In many ways Ohio State has been driven this season by the memory of its 42-27 loss to Michigan a year ago in the snow in Michigan Stadium.
OSU head coach Ryan Day doesn’t want last year’s game to drive the Buckeyes to distraction.
“Our guys know. They felt the pain last year. We had to chew on that for a whole year and that’s a long time. We’ll see about the corrections we made, we’ll see about the growth we made and find out where we are Saturday,” Day said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“There’s a balance there. You need to be reminded of what happened in the past but also the focus is on this team, the focus is on playing this team against their team on Saturday. Nothing else matters above that. When you have that in the back of your mind it certainly lights a fire,” he said.
No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) and No. 3 Michigan (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) will kick off their battle for the Big Ten East Division title a little after noon today at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State took an 8-game winning streak over Michigan into last year’s game and had beaten the Wolverines 15 of the last 16 games between the two teams.
OSU was within one point, 14-13, at halftime. But Michigan dominated the second half on its way to rolling up 297 yards rushing, led by Hassan Haskins who ran for 169 yards and five touchdowns.
One of the results of that loss was an Ohio State coaching staff shake-up that brought in four new assistant coaches, led by defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Another effect was an emphasis on toughness after OSU’s offensive and defensive lines were often pushed around in last year’s game.
“I think you’re shaped by whatever happened in your past. We have scars. That motivated us all offseason. We’ve worked very hard to get to this moment right here. Now it’s time to go prepare the best we can. Physically, mentally and emotionally we’re going to play the hardest we ever played and we’ll find out where we are on Saturday,” Day said.
One of the big unknowns, which will probably remain an unknown until game time, is the status of OSU’s top two running backs, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, and Michigan’s leader rusher, Blake Corum.
Williams (783 yards) has not played since the first half of the Indiana game because of a leg injury. Henderson (571 yards) returned to the field last week in OSU’s 43-30 win at Maryland after missing two games, but appeared to aggravate a foot injury and was replaced by freshman Dallan Hayden, who had a career-best 146 yards rushing.
Corum who has rushed for 1,457 yards, suffered a knee injury late in the first half of Michigan’s 19-17 win over Illinois last Saturday and was on the field for only one play in the second half.
Asked if a healthy Hayden might be a better choice than limited versions of Henderson and Williams, Day said, “It’s definitely worth a conversation. You put on the film and the film speaks for itself and you’ve got to make that decision of who is the best guy to put on the field in this moment.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and former Wolverines offensive coordinator Josh Gattis gave OSU some bulletin board material with some comments after last year’s win, but Day said he would not respond.
Harbaugh, apparently alluding to Day, said “Some people are born on third base and act like they’ve hit a triple.” In a radio interview the week after last year’s game Gattis said Michigan knew it could “out-tough” Ohio State.
Day said, “When you’re playing in a game like this there’s always going to be back and forth and things are going to be said. Obviously, you see things and read things but there are other things you try to ignore. Sometimes it matters who said it how much consideration you give it. But at the end of the day we got beat in that game and we had to figure out why that was.”
Asked about the “third base” comment, he said, “I’m not going to talk about it right now. There’s another time to hit on that. There are certain things you listen to and certain things you don’t. Anytime you’re in a high profile game there are a lot of things said. There’s a time and place to talk about that. It’s not now.”