Ten games. Nine victories.
In recent history, no coach on either side of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry dominated The Game like Jim Tressel did.
As Urban Meyer prepares to start a new chapter in the rivalry tomorrow afternoon, Buckeye Nation will have the opportunity to thank Tressel for the chapter he wrote. When Ohio State honors the 2002 national title team between the first and second quarters, Tressel will be among the coaches and players in attendance.
The 2012 Buckeyes are just as excited as the 2002 Buckeyes to have Jim Tressel back for this reunion weekend cleveland.com/osu/index.ssf/…— Doug Lesmerises (@PDBuckeyes) November 20, 2012
Buckeyes fans saw firsthand how important Tressel was to the rivalry when the team struggled without him in a 40-34 loss last year. From his preparation for the game to his brilliance calling it—forgetting just how brilliant he was against Michigan is easy to do.
But what exactly did Tressel do to make college football's greatest rivalry so one-sided for over a decade?
It started with the emphasis he put on it.
From the moment Tressel took over in Columbus, beating Michigan became his top priority. During his introductory speech at a basketball game in January 2001, he made that abundantly clear:
That commitment started on the practice field—not just during Michigan week—but every time Ohio State put on pads.
Tressel installed something called a "Michigan Period" during his time at Ohio State. The Michigan Period was a five-minute practice session dedicated to prepping for the Wolverines. Whether they were in the middle of spring practice or preparing for a random nonconference opponent, the team was always mindful of Michigan.
When it finally came time to play Michigan, the Buckeyes always looked like a team that had prepared all year for that game.
Tressel's in-game management and play calling against the Wolverines was near flawless as well.
As much as Buckeyes fans like to criticize Tressel's conservatism, his game plans against Michigan produced wins at a 90 percent rate over 10 years.
There wasn't much Tressel altered as far as schemes or personnel for the Michigan game, but he often threw in little nuances that confounded the Wolverines.
A perfect example of that came during the 2006 game. The Buckeyes led the Wolverines 14-7, and running back Antonio Pittman had just run for nine yards on first down. It was close enough to a first down that the refs brought the chains out for a measurement.
That's when Tressel went to work.
Knowing that the Buckeyes were likely dealing with a 2nd-and-short, he called for what looked like a halfback run behind a loaded line with no receivers out wide. Ohio State broke the huddle and rushed to the line quickly, forcing Michigan to analyze the formation quickly and diagnose that a running play was likely headed their way.
Everything happened so quickly that Michigan didn't realize that Ted Ginn, the fastest player on the team, was lined up as a tight end. Troy Smith and Chris "Beanie" Wells sold the play action perfectly, and Smith delivered a 39-yard touchdown strike to Ginn, who had streaked past the dazed Wolverines secondary.
There were literally dozens of these minute tweaks in the game plan that helped Tressel dominate Michigan over the years.
When the ball kicks off in Columbus tomorrow afternoon, Urban Meyer will try to mimic Tressel's success. Whether he can do so remains to be seen. The only thing we know with any certainty is that the bar has been set incredibly high.
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