Ohio State-Michigan: Is lack of experience in The Game a concern for Buckeyes?

COLUMBUS — Ohio State and Michigan have played 116 times, but this week’s edition will be the first experience in The Game for most of the players on each roster.

Thayer Munford, Chris Olave and Jeremy Ruckert started for Ohio State in the last contest — a 56-27 win in Ann Arbor two years ago — while Master Teague III, Garrett Wilson, Cam Brown, Sevyn Banks, Marcus Hooker and Demario McCall also saw time off the bench.

None of Ohio State’s current starters on defense have started the Michigan game before, but senior linemen Haskell Garrett, Tyreke Smith and Taron Vincent saw time as reserves in 2018, as did linebacker Teradja Mitchell while defensive back Marcus Williamson is listed as having played in the ‘17 contest.

There might be no substitute for experience, but Ohio State head coach Ryan Day — who has only been part of three OSU-Michigan games himself — hopes that is where the program’s 365-day emphasis on The Game pays off this week.

“Well, we work it year-round, every day,” the coach of the Buckeyes said. “We work it in the offseason, work it on Fridays in the weight room. We have so many different things that we talk to our guys about. We have our sessions in the preseason and spring. We have meetings about it. So we just constantly talk about it.”

That even extends to recruiting, where Day said prospective Buckeyes are told beating Michigan is the No. 1 priority and Ohio State tracks who the Wolverines are wooing.

Haskell Garrett learned the hard way when the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman product wore a blue shirt on a recruiting visit to Ohio State.

“Our colors are orange and blue and when I walked in I had a blue sweatshirt on and immediately they made me take it off,” Garrett recalled Tuesday. “I truly honestly believe it’s the greatest rivalry in sports. I’ve had people’s grandparents talk about this rivalry when Woody Hayes was here and how much this meant. It runs deep not only in the football program but in all the state of Ohio.”

By now the emphasis on the Michigan game is nothing new in Columbus.

Jim Tressel re-upped The Game when he became the head coach of the Buckeyes in 2001, and Urban Meyer put his own spin on it (including banning blue shirts and pens) when he got the job in 2012.

At the same time, multiple Michigan coaches and players have regularly downplayed the impact of the approach over the years even as they have lost 17 of the last 19 games in the series.

Of course the Wolverines want to beat Ohio State, but every game is important was the common refrain. Having an annual in-state rival in Michigan State complicated things, as was the case when Notre Dame was still a regular on the schedule.

But this year the Wolverines apparently relented.

News of Michigan adopting a “Beat Ohio drill” in practice was the talk of Big Ten Media Days in July, and it naturally came up again this week.

“It’s a run drill,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters in Ann Arbor on Monday. “Run drill and a run-stopping drill. All runs, all runs are between the tackles. Physicality and an emphasis on Ohio State and keeping them on our minds every day of practice.”

Harbaugh famously guaranteed and delivered a win over the Buckeyes when he was a quarterback for the Wolverines, but he is 0-5 as a head coach.

Seven members of the current Michigan roster played in the 2019 game, and three more saw time in the 2018 edition, but most of the Wolverines will also enter Saturday with a blank slate.

The impact of that remains to be seen, but Day expressed confidence his players will be ready regardless of their experience level on this particular stage.

“I think the guys understand what a huge week this is for so many reasons,” Day said. “First off, just the rivalry itself. And secondly it’s just everything on the table here.”

That includes a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game.

“There’s a first time for everything, so they’ve got to do a great job in preparation, but at the end of the day, they can’t also make it bigger than it is,” Day said. “They have to just go out there and prepare and do what they’ve done all season.”


Ohio State at Michigan, Noon, Fox, 1410

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