Ohio State football, Ryan Day, has to prove his point against Michigan

Jim Harbaugh is right. Hatred has no place in the rivalry between Ohio and Michigan.

Love your neighbor, right? Even if the man on the other side of the property line complains about living next to corn-fed hayseeds. Even if his directions for finding your city include “North until you smell it, West until you step in.”

“Grateful to be tested against this opponent at this time,” said Harbaugh. “It’s Thanksgiving… you don’t have to hate.”

Reasonable. The Michigan coach made his point.

As for a little gloating? Absolute. The game is nothing but a chance to enjoy your opponent’s misery. To embarrass him. To expose him as an overrated con artist. To question his qualifications. To suggest that he was born on third base. And so on.

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That way, Saturday’s game at 100-year-old Ohio Stadium will be about over two undefeated teams battling to win the Big Ten East and advance to next week’s championship game and then the College Football Playoff. It’s about proving what you say you are is what you say you are.

For the state of Ohio, that means putting your macho where your mouth is. The Buckeyes were criticized for being too soft after losing 42-27 to Michigan in Ann Arbor last season. Since that 2021 embarrassment in the Big House — the first loss to Michigan since 2011 — OSU coach Ryan Day, his staff and players have been preaching toughness, loosely defined by Day as “competitive stamina,” meaning staying under pressure. when the burner gets put on high heat.

A milder argument says the Buckeyes didn’t deserve to be labeled as a team built more on finesse than blunt force. That it was just an “off day”.

But Tommy Eichenberg sees that as an excuse.

“We’ve been exposed,” the Ohio State linebacker said this week.

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Ohio State is less likely to be exposed this time around, if only because their shortcomings are similar, if not as dramatic, as they were a year ago. The Buckeyes compete against mobile quarterbacks (like UM’s JJ McCarthy) who are elite pitchers (not McCarthy), have no closed cornerbacks, and have sometimes stubbed their toe in the running game.

Michigan has a higher chance of being discovered as a fake. The Wolverines have faced a weaker schedule, and while their run defense is legit, their secondary is barely above average, meaning OSU quarterback CJ Stroud can make UM look like an imposter if he has his typical game on goal .

It’s happened before, much to the delight of fans who like to pat themselves on the back and say, “I told you so.”

Like in 2018, when Michigan brought its No. 1-ranked defense to Columbus, only to see it fired up by an Ohio State offense that amassed 567 yards in a 62-39 blowout. Buckeye Nation raved about UM’s disgrace: The 62 points were the most ever allowed by a Wolverines defense in regulation.

But turnaround is fair game, which brings us to 1995, when Ohio State showed up in Ann Arbor with a defense that had allowed no more than 209 yards rushing in a game, and the three opponents leading up to the Wolverines scored 73, 59, and 48 yards . .

No one except the UM coaches could have predicted what happened next. Wolverines tailback Tim Biakabutuka shredded OSU for 313 yards in a 31-23 victory.

To be fair to the Ohio State players who lived through it, the 1995 debacle was more a case of the Buckeyes being coached out than exposed.

“It was a schematic thing, not a physical thing where they came out and decided to kick us (tails),” recalled former OSU defenseman Matt Finkes. “And the adjustment we made only made it worse.”

Michigan came out with an off-tackle zone read that OSU hadn’t seen before, and the Buckeyes scrambled to defend it in vain. Almost every time Biakabutuka flinched, there was no scarlet and gray clad body to hold him back.

Add insult? Biakabutuka gained 209 yards over Eddie George (104), who then sat on the bench crying, so devastated was the eventual Heisman Trophy winner by another unexplained loss to the Maize and Blue.

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The 1990s were filled with similar heartbreak — say hello to the Shawn Springs slip in 1996 — but the ultimate “What just happened?” was the upset at Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1969 that stopped Ohio State from winning its second consecutive national championship. Many in the media regarded the No. 1 Buckeyes as one of the most dominant teams in college history, but the 11th-ranked Wolverines turned in a stunning 24-12 victory, revealing OSU’s passing game as something designed by a third grader. Ohio State threw six interceptions, including five by Rex Kern, and older Michigan fans still rejoice that they ruined the Buckeyes’ season.

The 1969 game ushered in the 10-year war between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, and the UM coach took the first shot and proved he could win the big one.

Similarly, Day defeated the Wolverines in his first year on the court in 2019, but after losing to UM last November, he is in danger of becoming the first Ohio State coach since John Cooper to lose to Michigan two years in a row.

That way, OSU and UM coaches aren’t so different from their teams that they face the challenge of proving their worth — or being exposed — every time the Buckeyes play against the Wolverines. Woody’s reputation quickly went downhill as he lost his last three games to UM (1976-78). Everyone knows Cooper’s 2-10-1 record against the Wolverines. And Michigan fans are trying to forget the 2-11 combined record of Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke and Harbaugh.

Day recalled his first OSU press conference in 2019.

“My first year as head coach here and one of the first things we started the whole press conference with was ‘It comes down to this game and you have to win every game after that,'” he said. the.”

But that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Day seems tired of wondering what it would take to pacify disgruntled fans who want perfection. He knows he has to win every game, but The Game is on another level. Victory is demanded, not expected. Some Ohio State fans, mostly older ones so numbers are decreasing, would accept a .500 season as long as the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines. Some would even choose a win in Michigan over a national championship.

No wonder Saturday’s game is something of a public poll of Day’s four-year tenure. He is 30-0 against unranked opponents, but 2-2 in bowl games and 1-1 against Michigan. The New Hampshire native, who a minority of fans believe has no scarlet blood, can always win the little ones. Can he consistently win the big ones?

Day insists he loves it at Ohio State and there’s no reason to doubt him. On the other hand, where is he on the hate scale with Michigan?

“Every time you fight tooth and nail to win the game, because of what’s at stake, sometimes there’s friction,” he said. “That’s just how it works.”

The friction increases on Saturday. Which team will prove its point? Will one be exposed? Either way, Buckeye Nation and M Go Blue can’t wait to rub it in.

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