Meyer looking to continue mastery of rivalry games

BY Marcus Hartman • November 24, 2014

Columbus, Ohio -- Since it was moved to the last game of the regular season in 1935, the Ohio State-Michigan game has had the potential for major impact on the Big Ten standings 44 times. The Buckeyes and Wolverines decided the conference championship between themselves 22 of those times.

Neither of those things will happen this Saturday when they meet on the gridiron for the 111th time, but Urban Meyer sounded confident his Ohio State team will not be lacking for motivation.

And if anybody knows rivalries, it’s Urban Meyer, who is 2-0 as head coach of the Buckeyes against Michigan after dominating Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State during his Florida tenure. That followed going 2-0 against BYU while he was at Utah. Meyer's Bowling Green teams only split a pair of games with Toledo, but that was more than a decade ago. Meyer's Gators only played the other of the three major in-state teams in Florida once, but of course they beat Miami 26-3 in that 2008 game en route to a national championship.

Add all those rivalry games up and they equal a sterling record of 23-3 in rivalry games. Meyer just might be the worst neighbor a college football team can have.

How does he do it? It's a matter of emphasis.

"We just make a huge deal out of rivalry games," he said. "I want the players to take ownership in the program, part ownership in the game. This is not another game. This is The Game. So it is different around here (this week). I want to have some fun with it.

"Sing the fight song in the locker room after a win against your rival. That's how you have fun. Everything leads up to that fun.

"I know I'm kind of going on and on, but it's a huge deal here. And it's something that has always been a huge deal. As long as I can remember, this game is The Game. And the comment might be a little bit embellished about you can lose them all, just win this one -- I'm not sure I buy that one -- but this is and our players know it."

His players no doubt also know Michigan is having another disappointing season under head coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines are 5-6 and have already been blown out by both of their other major rivals, absorbing a 31-0 beating from Notre Dame in September and getting whipped 35-11 by Michigan State in an October game that was not as close as the final score.

Ohio State is going for its third consecutive perfect Big Ten season, but Michigan previously has ruined 11 of those for the Buckeyes. It's all part of a rivalry that has shaped both programs as well as their head coaches.

"I learned it here," said Meyer, who was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986 and '87. "You go to Bowling Green, we certainly didn't invent that rivalry. That's always been a nasty the team's are only 20 miles apart, Bowling Green and Toledo. And we go to Utah and once again we didn't invent the rivalry. We maybe put a lot of emphasis on it, called them 'The Team Down South' and had some success out there with it.

"Then we go to Florida -- It's interesting at Florida because you have three of them, you have Tennessee early in the year, you have Georgia and you have 'The Team Out West' (Florida State)."

This week he'll be tasked with passing on those lessons yet again, striking the delicate balance of acknowledging the immensity of the moment without being intimidated by it.

"We're not trying to go play the game tomorrow," he said. "We're trying to have a good Tuesday practice, good Monday. It's their off day, but they come in get treatments, take care of themselves, constant reminders what the game is. I think the older players know and appreciate it. I think the younger players are getting a dose of it now. It's a different week. That's all it is. We're not trying to get them motivated to play the game on Tuesday.

"And we'll talk to them about it.... but let's take care of the moment and the moment is somehow win it Tuesday and then get to Wednesday."

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