ANN ARBOR — In 1969, men landed on the moon, Woodstock attracted nearly half a million music fans, and the Michigan football program was overhauled.
The year before, Ohio State beat Michigan 50-14. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes called for a two-point conversion after the final touchdown. Why? “Because I couldn’t go for three,” Hayes said (maybe).
Bo Schembechler took over as Michigan’s head coach in 1969, and prioritized beating the Buckeyes. He had “50-14″ posted all over the facility.
“It became subliminal,” said Jim Betts, a Michigan football player from ‘68 to ‘70. “It was ingrained in your head.”
In addition to the motivational tactic, Schembechler installed at least one play designed specifically for Ohio State at every practice during the season. By the time The Game arrived at the end of the season, the Wolverines were fully immersed in the plan. Michigan won 24-12.
For many years after, the Wolverines always kept one eye on Columbus. At various points since, they blinked. Entering last season, Michigan had lost eight straight to its archrival and won just once since 2003.
“I just think we take it more serious than they do,” then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields said after a 59-27 win over Michigan in 2019. “We prepare for it all year. We’re preparing for them next year right now. I think it just means more at Ohio State.”
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who played for Schembechler, took steps to change that last year. He introduced a “Beat Ohio” drill. A question — “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?” — was plastered all over Schembechler Hall. Players referenced Ohio State throughout the season.
On Nov. 27 at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State.
The returning players were not satisfied with just that one victory. They made that clear this week, as Michigan readied for Saturday’s undefeated showdown at Ohio State (12:14 p.m. ET, FOX).
“Every day since January, we always had them in the back of our mind,” Michigan offensive lineman Ryan Hayes said. “Everything we’re doing is about them, it’s about winning this game at the end of the season.”
This meant weekly film sessions and practice periods dedicated to the Buckeyes. Signs and video monitors asked the aforementioned question. The answer was almost always something.
“We know that everything goes through Ohio State,” said offensive lineman Olu Oluwatimi, who enrolled at Michigan as a grad transfer from Virginia in January and was immediately indoctrinated into the rivalry.
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Michigan nose tackle Mazi Smith said the coaches “plant seeds” (aesculus glabra seeds, surely) throughout the year. Players, Smith said, need “to stay where their feet (are).” Michigan took care of its 11 opponents not named Ohio State, making this Saturday’s game that much bigger.
The Buckeyes held up their end of the bargain. Fields made it clear a few years ago how Ohio State thinks about Michigan. There’s no way that focus has lapsed after last year’s loss. Former Buckeye and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said there are likely Michigan-related motivational quotes plastered all over the Woody Hayes Athletic Center; he suggested a video has played on loop in the weight room all week.
No matter what happens on the Ohio Stadium field on Saturday, know this: Michigan has been preparing for it as long as possible.
“Everything we’ve done has been leading up to this point,” Michigan defensive lineman Kris Jenkins said. “Everything we’ve worked on has been preparing us for this moment.”
It’s almost here.