COLUMBUS — After a one-year hiatus due to a COVID-19 outbreak, Ohio State and Michigan are set to renew their rivalry in Ann Arbor this weekend.
Saturday’s game will mark the second meeting with the Wolverines for Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2019. On Tuesday, Day met with the media to preview the high stakes, top-five showdown.
While having only served as the head coach for one previous game against Michigan, Day is well-versed in the rivalry having coached as an assistant in the game for two years prior to taking over. Asked about his introduction to the game as a coach, Day recalled a wild but memorable set of circumstances in the 2017 game in Ann Arbor that welcomed him to the rivalry.
“I thought I’d seen a lot of games,” Day said. “Before we even kick the ball off (in 2017), they tell me J.T. Barrett took a shot in his knee and he may not be able to play before we even played a single snap in that game. I knew at that point we were in scramble mode, and Dwayne (Haskins) had to come in in the third quarter. Every year, it’s a battle.”
It was prior to that 2017 game when Day first began to understand how special the rivalry was, however. Day said in the offseason leading up to that first season in Columbus, he and his son, R.J., would stop and watch the highlights of the previous Michigan game being shown on a screen in the hallway before leaving the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility each night.
“I just remember thinking to myself that I just wanted to be a part of it because it meant so much to so many people,” he said. “I watched this game growing up, watched that (2016) game the year before, and just saw what it meant. Instantly, it just became something that I wanted to be a part of and, hopefully, enjoy a victory against that team up north. I understand what it means to so many people, and I’ve just tried to embrace it over the years.”
Although Day isn’t short on experience in the rivalry, the same cannot be said for his players. Offensive lineman Thayer Munford represents the only Ohio State player to have started a game against Michigan, and only 10 of the Buckeyes’ current starters have ever logged a snap in the game.
However, while playing in Michigan Stadium will be a new experience for many Buckeyes, the unquestioned importance of winning the game is something they’ve been hearing constantly dating back to their recruitment by Ohio State.
“We work it year-round. Every day, we work it,” Day said. “We work it in the offseason, we work it on Fridays during the weight room (sessions). We have so many different things that we talk to our guys about. We have our sessions in the preseason and the spring. We have meetings about it. We just constantly talk about it, and we talk about it during recruiting. This is our number one goal here at Ohio State, to beat the team up north, period, and we have to do it.
“I think the guys understand that, they understand what a huge week this is for so many reasons. First off, just the rivalry itself, and secondly, there’s everything on the table here … We have their attention.”
Day later added, “We always have one eye on them. That’s just the way we do our business, in recruiting or in the season.”
He went on to say that while there is so much of an emphasis on winning this particular game, those players who will be experiencing it for the first time can’t make it bigger than it is or risk getting away from what’s gotten them to this position in the first place. “They have to go out there and prepare and do what they’ve done all season,” he said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.