For Wolverines, Ohio State Showdown "Definitely Different" This Year

There's so much more on the line.

Will Burchfield
November 17, 2018 - 11:43 pm

© Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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Each time the topic was broached following Michigan's win over Indiana Saturday night, the players did their best to stick to the script. It's a big game because it's the next game. They'll approach next week like each week before it. No, they're not thinking about the past. The past doesn't matter. 

"It's just another game," said Shea Patterson. "We understand the tradition and the meaning behind it, but we’re going to attack it the same way we have the past 10, 11 weeks. We know they’re a good ball club, at their place, but we’re just going to prepare and come out firing." 

That's what their coach would want them to say in regards to next week's showdown with Ohio State. It's what Jim Harbaugh predictably said himself. But it's not true, not this year, not with so much hanging in the balance.

Michigan and Ohio State are both in contention for the Big Ten East division crown. A win for the Wolverines next Saturday in Columbus would vault them into the conference championship game versus Northwestern, where another win would almost surely vault them into the College Football Playoff for the first time.

"It is different," admitted running back Karan Higdon. "It’s been a while since this has been a game to determine our fate in the national championship or the Big Ten championship. It definitely is a different game, and we’re going to make sure we handle our business."

Heading into last year's showdown, the Wolverines were 8-3 and unranked. They had nothing left to play for but pride. They played hard, but came up short in a 31-20 defeat. This year, No. 4 Michigan will head to Columbus with a 10-1 record, 8-0 in the Big Ten, and its fate in its own hands. 

It's likely the Wolverines will even be favored. The opening line, which came out last week, had the Buckeyes as 3.5-point underdogs, a spread that might widen after Ohio State was taken to overtime on Saturday by Maryland. Imagine that.

"We’re 10-1, so that’s a lot different where we were last year when we played them," said defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, who came up with the first interception of his career on Saturday. "But we all know how important this game is coming up. I think our mindset has been the same all year, which is to win. So we’re gonna go out there and do our job and we’ll come out with a good victory." 

Mind you, that wasn't a guarantee by Dwumfour. No Michigan player is interested in providing the Buckeyes bulletin-board material. But the Wolverines are geared up for this one, as geared up as they were for a similar winner-take-all showdown in 2016. Dwumfour said everyone's focus shifted to next Saturday the moment this Saturday's game came to an end. 

In the locker room, away from the microphones and cameras, Harbaugh's message was simple enough: "We’re out to Columbus next week, gotta take care of business." 

Junior cornerback Josh Metellus can't wait to get there. 

"This is the game everybody wants, this is the game we want," he said. "Last stop on the Revenge Tour, we take this one personal. Thanksgiving Week, great week for football, this is one of those games you’re all hyped up for. The reason you come to Michigan." 

Metellus played sparingly against Ohio State as a freshman. He played lots last year as a sophomore. Dwumfour didn't play in either game, which might explain why he doesn't recall a specific moment from last year's loss. 

Here's what he does recall: "We lost. I don’t think we need anything more than that. We lost, so that’s enough. We know we have to win this game," he said. 

Then there's Rashan Gary. As a freshman on a senior-laden team in 2016, he spent most of the game on the sideline. There was a feeling afterward that Michigan did itself a disservice by not playing him more. He was a flat-out terror last year, posting a game-high 11 tackles, including two sacks.

But it wasn't enough, and he's had to live with that fact since. It's never burned hotter than right now.

"Everybody in the whole entire country knows what this week is. We know what this week is, so we’re going to attack it. It’s been a whole year of having a bad taste in our mouths," Gary said. "We just have to prepare the right way and go out there on Saturday and see what happens."