COLUMBUS — This Saturday will be Urban Meyer’s first experience as a head coach in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, but his passion for “The Game” goes back a long way.
Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, left, attempts to get away from a blocker as Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson looks for running room during their game in 2010 in Columbus. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO | MATT HAMMOND)
Growing up in Ashtabula, Meyer was introduced to the heated rivalry at a young age.
“This is all I knew growing up,” he said Monday. “It’s all anybody knew. In the era I grew up, there really wasn’t much other than three channels on your television and this game. It was Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Pete Johnson, Archie Griffin. That’s all.”
Meyer would later take part in the OSU-Michigan battle in 1987 as a graduate assistant coach under Earle Bruce. Along with the rest of the staff at the time, Meyer was informed early in the week of the Michigan game that year about the firing of Bruce.
A few days later, the inspired Buckeyes beat Michigan in Ann Arbor and carried Bruce off the field on their shoulders following the game.
“I can tell you everything,” Meyer stated. “I can tell you walking into Coach Bruce’s office right here, this facility just opened, and (athletic director) Rick Bay was leaned up against the wall and looked at me and said, ‘close the door. Are you the last one?’ I said, ‘yes, yes, sir.’ And I sat down.
“I saw a bunch of coaches with their arms on the table, with their face in their arms, and tears and the whole deal. I was like the last guy to walk in, and he said that Coach Bruce will no longer be the coach after this game, and I have resigned as athletic director. I knew Mr. Bay very well and have great respect for him. That was just an incredible moment in Ohio State history.”
Instead of being on the fringe of the rivalry, Meyer is now thrust right into the middle of it. After going a bit stale for a while, the hiring of Brady Hoke at Michigan and Meyer at Ohio State seems to have added fuel to the series.
Hoke has irked Buckeye fans by refusing to say “Ohio State,” instead simply using “Ohio” to refer to the Buckeyes.
On the other side, Meyer has taken Woody Hayes’ lead by referring to Michigan as “the school up north.”
Although the Buckeyes will not play in a bowl game this season because of a ban for NCAA violations under Jim Tressel, there is still a lot on the line for this year’s version of “The Game.”
The Buckeyes can cap a perfect season with a win. As it has done many times over the years, Michigan can spoil what was an otherwise successful OSU season.
“I think this is just a pure, intense rivalry,” said Meyer. “It doesn’t matter who’s undefeated, who’s fighting for what, who’s playing for what.”
Michigan comes in playing perhaps its best football of the season. The Wolverines have enjoyed a boost by the play of junior quarterback Devin Gardner, who took over three games ago for the injured Denard Robinson.
The electric Robinson returned in Saturday’s 42-17 win against Iowa, but was mainly used as a running back.
Meyer expects Michigan to try to keep the Buckeyes off-balance by using Robinson in a variety of ways Saturday.
“I saw it last week with the handoff to him and then he pitched the ball,” said Meyer. “I just know something’s coming. It’s a question of what. I’m going to try to help (the defensive coaches) because I’ve been in those situations where you can utilize two skill sets.”
Buckeye bits: Meyer confirmed that he will continue the traditions of Senior Tackle and Tunnel of Pride this week. The Senior Tackle event gives the seniors one last chance to hit the blocking sled, while the Tunnel of Pride is formed before the game by former OSU players ... Michigan will be without starting tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, who suffered a leg injury against Iowa. An Ohio native, Toussaint rushed for over 1,000 yards last year.