Ohio State football: Michigan loss a constant motivation for Buckeyes

Much like any other year, Michigan has been on the minds of the Ohio State football team this offseason.

Unlike most recent years, all of the Buckeyes who aren’t freshmen know first-hand what it’s like to lose to the Wolverines — and they wasted no time using it as motivation.

“It’s definitely been a lot different,” defensive end Jack Sawyer said during bowl practice. “This offseason, we’re gonna use it as fuel because obviously it stings everybody in this organization.”

The Buckeyes not only lost 42-27, they also saw exactly how impactful the outcome of The Game can be.

The 117th edition changed the trajectory of both teams’ seasons.

Instead of a fifth straight trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes were home to start December.

A trip to California for the Rose Bowl was fun, but the Buckeyes would have rather had their third straight College Football Playoff berth. Michigan went to the CFP instead after extending its lead over Ohio State in Big Ten championships (43 to 40) and wins in the series (59-52-6).

No new Big Ten championship trophy, gold pants charms, and — maybe most importantly — no bragging rights for the Buckeyes.

The last one is intangible, something that might have felt like just a rumor since it had been so long since it actually happened, but Sawyer and his teammates found out it is very real.

Michigan fans — and coaches, players and alumni — have not missed a chance to remind Ohio State about their first loss in the series since 2011.

“I just tell ‘em, you know, ‘Go ahead, enjoy it,’” said Sawyer, a Pickerington, Ohio, native who turned 20 earlier this year and has been alive for 16 Ohio State wins over Michigan and three losses. “Enjoy it for a year. You know, I don’t know if they’re going to get the opportunity to say that stuff and chirp all they want after next year, so I just say have fun with it. Tell them enjoy it, and we’ll be ready come that that third Saturday, November next year.”

Preseason practice is set to kick off later this month, but for most of the last six months the task of preparing Ohio State to avenge their loss to the Wolverines has fallen to Mickey Marotti.

Ohio State’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance said in May he hoped to take the experience at Ann Arbor and use it to his advantage this offseason, a time when a great deal of work goes on in the realm of player development.

“I think everybody had to look in the mirror — everybody in this building from players, coaches, athletic trainers, nutritionists, equipment managers, everything,” Marotti said. “Just kind of go back and look at what happened, why and then turn over every stone and try to come up with a plan.”

He liked what he had already seen at that point in winter workouts and spring practice.

“I don’t want to say it’s perked everybody up, but I think the volume was already turned up,” Marotti said. “You’re looking for a power button that gets to 12 or break it, or smash it and get another one with more power. Obviously, we know how important that game is and all those goals. If you don’t reach those goals, you’ve got to figure out why. And so at least in our area, you try to progress, you try to be innovative.”

Marotti, who is essentially the head coach of the offseason when contact is limited between the on-field coaches and players, was regarded as one of the best in the business when he arrived with head coach Urban Meyer in 2012, and he has lived up to expectations.

That started with his efforts to help Meyer turn a 6-7 team into one that went 12-0 in their first season (2012), and it has continued ever since even though Meyer retired and was replaced by Ryan Day.

Marotti has also worked to keep up with the times, evolving with the science of workouts, the growing knowledge of the power of proper nutrition and an increased focus on mental health.

“I think the principles are lasting,” Marotti said. “You’re gonna work hard and you show up on time, you’re gonna be a great teammate, you’re going to be a leader, you can do all those things. But I think like I said, I think with the sports science initiative that we’ve been working on the last five, six years, it’s it’s evolving, it’s always evolving, just like offensive and defensive, always evolving, always changing, always developing, always growing. And that’s been good. That’s a lot of assessment going on — looking at the research and talking to the people that will try to make our program better.”

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