Upsets stand out in OSU-UM rivalry

11/17/2008
BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

"I'm sure [we'll] hear all week that our guys have no chance," Rodriguez said.

Betting lines for the game between unranked UM and No. 10 Ohio State were not available yesterday afternoon, but it would be a huge upset if the Wolverines were to win.

UM is headed to Ohio Stadium this weekend having already set the school's single-season record for losses with eight, while the Buckeyes are fighting for another Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth.

Upsets are rare in this rivalry, but they do happen. Since 1937, the lower-ranked school has won 21 times, and only eight times has an unranked team knocked off its ranked opponent. The last year that happened was 2004, when Ohio State stunned then-No. 7 UM 37-21 in Columbus.

When an upset has occurred, according to the players and coaches who pulled some of them off, it was because the underdog refused to dwell on the discrepancies between teams that made its opponent such a decided favorite.

"I'm paraphrasing now, but [legendary UM coach] Bo [Schembechler] used to say the upset is always in the mind of the favorite, not the underdog," said Jim Brandstatter, an offensive tackle for Schembechler during the Wolverines' famous 24-12 triumph over then-No. 1 Ohio State in 1969.

Brandstatter, now the color commentator on UM's radio broadcasts, said the Wolverines entered the game in 1969 believing all along it could play with the defending-national-champion Buckeyes.

That shocking triumph in which No. 12 UM handed Ohio State and coach Woody Hayes their first loss since Oct. 28, 1967, is largely recognized as the game that truly signaled a new era of Wolverines football under first-year coach Schembechler. It also started the "Ten Year War" - perhaps the most heated segment in a Wolverines-Buckeyes rivalry that dates back to 1897.

"What most people don't remember is we had won four in a row heading into that game by huge margins," Brandstatter said. "The players, coaches, anyone inside the Michigan football team, all had the great belief that we could play with those guys. It doesn't work if you don't."

Other notable UM upsets of Ohio State include back-to-back stunners in 1995 and 1996, when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 each year yet fell to their bitter foe. Tim Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards as the No. 18 Wolverines won 31-23 in Ann Arbor in '95, and No. 21 UM won a defensive battle 13-9 in Columbus the following season.

Unlike Schembechler's first Wolverines team in 1969 - and perhaps to the encouragement of Rodriguez's first UM squad this year - the young men wearing winged helmets who beat Ohio State in 1995 and 1996 lost their previous game in both seasons before taking on the Buckeyes.

The same goes for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in his first game coaching against the Wolverines. The Buckeyes were defeated 34-22 on Nov. 17, 2001, by Illinois and traveled to Ann Arbor the following week unranked, but upended No. 11 UM 26-20.

"There isn't an upset in that game," Tressel said last week. "Everyone goes in there with just as much chance of winning. You look at every rivalry game, whether it's Ohio State-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern or Michigan-Michigan State, you're going to find a few plays that make a difference."

Those difference-making plays in Ohio State's 2004 triumph largely belonged to quarterback Troy Smith. Smith, in his first game quarterbacking against UM, threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 145 yards and a score in a contest that also featured Ted Ginn's 82-yard punt return.

"Our whole thing was not to look at it as an upset," said Smith, now a quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. "That game in itself is a whole other season. I know guys from that school who I'm great friends with now, and I know they wanted to knock us off just as badly as we wanted to beat them, regardless of what happened all season."

Though he's never led UM against Ohio State, Rodriguez says he understands the rivalry.

Rather than focus on the tradition and pageantry that exists between the two football powers, he said he wants the Wolverines to worry about the game itself.

Rodriguez recognizes the speed and skill the Buckeyes possess and the success they have enjoyed, but insisted Saturday UM has a chance.

Why?

"It's 0-0 when you start, that's why," Rodriguez said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.