the best of every day. When we go into the football building today, let’s PR today. The next day. Let’s win the rep. Let’s pass this conditioning test and dominate it. The next day. Let’s have the best practice. Keep stacking those days. We get to camp, stack those days and we’re going to be in a spot where we want to be in.”
Michigan is now staring down the possibility of going an entire decade without beating Ohio State, with the Wolverines’ last win over the Buckeyes coming in 2011. Ohio State has won eight straight games against Michigan since then. The last two wins came in blowout fashion – 62-39 in 2018 and 56-27 in 2019 – while last year’s game was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Wolverines’ program.
That means most of Michigan’s players have not only never beaten Ohio State, but have lost every game they’ve played against Ohio State in blowout fashion. Senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said he’s thinking about that on a daily basis.
“We prepare for Ohio State every single day,” Hutchinson said. “In the weight room, in the walkthroughs, every day we got one thing on our mind and that’s Ohio State. And what are we gonna do to beat them? And when you’re working out, when you’re grinding out that last rep, when you think you can’t go anymore, all I think of is 2019, sitting on that bench, being down two touchdowns and not being able to do a damn thing about it.
“And that allows me to do 2-3 more reps, something that I think I wasn’t even capable of. So having Ohio State there, in the back of my mind every day, is something that drives me.”
Hutchinson said Michigan has “always emphasized” and “always recognized” the importance of beating Ohio State, and that the Wolverines “always can’t wait to play the scarlet and gray in November.” But Michigan running back Hassan Haskins said he believes there has been a greater emphasis on winning The Game this offseason.
“I feel like it’s been more this year,” Haskins said. “Because we’re just tired of it. Especially the players and everybody. We need to make a change.”
Harbaugh, who’s now 0-5 against Ohio State, is tired of losing to the Buckeyes too. During his press conference on Thursday morning, Harbaugh said the Wolverines are “going to do it or die trying.” He acknowledges that Ohio State is the team to beat in the conference, but he says the Wolverines won’t back down from trying to be the team that changes that.
“They’re at the top. We gotta knock them off their perch. And that’s on our mind every day,” Harbaugh said during a Thursday afternoon interview session.
“Somebody’s gotta knock them off that perch. Why not us? Let it be us, and let’s do everything in our power to get that done.”
“When you’re working out, when you’re grinding out that last rep, when you think you can’t go anymore, all I think of is 2019, sitting on that bench, being down two touchdowns and not being able to do a damn thing about it.”– Aidan Hutchinson on being motivated by the losing streak against Ohio State
Coming off a 2-4 season last year, the Wolverines know they need to be much better to have a chance to beat Ohio State this year. Ross said the team’s culture was not where it needed to be in 2020, but he’s confident that’s changed this offseason.
“Last year, it was a tough year, and coming off of that, it was a lot of bad taste in a lot of my teammates’ mouths,” Ross said. “Even coaches as well. Bad taste in everybody’s mouths, even fans, everybody. And we know coming back, we’re never gonna let that happen again. For us, for everybody, because we know how great we can be, and it starts with us as players. And if it don’t start with us, then it can’t grow.”
Although none of Michigan’s media days representatives actually went so far as to proclaim that the Wolverines would beat Ohio State this season, all of them expressed that they would put everything they have into trying to make that happen.
“I’m coming out there everyday in that football building and working, grinding for that game,” Haskins said. “For every game, but especially for that game. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s definitely going to be a fun game. It’s going to be a war on that field. It’s going to be an exciting game.”