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Last season, the Michigan football team didn’t just beat Ohio State — it dominated. And that’s because the Wolverines won the battle in the trenches.

Michigan was more physical than the Buckeyes at the line of scrimmage; it was tougher, stronger. That’s why the Wolverines’ nine year losing streak to Ohio State was finally snapped. That’s why it happened in an emphatic fashion. 

And that’s exactly what they’re trying to do again.

“Whoever can play the game on their own terms is who’s going to win,” senior defensive tackle Mazi Smith said Monday. “… We’re talking about the game being won in the trenches.”

Michigan played Ohio State on its own terms last season and won by 15. In the second half, the Wolverines scored a rushing touchdown every time they had the ball.

This year, Michigan is a similarly constructed team this year as it was last year. It knows what it has to do to find similar success. But that’s much easier said than done.

The Buckeyes, by contrast, have been trying to show that they aren’t the same team that was run over in Ann Arbor last season. For the past year, Ohio State has been trying to change its image, an image that was quite undesirable:

“They’re a good team, they’re a finesse team, they’re not a tough team,” former Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Nov. 29, 2021, two days after The Game, on the Inside Michigan Radio show.

Things seem to be different this year. When asked on Monday whether or not he sees Ohio State as a tougher team this year he said, “absolutely.”

Whether or not the Wolverines will be more physically dominant than the Buckeyes again will probably determine who wins. Both sides know that. 

Ohio State’s offensive line is one of the best in the country. It excels in pass protection and at times this season, it has gotten a good push in the run game. Smith and the Wolverine defense know that the task at hand is more formidable than any other so far this season. They know that just because they found success in this aspect last year doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.

“It’s a different team, doing different things,” Smith said. “You can’t focus on the past, you can’t win this game looking back.”

But the blueprint for Michigan to beat the Buckeyes is still there, it still lies in physicality. And that same principle applies to the offensive side of the ball.

“I think in a game like this, winning the line of scrimmage … is a huge factor in the game,” graduate offensive lineman Ryan Hayes said Monday. “It’s going to be very important for us to control the line of scrimmage.”

It’s even more important for a team like the Wolverines, given that they rely so much on their run game. Michigan doesn’t really have a backup plan if it’s the less physical team.

The Wolverines know what they have to do if they want to win The Game again this year. They know what plays to their strengths and they know that it’s the exact same thing they did last year. 

Michigan knows that the tougher team will win on Saturday. But when will it know which team that is?

Smith says it won’t take long:

“It just takes about two, three plays for me, personally,” Smith said. “If I put my hands on somebody and they’re going backward, we’ll be alright.”

Obviously, The Game will be decided in more than two or three plays, but if the Wolverines can dictate the style of play just like that, then history might just repeat itself.