It’s been a decade since OSU fans were treated to what is arguably one of the greatest college football games to ever be played. So much so, Big Ten Network aired a special documentary on the Game of the Century 10 years after OSU defeated Michigan in Ohio Stadium, 42-39.
One of redshirt senior center Pat Elflein’s first memories of OSU vs. Michigan football happened to be that very game.
“The (No. 1 vs. No. 2) game, that one will go down in history,” he said.
In the decade since, times have changed for both sides. While Michigan has struck gold with the presence of veteran players such as junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers, senior tight end Jake Butt and redshirt senior Amara Darboh, OSU has depended on contributions from underclassmen such as redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker.
In 2006, names like Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Leon Hall led the Wolverines. For OSU, the household names were Troy Smith, James Laurinaitis and Antonio Pittman.
The hype coming into the 2006 game was amplified with the death of long-time Michigan coach Bo Schembechler at age 77 the night before the game. Wolverine faithful began using the passing of their beloved former coach as a battle cry to find a way to knock off OSU.
In 2006, the ability of Pittman’s legs and Smith’s arm propelled the Buckeyes to victory and a berth in the BCS National Championship, which OSU eventually lost. Michigan’s largest offensive contributions came from Henne and Hart.
Defense was the name of the game for both teams, as OSU had been allowing just 10.4 points per game, and Michigan giving up just 14.6. 10 years later, the ability of both defenses has been flipped, as Michigan is allowing just 10.9 points per game, while the Buckeyes give up an average of 13 points in each matchup.
Even with such stout defenses, each team racked up points in a hurry in 2006. The same could very well happen on Saturday, with both sides presenting a dynamic offense similar to the team that walked onto the Ohio Stadium field 10 years ago.
The wide receiving unit for Michigan in 2006 had soon-to-be NFL talents on it such as Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston. This time around, the presence of senior wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will put the OSU secondary to test. Although each holds a similar knack for catching the ball and scoring much like the players from a decade ago, OSU redshirt junior Gareon Conley is excited to play against such talented wideouts.
“Both their receivers are good,” he said. “They go against press everyday so they’re going to be good at going against us. That’ll be a good challenge, and I’m just ready to go out and play against them.”
In the backfield for OSU, Weber, a 5-foot-9 running back with quick feet, is known more for his ability to bulldoze defenders than for his breakaway speed. However, against Michigan State, he showed off his wheels with a 52-yard rush past multiple Spartan defenders. Pittman was known for his speed while in Columbus.
OSU is led by an intelligent quarterback in redshirt junior J.T. Barrett, who has been criticized for his apparent lack of arm strength while throwing the ball downfield. Smith was also judged during his time with OSU for being too small to be a signal caller, but proved all doubters wrong with the 2006 Heisman Trophy.
Michigan benefits from having a do-it-all force with Peppers, and has a similar force at running back as they had in 2006. While Hart had speed but could break his fair share of tackles, Michigan running back De’Veon Smith is difficult to bring down thanks to his 228-pound frame.
Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis is not afraid of the challenge of facing a similar force in the run game.
“I like playing against the run,” he said. “I like playing over top of the tight end. I like good football. You spread them out. It doesn’t really matter to me because every team has their scheme with what they’re going to do. But at the end of the day, it’s about who’s going to put their hand in the dirt and just going. You can play whatever formation you want to play, we’re going to play whatever defense we have to to dominate.”
The players’ names have changed for both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines since the game 10 years ago, but the playmaking ability remains. Even with the title of Game of the Century previously given to the 2006 installment of The Game, the game this Saturday could make its case.