Ohio State-Michigan: No substitute for experience in The Game

They say growing up in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry helps a player “get it,” at least sooner than those who don’t.

Actually playing in the game is even better according to multiple Buckeyes who spoke with reporters this week.

That might be important because none of them called the Buckeye State home before they were Buckeyes themselves.

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Six Ohio State starters are native Ohioans while none are from Michigan, and the picture is similar on the other side: Michigan starts five Michigan natives and one player born in Ohio.

Here are five things to know about the 116th edition of The Game:

1. Newcomers always have an eye-opening moment when it comes to the rivalry.

“Before I got here, I never understood the rivalry, but on my recruiting trip I was wearing like a blue tank top in the facility and one of the hosts was like, you have a jacket or anything?" said offensive lineman Wyatt Davis, a sophomore from California, who donned a jacket despite it being a hot summer day.

The staffer was trying to save Davis from the wrath of then-coach Urban Meyer, who forbid wearing blue in the football facility, but it was too late.

“(Coach Meyer) unzipped the jacket and he was like, ‘Do you have that ugly color on?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He's like, ‘Don't ever do that again.’

“That made me realize that, you know, this is real. It’s very historic and we take that very serious around here.”

2. Sometimes big moments do impact recruiting.

Three years ago, Pete Werner was a highly regarded linebacker from Indiana among the cadre of recruits in Columbus for The Game.

When Curtis Samuel streaked across the goal line for the winning touchdown in overtime in 2016, Ohio State had another future Buckeye in Werner.

“I saw that and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I gotta come here.’ It was just one of those plays. I think I’m not the only one to say that, too. I was right next to other recruits and they were like, ‘Wow, this atmosphere.’

“I remember talking to coach Meyer after the game and it sold me from there.”

3. The coaching staffs have some connections.

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown was the darling of college football last November, the subject of multiple stories about how he put together the nation’s top defense, a unit that had the Wolverines looking at ending their Big Ten title drought and making their first College Football Playoff.

Then Ohio State hung a record 62 points on Michigan, a game that has reverberated for the last 11-plus months.

Brown and Ohio State coach Ryan Day not only will match wits Saturday but also have some personal history.

“He actually coached against me when I played, then coached my brother at UMass, then we coached together at Boston College,” Day said. “Now get an opportunity to coach against each other in a huge rivalry game, which makes it hard.

“Nothing but respect obviously for his background and what he's done defensively over the years. One of the best guys in the business.”

The Michigan defense suffered another loss to Ohio State in January when assistants Greg Mattison and Al Washington jumped sides to join Day’s staff.

They haven’t spoken to reporters recently, but Werner said they seem fired up.

“Oh yeah. I can already tell,” said Werner, who works closely with both as one of Ohio State’s SAM linebackers. “This is the game they've had checked on their calendar since the time they've been here. They have something to prove.”

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“I’ve learned so much from them. Some of the best coaches I've ever been around. I've become so much of a better player because of them too. This game is going to mean a lot. We’re going to prepare harder than we ever have and that starts with them.”

4. Weather could be a factor.

According to the National Weather Service, the high in Ann Arbor on Saturday will be 38 degrees Fahrenheit with a 70-percent chance of precipitation. There could be snow early that turns to rain by the end of the game.

“Obviously if it’s a bad weather game, that’s good for the defense,” Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said. “I’m not really worried about the weather, but their run game presents some challenges. Big, strong offensive line, good backs. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

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Michigan’s recent offensive surge has been fueled by its passing game — quarterback Shea Patterson and a handful of talented receivers — but the Wolverines ran for over 300 yards in a rainy night upset of Notre Dame in late October.

Davis liked hearing about the possibility of bad weather, too.

“It's definitely gonna be exciting if that's the case because you know we love running the ball and getting after it, but going against The Team Up North, their defensive line — just that whole defense as a whole — it's going to be another great challenge for us," Davis said.

5. Ohio State could be missing an important player.

Defensive back Shaun Wade is a game-time decision with an unidentified injury.

A third-year sophomore, Wade has proven to be one of Ohio State’s most important players in a revamped defense that has gone from one of the worst in school history last season to one of the best in the nation this year.

Although he is listed as a cornerback, Wade essentially lines up as the strong safety on the second level of the Buckeyes' base defense.

His ability to cover receivers, stop the run and blitz from the edge has given the coaching staff multiple options for attacking opposing offenses, and his absence would be magnified against a Michigan team that has one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation.

Wade’s backup is Amir Riep, a junior safety from Cincinnati Colerain who has been one of the team’s top special teams players since arriving in Columbus.

Reserve safety Josh Proctor and offensive lineman Gavin Cupp are out, but no other members of the two-deep were on the injury report.

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