Football: Buckeyes need no extra motivation in rivalry return

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The Ohio State football team runs out of the tunnel prior to the Ohio State-Purdue game Saturday. Ohio State won 59-31. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

When Ohio State found out its annual meeting with Michigan was canceled a year ago, some of the Buckeyes were meeting with media while others were preparing for their rivalry bout.

The cancellation marked the first time in 102 years without The Game. It brought discouragement and disappointment to many, but likely not more than to the Buckeyes and Wolverines themselves.

This year, The Game is back. No. 5 Michigan will host No. 2 Ohio State with plenty on the line, and that’s why head coach Ryan Day said there’s no extra fuel in the Buckeyes’ fire.

“I don’t think we need any more motivation,” Day said. “Two teams playing in the rivalry game for a chance to go to Indianapolis. Two very good teams, and here we are in November, Thanksgiving week. Couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Fans are the ultimate victors of the rivalry return. For the Buckeyes and Wolverines, the triumphant will earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 4.

Ohio State has won a school-record eight straight against its foe to the state up north. The Buckeyes last defeated the Wolverines on the road 56-27 behind 577 total yards of offense, their most in any game during the rivalry. However, both teams are 10-10 in their last 20 matchups in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Buckeyes’ offense has only become more prolific as it ranks No. 1 in all of college football in scoring and total offense. While Ohio State’s playmakers may seem dangerous, Michigan starting junior quarterback Cade McNamara said he isn’t worried.

“I wouldn’t say I’m very concerned about anything,” McNamara said. “I’d say we’re looking to take advantage of Ohio State. As the week progresses, we’re going to find ways to do that.”

Day admitted Michigan’s defense will likely be the toughest challenge Ohio State faces all season. The Wolverines limit opponents to an average of 16.3 points per game and just over 300 yards, both third in the conference.

While Michigan seeks to upset Ohio State, the Buckeyes have readied for their rivalry renewal for quite a while.

Junior offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere said The Game is “one of the most taxing” contests Ohio State looks toward, noting the Buckeyes prepare “365 days a year.”

“I think it’s the biggest challenge because it’s the team up north,” Petit-Frere said. “Regardless of what they’re ranked or anything like that, at the end of the day, this is one of the greatest rivalry games in all of sport. It’s called The Game for a reason. That’s what makes or breaks our season.”

The Buckeyes are up for the challenge, according to junior defensive end Zach Harrison. Harrison, a Columbus native, said it was tough a season ago after finding out The Game was nixed, but it was out of his control.

One thing Ohio State can control this year, however, is how it approaches what it deems to be the biggest game on the schedule.

“This game is as big as it can get every single year,” Harrison said. “As much as added motivation, there’s really not much. We got to play the team up north and we got to go there to win.”

An interesting wrinkle this year is the lack of experience both the Buckeyes and Wolverines have against one another. Neither the sophomore nor freshman classes have actually played in The Game, so anticipation and jitters may be expected.

Emotion will run high throughout The Big House Saturday, but for the Buckeyes, Day said they’re prepared.

Day said the Buckeyes were “riding the roller coaster” a year ago. But this season, they’re riding momentum — with no extra motivation needed.

“This is our No. 1 goal here at Ohio State is to beat the team up north. Period,” Day said. “We got to do it.”

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