ANN ARBOR — The demands of more than 113,000 people inside of an enclosed stadium are most likely deafening. And resounding.
At the start of the fourth quarter of the Michigan football team’s 42-17 win over Iowa on Saturday, the chants of “Beat Ohio” began, and those calls grew louder as the final 15 minutes of the game progressed.
Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said he heard all of it. But at the time, he didn’t put much stock in it. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke heard the calls, too.
Hoke turned to the person next to him and muttered a more immediate concern.
“I said to somebody, ‘We need to beat Iowa,’ ” Hoke said.
That task is taken care of. Now, the No. 20 Wolverines (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) will focus on one of the nation’s most historic rivalries. They’ll prepare to face No. 4 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) at noon Saturday in Columbus.
It’s a game they’ve been hearing about for more than a month from the media and a matchup they’re reminded of every day, as a digital clock hangs in Schembechler Hall, which reminds Michigan’s personnel of the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds which remain until their regular-season finale at Ohio Stadium.
“It’s a big game, year in and year out,” Kovacs said. “It’s THE game. So it’s going to be an intense game. It’s going to be hard-hitting. We’ll be ready.”
While Michigan may have gotten a glimpse of next season’s quarterback in Devin Gardner — provided that Russell Bellomy or incoming freshman Shane Morris doesn’t shoot out of nowhere to claim that spot in 2013 — the Wolverines may have already given the Buckeyes a hint of what’s to come Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Denard Robinson rotated between quarterback and tailback in the win over Iowa and Gardner continued an upward curve at quarterback, adding a new wrinkle to Michigan’s offense. Robinson’s move to tailback could be magnified with the loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint, who underwent surgery on his left leg Saturday after suffering a gruesome injury in the win over the Hawkeyes. A Michigan spokesperson said Sunday that Hoke will address Toussaint’s status and injury today.
Yet Gardner believes that the shuffling could give the Buckeyes something to consider.
“Oh, yeah, it definitely does,” said Gardner, who accounted for six touchdowns (three rushing, three passing) and 314 passing yards Saturday against the Hawkeyes. “Unless they don’t want to. And that’s fine with me, as well.”
Still, in preparation for the Buckeyes, the stakes this week remain the same for the Wolverines, who have won three straight and look to reach the goal of winning their final four games. It’s one of the few things that could help Michigan’s slim hopes for winning the Legends Division and earning a berth in the Big Ten title game. Michigan needs to defeat Ohio State and Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) has to lose its regular-season finale Friday at Iowa in order to win the Legends Division title and have a shot at playing in the Rose Bowl.
There’s an added incentive that comes with facing a traditional rival, a definite goal for the Wolverines in Columbus.
“Finish,” said Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree, who grew up in Trotwood, Ohio. “It’s the last game of the year. We’re playing Ohio. Ever since [those] guys got here, we’ve been bringing it up. We say, ‘beat Ohio.’ So I’m pretty sure they know this week is totally focused.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.