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MADISON, Wis. — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his players spent the first 11 weeks of the season repeating the same one-game-at-a-time bromides whenever asked about perfection or legacies or anything the slightest bit disconnected from the task of smashing the next challenger.
No more. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ 21-14 overtime win at Wisconsin means all their big-picture dreams from the first days of training camp will be on the line Saturday against Michigan.
A year after falling to the Wolverines for the first time since 2003, Meyer’s first OSU team has a chance to achieve the following:
■ The sixth unbeaten or untied season in the school’s 123-year history.
■ An outside shot at the Associated Press national title.
■ Settling a score in the only game Meyer will ever be caught calling a rivalry.
“This is a great game against a very good team that’s been to Rose Bowls,” Meyer said of Wisconsin late Saturday. “But this is not our rival. When you talk, and you talk about that R word, you talk about this week.”
He added: “This is all I've ever known growing up. And we have a group of coaches, eight of our nine coaches are from the state of Ohio, and there are a lot of players in there that have already experienced it. I’ve heard them already talking about it in the weight room, doing everything they can not to.”
Now, they can.
Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) and No. 20 UM (8-3, 6-1) will meet with both teams ranked for the time since 2007.
Per usual for Michigan week, players said they will spent more hours than usual preparing for this one while Meyer and his staff will undoubtedly burn the fuses.
They have plenty of issues to sort through. OSU must get acquainted with newly installed Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner, who could start in place of injured senior Denard Robinson.
Gardner threw for 314 yards and accounted for six touchdowns while Robinson dabbled at running back in UM’s 42-17 win over Iowa.
Don’t get Meyer started on his own offense, which he called “painful to watch” after Saturday’s game.
While the Badgers deployed a familiar strategy to slow Braxton Miller — stuff the box, assign at least one spy to follow the quarterback — they provided a blueprint for Michigan and other opponents. Miller rushed for a season-low 48 yards on 23 carries and could not beat man coverage via the air as receivers Devin Smith, Corey Brown and Co., consistently failed to dart open. A reworked game plan, including more carries for running back Carlos Hyde, will be at the top of Meyer’s to-do list this week.
There is much to be said for this as the top teams nationally continue to fall. Losses on Saturday by former No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Kansas State leave newly top-ranked Notre Dame and OSU as the nation’s only two unbeaten teams — and the postseason-banned Buckeyes square in the running to receive a significant share of the AP votes for the national champion if they finish as the only perfect team.
Meyer calls the Buckeyes disciples of a “someway, some how” mindset.
“I feel like we can’t be beat,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. “We’re not settling for a loss. We want to go undefeated.”
Let Michigan week begin.
“I mean this game is no comment right here," cornerback Bradley Roby said. "What can you say about that game? Everybody knows it’s the rivalry. I’m going to pick my film study up to make sure I’m on my P’s and Q’s come Saturday. We’re looking forward to it.”
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.