Buckeyes ‘Needs no extra motivation’ for Michigan with Big Ten East title, potential playoff spot on the line after two-year rivalry hiatus

It didn’t matter how many times he’d seen it.

Every time Ryan Day left his office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with his son during his first year as a staffer in the state of Ohio, the pair stopped before walking out the front door to watch the highlight video of the Buckeyes’ victory in 2016 with double overtime Michigan playing on-loop at the facility. Not having experienced the rivalry firsthand, it was as close as Day could get.

“It immediately became something I just wanted to be a part of, and I hope I could enjoy a win against the team up north,” Day said Tuesday. “I understand what it means to so many people and have just tried to embrace it over the years.”

Since then, Day has seen nothing but victory over the Wolverines in three encounters, including one as head coach in 2019. But for the first time since the 2016 game that Day watched in awe, the 2021 matchup will feature a few top players. -five teams with identical 10-1 records that have everything to lose.

Day wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I don’t know what to tell you other than that there is a lot of pressure. And that’s the way you want it,” Day said. “You want this game with all the trimmings in place; it’s going to be a wild environment, and again, that’s why you come to the state of Ohio.”

Beating Michigan has always been the number one priority for the Buckeyes. But during an era that saw eight straight wins for the scarlet and gray, reaching the Big Ten Championship Game and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff have become the standard of success and pillars of expectation for the state of Ohio.

All three of those goals are on the table and bipartisan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and The Game’s two-year hiatus only adds to the atmosphere of a renewed high-stakes rivalry on the Ohio line. State and Michigan this weekend.

“This is our #1 goal here in Ohio: beat the team in the north – period. And we have to do it,” Ohio state head coach Ryan Day said at Tuesday’s news conference. “I think the guys understand that, they understand what a great week this is for so many reasons; first, just the rivalry itself, and second, everything is on the table here, definitely a chance to go to Indianapolis.”

The said pressure day was palpable to Buckeye players as they prepare for The Game this week, but as Haskell Garrett, fifth-year senior defensive tackle, put it, “we thrive under pressure.”

Just a few months ago, Michigan was hardly expected to be a win away from a Big Ten title game berth entering the matchup with the Buckeyes. The Wolverines went 2-4 during the 2020 season and started 2021 with no ranking in the AP poll for the first time since Jim Harbaugh’s first year at the helm of the program in 2015.

But a 7-0 start to the season, followed by a 3-0 run after its lone loss to Michigan State on October 30, means Michigan has a chance not only to spoil the Buckeyes’ promising season, but to place in the national post-season picture.

For Ohio State, which prefers to win every game it has played this season, anything less than a 10-1 record at this stage of the year would have been a disappointment. However, the Buckeyes lost their first regular season game as head coach of Day, meaning they won’t be able to hold onto another if they hope to make a third straight trip to the CFP.

The Buckeyes jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 in the latest CFP rankings after a loss in Oregon and a dominant Ohio State win over then-No. 7 Michigan State on Saturday. Michigan’s own 59-18 blowout over Maryland helped the Corn and Blue climb to fifth in the rankings as the first team out of the playoff going into the weekend.

As for the bulletin board material, given the recent claim by Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara that he’s “not very concerned about” what the Buckeye defense has to offer, Day said anything else that would fuel his players’ fire. can feed beyond the inherent stakes of The Game is simply. strange.

“We’re focusing on ourselves, but of course there’s social media and guys reading stuff here and there. We certainly don’t need extra motivation for a game like this, it’s all about it and it’s the rivalry,” Day said. “But I know the guys are always looking and seeing what’s going on up there.”

The veteran leaders on Day’s roster echoed the same sentiment this week.

“This game is as big as it can get every year so as much as extra motivation there really isn’t much because we have to go against the team up north and we have to go win,” said junior defensive end Zach Harrison. .

Due to last year’s COVID-19 cancellation and the Ohio State roster’s overall youth squad in many vital positions, most of the Buckeyes expected to play a key role on Saturday will do so for the first time in a game in Michigan. The emotions can all be new, especially in a hostile environment in the Big House. But Day said the extra year of incubation doesn’t put anything on The Game in his eyes.

If Buckeyes are having trouble getting up to this, they may just be on the wrong program.

“I don’t think we need any more motivation,” Day said. “Two teams are playing in the rivalry 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.”

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