At Ohio State, preparation for the Michigan game has become as much a part of the football program as the buckeye leaf stickers applied to the players’ helmets.
Workouts and practices both have periods named after the team up north.
The word “Michigan” is not permitted to be spoken, and it’s best not to show up to the football facilities decked out in blue.
And during the week leading up to the game, the speakers throughout the facilities are playing LL Cool J’s “It’s Time for War” on a loop. The players grow tired of it, but the Pavlovian response has been effective.
Urban Meyer actually improved upon Jim Tressel’s domination of the Wolverines by going 7-0 as the Buckeyes’ head coach. Clearly, everything that Meyer did in order to win the rivalry game worked.
Which is why it was so strange to see people asking Ryan Day last week at Big Ten Media Days if he had any plans to change the program’s approach to the Michigan game.
And when players were asking if things were the same under Day, the answers were a resounding yes.
“Yeah. It’s everything. You can’t lose that game,” senior safety Jordan Fuller said. “So yeah, we just have so much respect for them, and I know The Game at the November again is going to be another dogfight.”
The offseason focus has not changed. The workouts are just as difficult. The anger is as targeted as ever.
As planned, very little has changed around the Ohio State football program.
In fact, one of the only changes has been the music being played around the facilities, though senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper knows there will be an old, familiar refrain come late November.
“Yeah, that’s not changing,” he said laughing. “If I have to listen to LL Cool J all the time, then I will.”
Ryan Day cannot do better than perfect.
Jim Tressel created the blueprint, but Meyer perfected it. That is why when Day was asked if he planned on changing anything regarding the approach to the rivalry, you have to give him credit for not laughing at the question.
“No. It worked,” he said as the gaggle of reporters around him laughed. “It worked just fine. The thing I learned from Urban the minute I got there was you work The Game every day. And we honor the rivalry and respect the rivalry, so we work it every day, whether it’s recruiting or where we have periods of practice where we call it the Team Up North Drill … so we work it every day.”
It has been 2,800 days since Michigan last beat Ohio State in football. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen by worrying about the game just one week a year.
And that kind of focus isn’t suddenly going to change now.
“It’s something we always have in the back of our minds,” Day said. “We have stuff up in our facility and we respect those guys to the utmost and the program they have, and we know this year is going to be hard. Last year was a little bit of an anomaly. It got sideways but we know it’s not going to be easy this year and so we’re going to have our hands full again going up there.”