Michigan prepares for ‘loud, hostile’ Ohio State environment

ANN ARBOR, Michigan – Michigan will board a bus on Friday and make the three-hour trip to downtown Ohio for a high-stakes game that many in the college football world look forward to.

And while the atmosphere last year in Ann Arbor could only be described as extraordinary, a different scene awaits players and coaches Saturday when they play Ohio State in Columbus (Noon, FOX) — a loud, raucous, resentful throng of fans . Those who have experienced it before know it.

“We are aware of it. We talk about it. The kids are embracing it,” offensive line coach and co-coordinator Sherrone Moore, who was employed for the final trip to Columbus, said this week. “They want that. They want that atmosphere. I think it kind of drives them.”

Only two members of Michigan’s current roster, receiver Ronnie Bell and kicker Jake Moody, played in that 2018 game at Ohio Stadium. The Wolverines were set to make a return trip in 2020, but canceled the game amid a spate of injuries and a virus outbreak on the team. The four-year gap between travel is the largest since the two rivals began playing each year in 1918, alternating travel.

“We expect the most hostile environment we’ve been in to date,” Defense Gear Kris Jenkins said. “We preach the same culture – just to thrive in that kind of environment. We are really looking forward to it.”

To date, Michigan has gotten a taste for big, loud stadiums. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has over 100,000 fans and was packed to the brim last year. As was Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, where the Wolverines played a night game that players still cite as one of the loudest environments they’ve played in.

More: Which pressure? Michigan’s JJ McCarthy eager for first start vs. Ohio State

But the 104,944-seat Ohio Stadium is a different beast. Built to look like a horseshoe when viewed from above, hence its nickname, it was designed to keep crowd noise within the stadium. It can be loud and sometimes overwhelming for teams. In 2018, Michigan was penalized seven times for 72 yards and committed a pair of turnovers en route to a 62-39 loss to the Buckeyes.

“At the end of the day it’s all just noise and all just a bunch of fans who like to boo you and don’t like you very much,” said quarterback JJ McCarthy. “Just do what you can to transmute that and use it against them.

“I feel like a lot of the situations we’ve been through this year, with adversities along the way and in Iowa, will help us tremendously.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh has spoken at length this week about being “grateful for the experience” of getting Michigan into this situation. Like Ohio State, the Wolverines are 11-0 and need a win to reach the Big Ten championship game and likely the College Football Playoff.

He expects the atmosphere in Columbus to be “great” on Saturday and has instructed his players to “try it”.

“They’ve been on some really big stages,” said Harbaugh. “This is not a team with a grim mission; it is not one of fear and anxiety. They just want to prepare.”

While Michigan will be bringing a bunch of new players to Ohio Stadium, they have a few players on their roster who know what to expect. Defensive tackle Mazi Smith, a former four-star high school contender, once attended a football game during a recruiting visit. And safety Rod Moore grew up in Clayton, Ohio, a town about an hour west of Columbus, and has been to the stadium.

“We know they get pretty rowdy out there,” Smith said. “I had been there before during recruitment and I see how they are getting. I’m just excited to be in another hostile environment.

Attacker Ryan Hayes said: “I mean, I’ve heard stories. I expect a loud, crazy environment. We’ve played in those games here before, so I think we’ll be prepared.”

Read more about football in Michigan:

Look back at the best Michigan-Ohio State games

After a devastating week, Michigan lineman ready for ‘game of the year’

Michigan players talk Ohio State rivalry: ‘It means everything’

UM can still reach CFP at a loss, but needs help

Jim Harbaugh: ‘Third base’ comment was a counter-punch for Ryan Day

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