ANN ARBOR – In 1969, people landed on the moon, Woodstock attracted nearly half a million music fans, and Michigan’s soccer program was revamped.
The year before, Ohio State defeated Michigan 50-14. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes called for a two-point conversion after the final touchdown. Why? “Because I couldn’t go for three,” Hayes said (maybe).
Bo Schembechler took over as Michigan head coach in 1969 and made a point of beating the Buckeyes. He had “50-14” posted throughout the facility.
“It got subliminal,” said Jim Betts, a Michigan football player from 1968-1970. “It burned into your head.”
In addition to the motivational tactic, Schembechler installed at least one game designed specifically for Ohio State at every practice session during the season. By the time The Game arrived at the end of the season, the Wolverines were fully immersed in the plan. Michigan won 24-12.
Many years later, the Wolverines always kept an eye on Columbus. Since then, they blinked in different places. At the start of last season, Michigan had lost to their archrivals eight times in a row and won just once since 2003.
“I just think we take it more seriously than they do,” then-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields said after a 59-27 win over Michigan in 2019. “We’ve been preparing for this all year. We are preparing for them next year. I think it just means more in the state of Ohio.”
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who played for Schembechler, took steps last year to change that. He introduced a “Beat Ohio” drill. One question, “What are you doing today to beat Ohio State?” — was plastered all over Schembechler Hall. Players referenced Ohio State throughout the season.
Finally, on November 27, the Wolverines defeated Ohio State at Michigan Stadium.
The returnees were not satisfied with this one victory. They made that clear this week as Michigan geared up for Saturday’s undefeated showdown in Ohio State (12:14 p.m. ET, FOX).
“We’ve had them in the back of our minds every day since January,” said Michigan offensive lineman Ryan Hayes. “Everything we do is about them, it’s about winning that game at the end of the season.”
This meant weekly film sessions and practice time dedicated to horse chestnuts. Signs and video monitors asked the above question. The answer was almost always some.
“We know Ohio State is everything,” said offensive lineman Olu Oluwatimi, who enrolled in Michigan in January as a college graduate from Virginia and was immediately indoctrinated into the rivalry.
Related: Michigan vs. Ohio State Roundtable: The biggest questions entering the game
Michigan nose tackle Mazi Smith said the coaches were “planting seeds” (aesculus glabra Seeds, certainly) all year round. Players, Smith said, “must stay where their feet are.” Michigan dealt with its 11 non-Ohio State opponents, which made Saturday’s game all the bigger.
The Buckeyes kept their end of the bargain. Fields made it clear a few years ago how Ohio State feels about Michigan. By no means has the focus waned after last year’s loss. Former Buckeye and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said there are likely motivational quotes related to Michigan plastered all over the Woody Hayes Athletic Center; He suggested that a video be played on a continuous loop in the weight room throughout the week.
No matter what happens on the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, know this: Michigan has been preparing for it for as long as it can.
“Everything we’ve done has gotten to this point,” said Michigan defenseman Kris Jenkins. “Everything we’ve worked on has prepared us for this moment.”
It’s almost there.