Commentary

Hoke understands meaning of rivalry

Coach has put focus on 'Ohio' from day one, doesn't have to fire up players

Updated: November 21, 2011, 6:23 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- These things are known: Michigan coach Brady Hoke won't wear the color red, has "always" called Ohio State "Ohio," and when he was hired installed a countdown clock for this game.

He grew up in Ohio. His father played at Miami (Ohio) for former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. So Hoke, the first-year Michigan coach, understands Michigan-Ohio State might be the last game of the season, but with these programs it is much, much more.

Success and failure in a season is defined by this game. Legacies at Michigan and Ohio State are created based on what happens in this game.

[+] EnlargeOrhian Johnson, Denard Robinson
Andrew Weber/US PresswireThe Wolverines don't need to be reminded of the Buckeyes' current winning streak in the series.
"This game is a game that's played by people who care about their institutions," Hoke said. "They care about the guys who are out there and care about the guys who played before them, and they'll care about either school in the future.

"That's what this game represents because of the respect."

Careers are defined by this game. John Cooper, otherwise a very good football coach, was in part fired at Ohio State because he couldn't beat Michigan, going 2-10-1. One of the biggest knocks on Michigan coach Lloyd Carr's Hall of Fame career is his 6-7 record against the Buckeyes.

The two most well-known coaches in each school's history -- Bo Schembechler at Michigan and Woody Hayes at Ohio State -- focused parts of their entire seasons on the opponent.

So much of the history and tradition of these schools is intertwined in this game -- so it makes sense Hoke isn't concerned about the emotion of his team this week. He isn't worried about how his players will prepare.

They understand what this is all about. They get how they'll be looked at based off what happens Saturday. It might be why, after Michigan beat Nebraska 45-17 last Saturday, the Wolverines didn't focus too much on it.

There wasn't much celebration Sunday inside Schembechler Hall.

"You could just tell there was a serious tone around the building," senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. "More serious than normal, I think."

While none of the Michigan seniors Monday truly wanted to address how this game would affect their legacies, consider this: Brandon Graham never beat Ohio State. Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez never beat Ohio State.

Neither did Michigan's all-time leading rusher, Mike Hart.

Hoke said he doesn't plan on bringing up the seven-year losing streak to his team this week -- "me telling them that would probably insult their intelligence."

Because in reality -- they know. Michigan's players have played through it.

"You've seen some of the guys struggle before us, which has been motivation throughout the season in every game we've played," Van Bergen said. "But so much emotion goes into this game, especially as a senior, people don't realize it's an emotional game because of the opponent, emotion on both sides.

"Both teams go into the locker room afterward, and especially the seniors, they are extra emotional."

Part of it has to do with it being senior day. Part of it has to do with playing Ohio State for the last time. And part of it, for this particular group of seniors, is this: Fifth-year seniors at Michigan have played under three head coaches, have not won a Big Ten championship and suffered through the first losing season at Michigan in 40 years.

True seniors were, for the most part, recruited by Carr's coaching staff, played the majority of their careers under Rodriguez and will finish up under Hoke.

Not what they imagined -- and considering Michigan is 9-2 entering Saturday, will likely leave on a positive note -- but they have a chance to do what their predecessors could not.

And it is something they are reminded of every practice, in every meeting -- because they all end the same way with the same message.

"It happens every time we gather," senior center David Molk said. "Every time he addresses the team."

That message: "Beat Ohio."

There's no confusion as to whom Hoke is referring.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.

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