With Urban Meyer getting set to face the Wolverines as head coach of the Buckeyes for the first time, it came as little surprise he was peppered with questions about things he recalls from growing up in northeastern Ohio as an Ohio State fan and then a member of Earle Bruce's coaching staff as a graduate assistant in the mid-1980s.
"If you ask me what makes it unique is the fact that I grew up in this state, and this is all I knew," Meyer said. "If you're in the state of Ohio, this is all you know growing up. That's what makes it so unique. Then also I think I think the Bo Schembechler-Woody Hayes era, when college football began to explode on a national level, that's what made this such a visual, visual rivalry for the country to see."
Meyer recalled coaching in the 1986 contest, a 26-24 Michigan win at Ohio Stadium in which Wolverine quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 19 of 29 passes for 261 after guaranteeing his team would prevail. That promise might have been broken, though, if not for a 45-yard field goal Ohio State's Matt Frantz missed in the final minutes.
"I love Matt," Meyer said. "It was a great game. Vince Workman took – I can go through the whole game if you want. Cris Carter's great catch in the right side of the end zone. Chris Spielman, 29 tackles, Jamie Morris…"
A season later, Meyer was in the press box as the final seconds ticked off the clock in a 23-20 upset victory by the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. It was the last game as Ohio State head coach for Earle Bruce, and the players carried him off the field in triumph.
"I think that's one of the great memories that I have of my time here," said Meyer, who also recalled being present the Monday before that edition of The Game for the meeting in which director of athletics Rick Bay informed the staff university president Edward Jennings had instructed him to fire Bruce.
"I can tell you everything," Meyer said at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. "I can tell you walking into Coach Bruce's office right here, this facility just opened, and Rick Bay was leaned up against the wall and looked at me and said, ‘Close the door. Are you the last one?' I said, ‘Yes, yes, sir.' And I sat down.
"I saw a bunch of coaches with their arms on the table, with their face in their arms, and tears and the whole deal. I was like the last guy to walk in, and he said that Coach Bruce will no longer be the coach after this game, and I have resigned as athletic director.
"Like it was right there," Meyer said, pointing. "Right out that door. I knew Mr. Bay very well and have great respect for him. Just an incredible moment in Ohio State history."
Familiar Face Across Sideline
Meyer also has memories of one of the men who will be on the opposite sideline Saturday. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison had the same title on Meyer's staff at Florida from 2004-07 after the two become friends on Bob Davie's staff at Notre Dame in the late 1990s.
"He was the first phone call I made when I got the job at University of Florida to find out if he'd go with me," Meyer said. "We lived next to each other at Notre Dame for a long time. I know he's a great recruiter. We recruited together for many, many years. I've just got a lot of respect for him as a coach."
Mattison was a candidate for national assistant coach of the year last season, his first back in Ann Arbor after a stint with the Fighting Irish, Gators and the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. He crafted a 2011 Wolverine defense that finished second in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation in points allowed and No. 1 in the conference in turnovers forced and red zone defense.
Through 11 games this season, Michigan leads the nation in passing yards allowed per game and is third in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense, but Meyer downplayed the idea the coaches' knowledge of each other's schemes will play a big role in the game Saturday.
"That enhances it a little bit, but once again, it's about players," Meyer said. "Probably the way it enhanced it, I know we've spent a lot of time now having conversations about how they'll play us, and that's probably the only thing that really matters now."
Meyer did credit Mattison with introducing him to current Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, a fellow Ohio native.
"I knew Greg, and Greg was very close with Brady," Meyer said when asked if he had had much contact with Hoke. "I think we had dinner twice or something like that. Other than that, not much."
At their separate press conferences this week, Meyer and Hoke both emphasized their role is nothing compared to that of the players when the Buckeyes and Wolverines get together on the football field. That is despite both men being from Ohio – Hoke grew up in the Dayton suburb Kettering – as fans of the schools they now lead.
"This is not war, it's a game, but it's a very intense game when this is home," Meyer said. "He's born in the state of Ohio – which I still don't get, that's another story – but I guess it adds to the intensity, to answer your question, rather obviously, and I think when you're talking about it's close to home, it adds to the fuel, fuel to the fire."
Assistant Nominated For Award
Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who also serves as co-offensive coordinator, is one of 29 nominees for the 2012 Frank Broyles Award.
Presented by The Rotary Club of Little Rock, Ark., and named after former Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles, the honor goes to the nation's best assistant coach.
Warinner has received extensive praise for the improvement of the offensive line in Columbus this season. The Buckeyes enter the final week of the season leading the Big Ten in scoring and second in rushing.
Mattison is also nominated.
Five finalists for the Broyles ward will be named Nov. 26.