Jim Tressel’s earliest memories of the Ohio State-Michigan game were watching it at home with his father, a college football coach who may not have been home on a Saturday since August but could watch The Game with his son since Baldwin-Wallace’s season would be over by then.
After Urban Meyer replaced Tressel as permanent head coach of the Buckeyes in late 2011, Meyer's story about being out shopping with his mother and hearing the Ohio State-Michigan game broadcast throughout an outdoor mall became well known.
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Ryan Day’s most vivid introduction to the rivalry was a little different.
It came in Ann Arbor, and it involved a near catastrophe.
“The most memorable I think for me when I tell the story is that when we talk about throwing out the records, anything can happen in this game, what happened to J.T.,” he said Tuesday.
“What happened to J.T.” is one of the stranger moments in a rivalry full of them, and it happened to coincide with Day’s first Ohio State-Michigan game.
Two years ago, he was the quarterbacks coach, and J.T. Barrett was the Buckeyes’ record-setting senior quarterback.
Going for his fourth straight win over the Wolverines, Barrett was injured in a collision on the sideline prior to the 2017 game at Michigan Stadium, and Day found himself having to adjust on the fly.
“We're preparing, getting ready to play in that game. Right as the ball is about to kick off, J.T. is hurt, he can't go back in the game. The game hasn't even started yet. Here we go, we're in the rivalry game,” Day recalled.
Barrett ended up starting the game, but his knee injury worsened and he had to be replaced by Dwayne Haskins Jr., a redshirt freshman who had not exactly filled his coaches with confidence in his previous appearance.
“The week before we played Illinois at home in the pouring rain,” Day recalled. “Dwayne came into the game and fumbled on like his second snap. They returned it for a touchdown. We had to put J.T. and the starters back in the game, which was a complete nightmare.”
Although Haskins later returned to throw a touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor in Ohio State’s 52-14 win, the lack of ball security is what stuck in his coach’s mind.
“That's my last memory of how Dwayne was doing on the field,” Day said. “Now we are in the rivalry game, trying to win the game.
“I think his first two snaps were two false starts. It was third-and-3, a false start. It was third-and-8, we got a false start. Third-and-13, threw the fade to Austin Mack. From there, he stepped into it.”
The Buckeyes rallied from a 20-14 deficit to win 31-20.
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A legend was born in Haskins, and the seeds of understanding just what Ohio State-Michigan is all about germinated in the mind of Day, who replaced Meyer as the head coach of the Buckeyes in January.
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