Team Up North Quote-o-Rama
Some Ohio State football traditions become engrained and apparently one of them is the idea to allow reporters access to players the Monday of the Michigan game and then sealing off the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
That’s what Urban Meyer did this week while referring to Michigan only as “our rival” or “that team up north.”
Meyer assented to the Monday availability of several key players including seniors who will be honored Saturday but followed in the footsteps of predecessors Luke Fickell, Jim Tressel, John Cooper and his mentor, Earle Bruce, in cutting off player access in the days following.
The idea, of course, is to put complete focus on The Game and one sports greatest rivalries. Fortunately, there were enough quotes of note to go around – a plethora, as a matter of fact.
So what follows are some of the highlights from those player interviews this week as No. 6 Ohio State (10-1, 7-0) prepared to host underperforming Michigan (5-6, 3-4) at Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon (noon Eastern, ABC):
Wide receiver Evan Spencer on what The Game means to him – “This game, it’s really everything. I’ve been thinking about it all day and really all week. Whatever you do in this game is immortalized forever. If you go for three touchdowns or you have however many tackles or sacks, everybody is going to remember this forever. This game means a lot to us and it even means more to us as seniors.
Spencer on learning the rivalry from his father, former OSU running back Tim Spencer – “It definitely gives me a different perspective. Growing up and watching it on TV, I never liked them that much. I’m sure they felt the same toward us. I went up there a couple of times as a young kid. I don’t like the place. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to Ann Arbor and I’m glad I don’t have to go back (for this game).
“I’m going to do whatever I can to beat them up pretty good this week and go out 3-1 against them.”
Tight end Jeff Heuerman on if this is just another game – “No, I don’t think so. I remember back at Media Days (in Chicago), everyone was asking about the Michigan State game. I think what makes the Michigan State game such a good rivalry is when both teams are really good. The Team Up North game, regardless of records, it’s a big game regardless. It’s going to be a war, no matter what the records are.”
Defensive lineman Michael Bennett on his reaction to seeing Michigan players on the same field – “I’m thinking it’s time to go now. Whether we go there or they come here, when you actually see the opposing team all suited up … I’m sure they’re going to be yelling and stamping their feet you know its time to go play a football.”
Linebacker Joshua Perry on his feel for how The Game will play out – “I’m pretty confident just because we don’t want to have something that happened last year happen again. I think we’re going to prepare really well for this game, guys are going to take it really seriously. We know what’s at stake, it’s a little bit more than what people would imagine.”
Perry on how he reacts to the UM helmet – “It kind of pisses you off a little bit, to be honest. You get a feeling in your stomach and you just want to go out there, you got a bad taste in your mouth. As the whole part of the rivalry, we got a lot of stuff — we don’t like the colors, the whole deal.”
Cornerback Doran Grant on his four years at Ohio State – “Honestly, our senior class when we came in with everything with Tressel, then coach Fickell being the coach, then the hiring of Coach Meyer, we just sat back and really talked to each other. A lot of of guys in our class are like, ‘We haven’t won anything since we’ve been here.’ We’ve won a couple Eastern Division championships, but we haven’t won a Big Ten title or anything bigger than that. That’s our main goal is to win the Big Ten championship and of course beat the Team Up North.”
Perry on the physical nature of The Game – “It’s a really, really physical game. Everything’s clean, not cheap shots or anything. Guys are just getting after it. You want to hit your opponent hard between the whistles, you want to make sure they feel it.”
Offensive tackle Darryl Baldwin on Michigan having a top-10 defense – “They just play pretty well together. Their front is very active and their linebackers are pretty physical, I don’t know much about the secondary. I think they play very well as a defensive unit.”
Perry on the Wolverines’ desperation – “I think there’s going to be a lot on the line for them. They’re going to be really excited just because of what everything means. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to have something. Guys are probably going to be really emotional on their sideline but at the same time we’re going to be pretty emotional over here on our sideline, too. I know that this means a lot for us. So preparation is going to be key.”
Linebacker Curtis Grant on the last time he uttered the word “Michigan” – “Probably a few minutes ago, to be honest. It was because Coach (Meyer) wasn’t around.”
Perry on his personal motivation – “Being from around here, growing up watching all those guys play in the game and the success we’ve had in the past. That’s what motivates me. I just want the team to play really well, want to go out there and put the best product on the field.”
Curtis Grant on what he knew about the rivalry growing up in Richmond, Va. – “I really didn’t know that much about it. I just knew one of my best friends growing up, he was a Team Up North fan. He used to talk about how crazy the rivalry was, but I didn’t really understand it until I got here. I had a couple of other buddies back home that are Team Up North fans, and we go at it all the time.”
Curtis Grant on Meyer’s speech about controlling emotion – “He said he wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws any punches this year we’re just dismissed. He pretty much put it out there yesterday, so there’s no telling what will happen if you get into a fight this year. So we have to be on our best behavior.”
Bennett on the same subject – “You toe that line every game you play if you’re playing with intensity, anger or aggression. It’s a rough sport. Guys are going to be jawing back and forth. You have to know what the limits are. You have to know what’s worth doing and what’s not worth doing. Sometimes you can get away with doing stuff between the whistles and guys go for it. When you start jawing at someone and you throw a punch, it’s not well thought out. You know you’re going to get kicked out of the game and miss the next one.”
Curtis Grant on his favorite Michigan memory – “Like I said, I really didn’t watch it growing up. I’d say last year just because it was a very intense game. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you just want to win so bad. For them to gamble for it all and Tyvis (Powell) makes that play, and it’s just like, ‘Wow. This is a great joy and feeling after the game.’ ”
Bennett on giving up 41 points to the Wolverines last year – “It was just really annoying. It felt like every play that they got was a trick play or a screen or something like that. It was annoying that we couldn’t feel it, it was annoying that we couldn’t redirect and get it and it was annoying that they kept doing those plays instead of just trying to run it down our throats and then we would have stopped them. They actually wanted to win the game, and that was annoying.
“I just remember sitting on the sideline and being upset the whole time because we needed to stop them and it’s hard to just rush these guys and do all this stuff when you’re worrying about Devin Gardner rolling out for a 40-yard run or him rushing this way and turning around, and tossing off his back foot for an 80-yard screen.”
Perry on Powell’s win-clinching interception last year – “That was pretty cool. The real cool thing was he caught the ball and I don’t think he put it down until he got back home in Columbus. I mean he went in the shower with that thing, he was getting dressed with the ball, the whole deal. So it was just really cool to see. That was obviously such a big play and he’s got that ability to make big plays like that.”
Curtis Grant on the UM offense – “They have a lot of talent, from that quarterback position to the receivers. They have talent all over the field. It’s kind of hard to wonder what’s going on up there, like ‘How come they’re not winning more games?’ I just got done watching film. They have multiple running backs. They have good receivers. Any time this team wanted to explode, they could and just go crazy.”
Spencer on the danger of playing 5-6 Michigan – “They are going to come out swinging. I’d be the first one to tell you that. I have watched them all year. They are a good football team. They have athletes and they have mismatches for everybody they play. But at the same time, I like our checkers better than theirs. We will match or surpass their toughness and go out and take care of our business.”
Heuerman on UM players dealing with a black cloud over coach Brady Hoke – “Turing on the TV every day and seeing your coach under such fire and stuff, it obviously affects you a little bit. To what extent, I don’t know how much. I don’t know what the locker room is up there. I don’t know the feeling the players have toward the coach.”
Curtis Grant on the Hoke factor – “It all depends on how much respect that those players have for their guy. If they have a lot of respect for him, they’re going to give it all they’ve got. If they don’t, they’re not going to play worth anything.”
Bennett on the makeup of the OSU defense – “Last year we had issues in the secondary, we were inconsistent on the D-line, we were inconsistent in the linebacker play. I think this year we’re so much more consistent. We’re more together than we were last year. Guys play for each other. Guys support each other there’s no negativity on the sideline. I think all around we’re a much better defense.”
Doran Grant on the defensive goal – “That’s what we’ve all been talking about is basically finishing. We’ve got to finish as a defense, finish as a team and we’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to do a better job with that and I think this is another opportunity for us to do that.”
Baldwin on Hoke – “I am not too sure what is going on with that situation. Any time you have a fear that you are going to lose a coach obviously if it is your last game with him it is going to be emotional so I am sure they are going through some stuff right now. It is making it that much more important for them also.”
Baldwin on preparing for his last home game – “I have been thinking about it a lot and I am not excited about it, it is going to be sad obviously and I just have to cherish the moment.”
Spencer on this being a different week – “There is obviously a lot of stuff going on on campus this week. At times, it’s hard to stay focused. It goes to show you how much the fans and the students have our backs. I was going to class and I’m walking in my building and I don’t see any Ms on any of the signs or the building names. That shows the severity of our hatred for them. It’s universal throughout the Ohio State campus.”
Spencer on his initial reaction to seeing Michigan – “Personally, I have grown to not like them very much ever since birth. Every time I hear that fight song and see those damn helmets, not great feelings come up, I guess. At least I get to get all of that out for the last time on Saturday.”
Baldwin on if he believes the Wolverines would lay down if OSU bolted to a quick lead – “I don’t really see that ever happening. It is just that big of a game that even if you get down two or three scores early that you are not going to want to quit, especially in a place like the stadium we are in.”
Spencer on the price of saying the ‘M’ word in front of Meyer – “I’m sure the conversation you get following would not be too comfortable. In the weight room, there would probably be some kind of physical punishment, whether it’s push-ups or whatever. I am going to try and avoid it all cost.”
Doran Grant on his favorite Michigan memory – “I would say the 12-0 year my sophomore year in 2012. That was a good team win and everybody rushed the field, undefeated season. We didn’t get to go anywhere after that, but it was just good to be with your teammates after that one.”
Heuerman on if his four years at OSU has flown by – “It really has. I got a text from Coach (Jim) Tressel last night. Thinking back to four years ago when I showed up here it’s just crazy how quick it goes. It’s been awesome, man, I love it here. I have no regrets.”
Heuerman on if he has maximized his college experience – “Oh yeah (laughs). Oh yeah. I’ll leave it at that.”