Everybody has a subject that they bristle at when it is brought up. For some Buckeyes, that subject has been impossible to avoid this week. It’s probably a good thing that the team only met with the media on Monday and has been on lockdown the rest of the week.
That subject, of course, is Michigan football, and you can’t go anywhere in the city of Columbus this week without hearing about it. The OSU football facility is no different, and undoubtedly much, much worse.
So what’s the first thing that comes to mind when quarterback J.T. Barrett hears the words “Michigan football?” Sorry, “the team up north football?”
“I was about ready to say, why are you calling them that?” he said. “But the first thing that comes to mind is, good football team, it’s going to be one of those … we don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s going to be a rough and tough football game.”
While the dislike is thick and wafts throughout the facility, so does the respect for the kind of opponent the Wolverines are.
“It’s one of those things, you know it’s always one of those hard-fought battles,” he said. “It’s probably going to be one of those types of games this year, so you do have respect for your opponent always and understand they’re a good football team. Yeah, we don’t like each other, but there’s still respect for the game and respect for your opponent.”
While this game usually comes down to the team that runs the ball the best, if the Buckeyes are going to be that team, then they’ll need to have some success throwing the ball against Michigan’s man-coverage defense.
No team in the nation allows fewer passing yards than Michigan’s 137.0 yards per game, and their 94.1 pass efficiency defense is second nationally only to Ohio State (88.1).
More than opposing defenses, the weather has been the tallest hurdle for the Buckeyes’ passing game. On Saturday, however, the weather looks pretty good. Not too windy and no precipitation.
Now all J.T. Barrett has to worry about is Michigan’s defense, and he’s looking forward to it.
“Yeah, I think it’s going to be good,” he said. “It’s one of those things I feel like when you play man, our guys are better than your guys, so it’s one of those kind of things where we’re going to go do our best and prepare and make sure we come out and win those battles.”
Asked if receivers getting separation was still an issue as it had been in the past, Barrett shot the notion down.
“I didn’t feel like that, but I’m comfortable and confident what we’re doing in the passing game,” he said. “I didn’t feel like that, I guess.
The last three times these two teams have met on the field, Ohio State has dominated on the ground, rushing for 331.7 yards per game.
They have won those games by an average score of 42-27.
How have they done so well on the ground?
“Preparation is a big thing, said junior guard Billy Price. “This week you need to understand and you can pick up things after watching film study all week like they do this on this type of situation, those little wrinkles is what separates and makes us better for the game itself.
“Especially when it comes to running the ball up front. It’s a very, very, very physical game up front. The last two weeks, Michigan State and the Team Up North, if you don’t win up front then you’re not going to win the game.”
Names, legends, careers are made on this game, and few careers have been more defined by success in this game than former Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel.
From 2001 to 2010, Tressel’s Buckeyes lost just once, flipping the entire script on how this rivalry had been going. He basically reversed the flow of a river, and it continues to flow to this day in the direction that he created.
“For me, when I grew up, Jim Tressel was dominant in this series,” said senior linebacker Joe Burger. “He’s the guy that I always remember because he really took ownership and that was one of the things he obviously took immense pride in. He was able to succeed at it. I am a big Jim Tressel fan.”
The Buckeyes have won four straight in this rivalry. With every win comes a pair of Gold Pants, which players have treasured since their inception decades ago. Sometimes they even treasure them so much that they don’t want to give them away to Mom.
“Something that you can never take back, honestly,” said junior linebacker Chris Worley. “Those Gold Pants, when you actually win those for the first time it’s a feeling like no other and I’ve been fortunate to win three, and I remember winning the first one and my mom wanted them and I was like, ‘You gotta wait, you’re not getting these ones.’ I finally gave her a pair of my Gold Pants last year. It doesn’t just mean a lot to us, it means a lot to our family too.
How did Mom take it?
“Well, I ended up giving them to her, but she had to wait for a few.”