Better late than never: Michigan (finally) appears to be putting bigger emphasis on Ohio State
A focus on Ohio State appears to be heightening in Ann Arbor this offseason. Having lost eight straight games to the Buckeyes and coming out of “The Game” with a victory just twice since 2000, Michigan seems to making some changes to its mentality heading into the 2021 season.
It’s about time.
Nobody should ever make the irrational statement that one side doesn’t care about this rivalry. As much as Michigan has struggled over the last two decades, there isn’t a more important game on the schedule than the one on the final Saturday in November.
What is a fair criticism, though, is to say that one side focuses more on “The Game” throughout the course of the year than the other. Ever since Jim Tressel took the microphone at an Ohio State basketball game in 2001 as the new head coach and essentially guaranteed victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes have controlled the rivalry.
Urban Meyer and Ryan Day have continued the tradition of plowing over Michigan on an annual basis. The guy on the other sideline, Jim Harbaugh, is 0-5 in the program’s most important game. The constant criticism of the bagel in the win column has prompted some things to change in Ann Arbor.
A new sign in the weight room made its way to social media in recent weeks. The message? “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?”
It was also reported recently by EJ Holland of The Wolverine that Michigan is not allowing anyone to wear the color red inside the football facilities. Even red sports drinks are barred.
Silly? Probably. But it’s become pretty clear that something had to change after losing eight straight games and 15 of the last 16 meetings. The constant reminder of the hatred of Ohio State might be the spark Michigan needs to be competitive in the series once again.
After all, it worked for Urban Meyer in Columbus.
“Ohio State has an incredible respect for the rivalry. I didn’t say like. As a matter of fact, it’s hatred. But it’s incredible respect,” Meyer told FOX’s RJ Young in 2020. “All year long we would show loops of ‘The Game,’ of the history of the importance of the legacy that you can live. … I liked to make it bigger than life before it got to the actual week.”
The problem for Harbaugh and Michigan hasn’t just been the 0-5 record against Ohio State. It’s the separation between the two programs that is of concern in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes posted 23- and 29-point victories in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Even though “The Game” wasn’t played in 2020 because of issues with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio State played in the National Championship Game while Michigan ended the year with a 2-4 record.
Opposite ends of the spectrum.
To Harbaugh’s credit, he’s acknowledged that the goal at Michigan is to find a way to beat Ohio State. He hasn’t shied away from that. Nor is he staying away from the aspirations the program has to be a national championship contender.
“We got to beat Ohio State,” Harbaugh said on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico before the 2020 season. “Nothing makes us angrier than that, or me, but that’s what we’re working toward every day. We’ve beaten everybody else, but we haven’t beat them. That’s what we have to do, beat them, win a championship, get ourselves in the playoff, win a national championship.”
A “no red” policy and new sign in the weight room isn’t what separates Ohio State and Michigan right now. Harbaugh, and probably anyone else in Ann Arbor, would tell you that too.
Corny as they might be, these slight changes in Michigan do represent a new focus. It’s an in-your-face reminder to everyone in the locker room that Ohio State has dominated the series for the past two decades. The Wolverines are now thinking about their biggest rivals 365 days per year.
Will it work? Who knows. Something needed to change, though. At least Michigan was willing to do something to alter the approach to that final weekend in November. It’s a bit surprising it took this long.
Better late than never, right?