A year ago at Big Ten Media Days, questions about Ohio State yielded a palpable amount of irritation from the Michigan players that fielded them.
Eight months removed from their first win over the Buckeyes in 10 years, a 15-point victory in upset fashion no less, the tone from the Wolverines was quite a bit different at Lucas Oil Stadium Tuesday. In the same building in which it won the Big Ten Championship Game last December, something Ohio State had done in each of the previous four seasons, Michigan representatives spoke about their archrival with much more bravado.
“It's just we were expecting to do what we did and we're gonna be doing the same thing, expecting the same thing this upcoming year.”– Michigan TE Erick All on beating Ohio State
“I think (last year’s win over Ohio State) helps us a lot. It gives us definitely more confidence that we’ve been there,” Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said during his interview session in Indianapolis. “There’s less weight on our shoulders as to the stress of, ‘We have to do this.’ In a way it was like anxiety as to why is Coach Harbaugh in the hot seat? Why does he have to face the criticism? Because if anyone wants to beat Ohio State, it’s Coach Harbaugh, and I can promise you that. But I think now that we got that for him, I think now that we know what that looks like, we’re gonna be even more confident going into that game.
“I think a part of being a leader, being a member of this team is to make sure that we don’t become complacent. Not just myself, but as a team. I think we have stressed that mentality pretty strong this offseason that Team 143 is a different team and that what Team 142 did last season doesn’t really matter anymore.”
The Buckeyes trailed the Wolverines by just one point at halftime of their Nov. 27, 2021 matchup in Ann Arbor, but the wheels fell off in the final two quarters. Michigan outscored Ohio State 28-14 in the second half, including four rushing touchdowns by Hassan Haskins alone.
Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for much of the game, and while McNamara wasn’t surprised that Michigan got the win, he didn’t expect the Wolverines to have quite as commanding an advantage in the contest.
“In a sense, I was surprised how kind of out of hand I thought it was. I thought the gap was pretty big during that game, and I'm sure Ohio State didn’t feel very good about that,” McNamara said. “I know that the O-line was very confident in themselves going into that game, and that was our identity last season was that we’re going to be physical. And I do not see that changing.”
For Michigan’s Erick All, a fourth-year tight end and Fairfield, Ohio, native, nothing about the performance caught him off guard.
“I wasn't surprised. I watched a lot of film (on them),” All said Tuesday. “I watched a lot of film on us too and practiced with the guys that – it's just we were expecting to do what we did and we're gonna be doing the same thing, expecting the same thing this upcoming year.”
The Michigan win, which broke an eight-game Ohio State win streak in the rivalry, effectively ended the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff aspirations and snuffed out their shot at hoisting any championship hardware in the postseason. The Wolverines reaped the rewards Ohio State has become so accustomed to, using the win over the Buckeyes as a launching point to its first outright Big Ten title in two decades and first-ever CFP berth.
Michigan ultimately came up short in its quest to win it all, losing to eventual national champion Georgia in the CFP semifinal, but McNamara said the impact of Michigan’s breakthrough success in 2021 has been tangible all offseason.
“It was extremely meaningful and I think as we’re going around Michigan right now, we’re able to see the impact that it left not just with our team but the fanbase itself and the state itself,” McNamara said. “A lot of guys are starting to realize the platform that we have and especially when Michigan football is winning, what that means for the state and the people. I think a lot of us have grown an appreciation for that and we just want to continue to do that for the fans and for the state.
“It should be a foundation. I think everyone in our program is very confident in the culture that we’ve developed, and I think it should be here to stay. I think for this season at least, it is. I think the guys are confident in not just our ability, but what we’ve created at Michigan from a culture standpoint, from a mentality standpoint, has been such a big difference over the past couple years. I only see this continuing to grow and I’m just here and the other guys that are here are here to make sure we stay on track.”
Many of Michigan’s stars from the 2021 game have now departed from the program. That list includes second-place Heisman Trophy finisher Aidan Hutchinson, who finished The Game with three sacks of Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud. Hutchinson’s stablemate, David Ojabo, is also off to the NFL. Haskins, who set a rivalry record with five rushing touchdowns against Ohio State, is gone as well.
But no matter who the Wolverines lost, or how good the Buckeyes seem poised to be in 2022, Michigan’s leaders seem more than confident in their ability to prove that last year’s win was no fluke come late November.
“Beating Ohio State, it's a great feeling. At the end of the day, we hadn't beat them in a long time and to be the team to do that is a great feeling,” All said. “And it feels like we accomplished a lot and we're ready to get back out there and do it again.”