COLUMBUS – The days of some player making an ill-considered, inflammatory comment that becomes bulletin board material the week of the Ohio State-Michigan game is ancient history.
The players at those two schools and everywhere else in major college football have been well schooled in the art of saying something without saying anything.
And there’s another reason for the absence of classic bulletin board material. When Ohio State coach Ryan Day was asked at his weekly press conference if college football teams even have bulletin boards in 2021, he said, “We have TVs now.”
“We focus on ourselves but there is obviously social media out there and guys read things. We certainly don’t need extra motivation for a game like this. Everything is riding on it. But I know guys are always watching to see what is going on there,” Day said.
The biggest thing riding on this game for Ohio State (10-1, 8-0 Big Ten) and Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) on Saturday at Michigan Stadium is a chance to win the Big Ten East Division and play in the Big Ten championship game next week. If the Big Ten champion comes from the East Division it appears to be a lock to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff.
And for both teams, particularly for Michigan, there is a lot of pride on the line.
Ohio State has beaten Michigan eight consecutive times and has beaten the Wolverines 15 of the last 16 times they’ve played. Last year’s game was canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak that ran through a significant part of Michigan’s roster.
“It’s the team up north. Enough said. It’s the team up north. It’s The Game. That’s what fuels the rivalry,” OSU offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said.
“Every single year names change on people’s backs., jersey numbers change but the rivalry will never change. It’s a rivalry that has been long standing long before I was here, before my grandparents were here. It’s a rivalry that is one of the best in college football, one of the best in sports.”
Two of the biggest threats to OSU’s continued dominance in its rivalry game are Michigan’s defensive ends, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who both have 10 sacks.
“Hutchinson is an amazing player who has an amazing motor,” Petit-Frere said. “He’s probably one of the most touted defensive ends in the country.”
Day said, “They’re going to be a big challenge for our tackles and our whole offense. These guys do a great job off the edge, their inside guys up front are powerful and they do a great job of coverage. It’s going to be a big challenge for our guys in protection and for C.J. (Stroud). It’s also going to be a challenge for our receivers to make sure they’re getting separation. It’s everything across the board.”
The last two times OSU played Michigan it scored 56 and 62 points, which was a factor in former defensive coordinator Don Brown being replaced this year by Mike McDonald, who was on John Harbaugh’s staff with the Baltimore Ravens.
Day said Michigan’s defense looks “significantly different” with McDonald in charge. “This style of defense is a little bit more NFL-oriented the way they are structured. I felt with Coach Brown it was a little more college-oriented.
“This is a very good defense. They’re very well coached. It’s going to come down to how hard each team plays,” he said.
FAST LEARNER: Freshman cornerback Denzel Burke didn’t play that position in high school but has emerged as the best defensive back Ohio State has.
“We knew he was talented but didn’t know he’d have the impact he’s had so far,” Day said. “He has a huge challenge this week. He has really learned the position well and has stepped right in. He’s very competitive. He showed up early in spring practice.”
INJURY UPDATES: Linebacker Cody Simon’s injury in last week’s 56-7 win over Michigan State is not long term but linebacker Cade Kacherski’s injury probably is long term.
Kickoff return man Emeka Egbuka did not play last week but could be back on the field Saturday. “We’re hoping to have Emeka available this weekend,” Day said.
BILETNIKOFF SNUB: None of Ohio State three outstanding receivers – Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba – were among the finalists announced Tuesday for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the player voted the best receiver in college football.
Asked about this, Day said, “I don’t like talking about it this week. I usually don’t like talking about individual awards in general. But I think individual awards should go to the best players not the best statistics.”
STROUD, RUGGLES FINALISTS: OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud is a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, which honors the top QB in college football. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett are the other finalists. The Buckeyes’ kicker, Noah Ruggles, is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the top kicker. The other finalists are Oklahoma’s Gabe Brkic and Michigan’s Josh Moody.