ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan players were spending time relaxing with family and hanging out with roommates Saturday night after an impressive win against Illinois when they were treated to an unexpected surprise.
Archrival Ohio State spent Saturday night getting stunned by Penn State at Beaver Stadium in one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 college football season.
“I caught the tail end of it. I saw the field goal and everything that happened after that,” Michigan senior OL Ben Braden said. “I was watching with my roommates and we were a little taken back by it. … It was fun to watch.”
The 24-21 Buckeyes loss allowed Michigan to move up one spot to No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll — replacing Ohio State — and it left the Wolverines (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) alone in first place in the Big Ten East Division.
However, it has little impact on Michigan’s season and the Wolverines goals of winning a conference and national championship. Michigan still needs to beat Ohio State to win the East and earn a berth in the Big Ten championship game. Even with the loss, “The Game” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving is still likely to have conference and College Football Playoff implications.
But Ohio State’s stumble against Penn State could have an intangible impact on the Wolverines, as well. It certainly caught the attention of the players, whether they were watching at the end of the game or just saw the highlights.
“It just shows that no matter what caliber team, you can be the highest-caliber team but you still have to be on your game and you still have to focus, you still have the play the best of your game no matter who you are playing against,” Braden said. “I think this was a good example of that.”
While fans and members of the Michigan football community were happy to see Ohio State lose Saturday, several veteran Wolverines players took a more pragmatic approach Monday. The Buckeyes remain firmly in the hunt for a division title and playoff berth. They have also lost a regular-season game in each of the past two years and finished strong both years — including a national championship two seasons ago.
“Penn State did a great job of executing. That’s a tough place to play, night game, White Out, a hostile environment,” senior Michigan TE Jake Butt said. “Ohio State is still a really good, really dangerous team. I think they will have that as extra motivation down the line. They’re still a very, very good team even though they took a tough loss on the road.”
Added Braden: “Ohio State is a great team. They have a lot of talent, great coaching and I expect them to take the mentality of, ‘OK, this is what we did wrong and we’ve got to focus on it and change.’”
Michigan faces a similar situation this weekend when it visits East Lansing for a date with Michigan State. The Wolverines will be heavy favorites, but will be facing a hostile environment. Just as Penn State had played Ohio State close in recent seasons, Michigan State has lots of players who have experienced success against Michigan.
The Spartans (2-5, 0-4) will view this as a season-saving opportunity. Michigan has been excellent at leaving no doubt against inferior competition this season, putting away everyone early save for Wisconsin and Colorado. Those happen to be pretty good football teams.
If the Wolverines needed another reminder about the importance of staying focused each week, the Buckeyes certainly provided them with one.
“That game tells us what we kind of already knew. It is that anything can happen in football,” Butt said. “We understand that you can’t any team lightly, you can’t take any week different. If you want to win a championship, you have to win a championship every single week.”