Rapp Around: Michigan Forgot To Respect Its Rival

By Jeff Rapp, November 26th, 2018

The hubris in the state up north always has amazed me.

Granted, Michigan football fans have reason to embrace their tradition. If you look at things like all-time wins and winning percentage, Big Ten titles, All-Americans, iconic coaches, etc., Michigan stacks up. There’s no denying UM has an elite football program historically.

And, despite all the peculiarities Jim Harbaugh brings with him, even an Ohio State fan can understand why Michigan fanatics were ecstatic to see the former UM quarterback hired to his post four years ago.

However, it’s time for a reality check – just like the ice bath Ohio State dropped the Wolverines into on Saturday in a 62-39 wipeout win.

This was the year, Buckeye Nation was told, that Michigan was going to break through and upend Ohio State – and it wasn’t even going to be close. UM’s stout defense, 10-game win streak and edge in consistency were going to be too much for the Buckeyes to handle.

Forget that several media members, including some who follow Ohio State predicted it. They were just looking at statistics and trend lines.

What’s stunning is how many Michigan fans truly believed it.

And even more stunning was how Ohio State completely blew up that hopeful idea, shredding that nation’s top defense in epic style.

During the game, I tweeted that Ohio State won by multiple touchdowns despite their 12 penalties for 150 yards (some of them highly questionable), a muffed kickoff that led to a UM touchdown on the very next play and some botched endings to drives thanks to the insistence by OSU coaches that Tate Martell was the better option inside the UM 5-yard line.

If I would have predicted that, the guys in the long white coats would have taken me to the nearest sanitorium. And yet that’s what happened; that’s the level of talent advantage the Buckeyes displayed.

If OSU fans were honest they would admit they had some apprehension with this game and that they once felt the pain of Wolverine fans. We saw this stage of grief on the other side of the aisle in the 1990s, when the script was flipped and John Cooper looked like a second-grader trying to explain the theory of evolution when on the sideline during The Game.

“Man, I love that ol’ Johnny Cooper!” I can still remember hearing an overjoyed UM fan saying moments after the 1993 game as I made my way down through the seats, across to the tunnel and up to another devastated visiting locker room scene at Michigan Stadium.

Now OSU fans are starting to have the same affection for Harbaugh, who arrived to Ann Arbor walking on rose petals but is 0-4 in the series with Ohio State. That, of course, compares unfavorably to Urban Meyer’s mark of 7-0 against That Team Up North as OSU coach.

The difference, though, is since those dark days when Ohio State was attempting to uncover every possible formula to beating Michigan, the victories have come at a rapid pace and have evoked feelings of outright elation every time.

No one win over UM since 2000, expected or not, has been drab or taken for granted. And every single one of them has been followed by pure euphoria and a vow to do the same thing next year.

Jim Tressel set the stage with his famous “310 days” speech. He went 9-1 in the series, the only blemish coming in 2003 in Ann Arbor. Meyer has had some close calls – will Harbaugh or UM fans ever get over the spot on 4th-and-1 in 2016? – yet still has a dominant, undefeated record in The Game since he was announced as OSU coach days after the Buckeyes fought hard but fell to 6-6 with a 40-34 loss up north in 2011.

Michigan, of course, doesn’t know how to handle this. This is a program that had a head start on placing importance on football, posted a 13-0-2 record in the first 15 games of the series, and has believed it is a birthright to have an upper hand over Ohio State. This is a program whose fight song is “Hail to the Victors,” for goodness sake.

Because of this kiss-my-ring mentality, Michigan players and fans have always shunned any outward criticism of UM football yet celebrate braggadocio on their end.

Terry Glenn shouldn’t have said “Michigan is nothing” in 1995 but it was downright funny listening to the outrage above the state line a year after UM wide receiver Walter Smith said the Wolverines were trying to get Cooper fired in 1994.

David Boston made a similar comment in 1997, saying he wasn’t afraid of the matchup with Charles Woodson and he believed Ohio State had as much or more talent. They famously went at it on the field and Boston was walloped late in the game by Columbus native Marcus Ray. Woodson then admonished Boston after the game through the media – apparently unaware that Boston burned him for a deep touchdown and would continue to own him in the NFL.

The whole point back then was you better not pop off unless you can back it up. That’s one reason why UM fans love Harbaugh to this day. He promised Michigan would win at Ohio State in 1986 and they did – 26-24. Never mind that OSU kicker Matt Frantz sprayed a makeable field goal at the end of the game. It’s all about winning, which apparently allows Michigan to offer lessons in class as well.

This year, because it was a certainty that OSU would cower at the mere site of the Maize and Blue and its stifling defense, linebacker Devin Bush said it was “time to beat Ohio State” and added this is the year it will happen. A reporter asked running back Karan Higdon if he would guarantee victory in Columbus as his head coach did 32 years ago. He smiled and said, “Yeah.”

Well, those predictions didn’t work out so well. And they don’t take into account what Ohio State painfully learned in the 1990s. You can have more outstanding players, believe you have the better team and know in your heart that you are due – it still doesn’t guarantee anything in this game.

The Buckeyes won a lot of individual awards in that decade. Orlando Pace won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. Glenn won the Biletnikoff Award. Antoine Winfield earned the Thorpe and Andy Katzenmoyer claimed the Butkus. Heck, Eddie George won the Heisman. But they were all-time players who had a devil of a time trying to beat Michigan.

I suspect this year Bush will win the Butkus and possibly the Bronko Nagurski Award. Rashan Gary will be hailed as the Big Ten’s top defensive lineman. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is almost a sure bet to win the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.

And yet they are now part of a defense that allowed Ohio State to amass 567 total yards including 396 and six touchdown passes by Dwayne Haskins in a game where UM allowed the most-ever points in this series.

That’s how harsh this rivalry can be.

Sure, it’s ridiculous that OSU fans spend the week crossing out their M’s, telling corny jokes about Wolverines and singing “I don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan.” And, yes, there is plenty of rancor on this side of the aisle. But it feels as though the Buckeyes have the approach to The Game figured out, especially when you realize OSU has won 16 of the last 18 contests.

And Ohio State’s record of success at home can’t be understated at this point.

Go back 40 years to Michigan’s 14-3 win at the Horseshoe in 1978, Woody Hayes’ last season as head coach, and these are the UM wins in Columbus since:
* 9-3 in 1980 (Marcus Marek collides with Anthony Carter in a bruiser of a game)
* 26-24 in 1986 (Harbaugh boasts then holds his breath)
* 34-31 in 1988 (heavy underdog Buckeyes play extremely well)
* 16-13 in 1990 (Coop runs a risky QB keeper on 4th-and-1)
* 13-9 in 1996 (Shawn Springs slips, Tai Streets to the house)
* 38-26 in 2000 (Steve Bellisari flutters one wide of a wide-open Ken-Yon Rambo in the fourth quarter)

Those six narrow defeats in that span, most of them decided by a single play, are more than offset by a tie (1992) and 13 OSU wins by an average margin of 14.7 points – more than two touchdowns.

Yeah, it appeared the Wolverines had a good chance to end their misery this year, but history has been pretty clear on one point for decades now – and that is coming into Columbus and pounding out a resounding win is basically unheard of.

Maybe that is the one thing that can be predicted when it comes to Ohio State-Michigan.