Perhaps more than any other living coach, Urban Meyer lived for rivalry games. He lived those games to a degree that was perhaps unhealthy on a personal level but undeniably successful on the field.
In 17 seasons as a head coach, Meyer’s teams went an impeccable 24-3 in designated rivalry games.
— 2-0 against Kent State and 1-1 against Toledo in his two seasons at Bowling Green
— 2-0 apiece versus BYU and Utah State in his two years at Utah
— 5-1 apiece against Georgia and Florida State in six years at Florida
— 7-0 against Michigan, the game nearest and dearest to Meyer’s own heart
A psychology major and insanely competitive, Meyer explained his approach to rivalry games in this speech to Ohio State players last April, captured here by Eleven Warriors:
So I’ll say this again. How do you respect a rivalry? You work it every day. You don’t shoot your mouth off. If I ever hear, whatever’s going on, I hear a player take a shot verbally at them – that’s a problem. How do you show respect for a rivalry? You work it every [expletive] day. Not by tee shirts. Not by bullshit.
When I see people giggle about how we don’t wear blue in here – I don’t laugh about that. We don’t have blue pens in here. That’s not funny. This is Nike vs. Adidas, this is Coke vs. Pepsi, this is Ohio State vs the Team Up North. This is our livelihood.
So if you’re new to the program – welcome to the program. Understand where you’re at. This is not a game. This is not silly. This is a way of life. There’s a bunch of former players in the back [of the room] that lived it. As you move up, you live it. This is who you are.
You never lose to those pricks. Ever. Ever. And you work it every day. And I don’t give a shit if you’re from California or Texas or whatever, as soon as you say you’re a Buckeye this is part of your life for the rest of your life – and you don’t lose to those pricks. You beat them every day. Every day.
You get the feeling that, had he gone 6-1 against Michigan instead of 7-0, Meyer would have spent infinitely more time dwelling on the one than enjoying the six.
Meyer’s seven wins over Michigan came in all shapes and sizes. A 26-21 come-from-behind win completed his sanction-shortened 12-0 debut season in 2012. A successful 2-point conversion defense allowed his No. 3 Buckeyes to fend off a 42-41 win over an unranked Wolverines team in 2013. A 42-28 win in 2014 catapulted Ohio State to the national title and set the chains in motion to bring Jim Harbaugh to Ann Arbor.
The rivalry hit another gear (in Columbus, at least) once Harbaugh joined the party. In 2015, Ohio State went to Ann Arbor and laid a surprising 42-13 blowout with a trip to the Big Ten championship on the line. The Buckeyes were, frankly, out played in 2016 but still managed to steal a 30-27 double overtime decision in 2016, one of the decade’s best games that has ramifications that are still playing out today.
Following a ho-hum 31-20 defeat of an overmatched Michigan team in 2017, Meyer hit Harbaugh with a haymaker in 2018. The No. 10 Buckeyes pantsed No. 4 Michigan and its top-ranked defense, 62-39, a game that denied Michigan its first trip to the College Football Playoff and the Big Ten Championship, vaulted Ohio State to Indianapolis and, eventually, the Rose Bowl, and ultimately led the Michigan faithful to question if they were even playing the same game as their blood rivals to the south.
Now in his second season removed from coaching, Meyer doesn’t regret any blood, sweat and tears into not losing those games, and he doesn’t regret any points he piled on after victory was secure.
“This is going to create a lot of headlines, but no,” Meyer said on Dan Patrick’s show Tuesday.
“Our players work that game every year, and when you get a chance to go in and play I’m not going to tell them to slow down.”
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) September 22, 2020
In his first full season as head coach, Ryan Day had no trouble carrying that aspect of the Urban Culture forward into his own program, evidenced by No. 1 Ohio State’s 56-27 blowout of No. 13 Michigan back in November. He’ll get another chance to prove that Dec. 12 in Columbus.
But just in case Day needs any help reminding players of The Game’s importance to the freshmen and sophomores who never played for Urban, the guess here is Meyer wouldn’t have any problem popping in to explain it.