Why Michigan's Big Game Experience Should Help at Ohio State

Why Michigan's Big Game Experience Should Help at Ohio State

Football

Why Michigan's Big Game Experience Should Help at Ohio State

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan always preaches that that week’s game is the biggest game of the season. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has repeated it like a mantra from the podium every Monday: ‘It’s a big game, championship-type game.’

Well, that’s never been more true than it will be on Saturday.

In 2016, Harbaugh’s Wolverines went down to Columbus with the nation’s No. 3 team, but had to face the Buckeyes who were ranked No. 2. Michigan nearly had them, but some questionable officiating had the maize and blue leaving Ohio out of the Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff hunt.

Ohio State couldn’t play for the Big Ten Championship that year, due to a loss at Penn State. This year, however, the winner of The Game will advance to Indianapolis, with a College Football Playoff berth at stake.

So is this one just another game on the schedule? “Of course not,” Harbaugh said on Monday. It means more than any other game on that schedule, regardless of records.

As junior defensive end Rashan Gary says, it’s more than just your average week — more than Penn State, Wisconsin or trying to stay undefeated in the conference against the Indianas of the world.

“Yeah, I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t,” Gary said.  “It’s both teams 10-1. We know what’s on the line. Everybody’s making sure we do a great job of preparing for it. Like today, going out having a good practice. Going back and watching what you need to get right, because this is a game and you don’t want to mess up.”

Of course, the last time Michigan was in this position, things didn’t work out so well. But that’s not something that this team is concerned with.

With a new quarterback in Shea Patterson, an offensive line that’s humming under Coach Ed Warinner, a dynamic running game led by Karan Higdon and a defense that’s still tops in the country, what happened last year or the year before or 10 years before doesn’t matter. Not to this team.

“With this team this year, everything that’s happened in the past really doesn’t exist to us,” Patterson said. “We’re moving forward and we’re worried about the next week. We’re all about this year. We’re all about this game.”

This might be the biggest game of the season, but it’s not like the Michigan hasn’t been in big games this year. More so than Ohio State, actually, given that the Buckeyes have only played against two teams with winning records this year. Michigan? It’s played six, and is 5-1.

College GameDay will be in town — Michigan’s third such instance of the season. The Wolverines played against three straight ranked opponents — a gauntlet most said Michigan wouldn’t get through unscathed. On the other hand, the maize and blue dominated all three contests.

Unlike previous years, Michigan hadn’t been on the big stage, under the bright lights. This year, it lost the first by 7 in South Bend, but learned its lesson from there.

So, in Columbus, at The Horseshoe, the Wolverines will be comfortable with all eyes on them. With everything to lose. Because they’ve been tried and tested at this point.

“We’ve played in big games – we played Notre Dame,” linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said. “We played Penn State, we played Wisconsin. We played Michigan State, so – those are all big games, and we’ve been on those stages before. And this is just another game.”

“I feel like we’ve been in big games all year,” senior safety Tyree Kinnel said. “Like Coach Harbaugh said this last game, every game’s a championship game, and that’s how we’ve taken it. We haven’t gotten too high, emotional or too low about the game. We know we’re gonna face adversity sometime (against) them on Saturday. We’ve just gotta stick together, play well and just trust each other.”

And with big games, for these Wolverines, it’s not about doing something different — it’s about staying the same.

Because Michigan has been consistent about how it’s played on a weekly basis, how it’s prepared, it’s incumbent upon this group to treat this week as it has every other. If it did something different, it would be an indictment upon the rest of the season — as if it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to.

Michigan may have more experience this particular season in big games, having stared down the No. 3 Fighting Irish to begin the season, having broken the spirits of the Badgers, Spartans and Nittany Lions in successive fashion. Ohio State has whimpered to the finish line, but when it all comes down to it, they have the same record, and both teams have the same goals within reach.

For Michigan, it’s about finishing what it’s started.

“We’re 10-1, they’re 10-1 – I think it just comes with the way we prepare,” Patterson said. “If you prepare and put in the work and go out there and not afraid to fail, why not be confident? I think false confidence comes when you don’t prepare right. I think that’s where you get nervous, but I don’t think we have any of that in the locker room this year.”

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