Michigan Rivalry Learned Behavior for Ohio State Players

BruceHooley

It doesn't really matter how Ohio State's players and coaches get the rivarly with Michigan, it only matters that they get it, and all indications are that they do.

The results speak for themselves, of course, as no current Buckeyes have ever lost to the Wolverines.

In fact, if any have been paying attention -- and from the look and sound of things, not many have been -- the most recent Ohio State loss in the series happened when the current Buckeyes' freshmen were fifth-graders.

That 40-34 loss in 2011 in the transition year between Jim Tressel's firing and Urban Meyer's hiring doesn't resonate at all with anyone who will suit up for OSU in the noon kickoff Saturday in Ann Arbor.

That's how you know this rivalry has changed over the years.

On the Ohio State side, it's move from something inborn into most of the players to something communicated to them in clear language.

"In recruiting we talk to them right from the get-go," OSU coach Ryan Day said of the importance placed on the Michigan game. "That’s one of the reasons why some people come to school here, is for the rivalry. We make such a big deal of it.

"As you know, when you walk in the building, it’s all over the place. We talk about it all the time, talk about it recruiting in all areas, strength and conditioning, football, other areas.

"It’s something that you just ingrain. The more these guys are in the program, the more they get it. We still have a huge majority of our guys from the area. They get it. They talk to the guys about that. while they're being recruited."

Everything Day said is true until he got to that part about a major portion of Ohio State's roster being in-state products.

That was true during the Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Tressel eras, but it's not the case now.

Meyer made OSU a national force in recruiting, taking fewer and fewer guys from Ohio the longer he coached.

Chances are if you find an player who forged their Ohio State legacy in the Michigan game from 2010 or earlier, he grew up rooting for the Buckeyes.

That was true of Rex Kern, Archie Griffin, Randy Gradishar, Chris Spielman, Cris Carter, Carlos Snow, Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Beanie Wells and Maurice Clarett.

Hey, it even used to be true at Michigan, which crossed the northern border to steal away Wolverine legends like Dennis Franklin, Charles Woodson, Rob Lytle, Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac.

Saturday, Ohio State will feature only five starters on offense and defense from the State of Ohio, two on each line and linebacker Malik Harrison.

That's the Meyer influence, as his 7-0 record in the rivalry was built on the shoulders of J.T. Barrett (Texas), Dwayne Haskins (Maryland), Ezekiel Elliott (Missouri), Joey Bosa (Florida), Malik Hooker (Indiana) and Michael Thomas (California).

Day relies on Justin Fields (Georgia), J.K. Dobbins (Texas), Chris Olave (California), Chase Young (Maryland), Jeffrey Okudah (Texas), Pete Werner (Indiana), Tuf Borland (Illinois) and Shaun Wade (Florida).

"Coming in here, you have no idea what the rivalry is like," said Borland, an OSU linebacker "It's definitely learned. You have to play in the game to understand it."

Werner was a recruit, sitting in the end zone bleachers, in 2016 when Curtis Samuel's overtime touchdown run handed Ohio State its closest win in four triumphs against Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

"That's when I knew I was coming here," Werner said. "I wanted to be a part of that atmosphere."

Day, a New Hampshire native, didn't grow up in the rivarly like Harbaugh, who was born in Ohio and played at Michigan.

But Meyer's intensity as a child of the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler 10-Year War era radiated to every member of the coaching staff.

There's a countdown clock to kickoff against Michigan prominently displayed in the OSU football facility.

In spring practice, the Buckeyes devote, if only in name, on period to preparing for the Wolverines.

Michigan's recruiting commitment list is positioned adjacent to Ohio State's list of incoming freshmen, just to keep a comparative eye on the talent 24/7/365.

"You talk to guys all the time about what it means, so they understand coming into the game what to expect," Day said. "It’s always on the schedule that way. We have the countdown in the building. I think everyone understands the importance of it, that’s the first thing.

"...I know that this game means everything to us. Nothing matters if we don’t win the game. That’s the only way I look at it. We have to win this game."

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