Dymonte Thomas the last couple games has made some big plays for you. Talk about what he’s given you on the field?
“He’s always given solid play, and lately big hits, momentum-changing plays. He’s a very good player. Always has been consistently good.”
You’re going to a place where they really don’t know what to make of you down there. Some people say you’re crazy like a fox, some people say you’re just crazy, but they all say you’re progressive. Could you describe who you are to Ohioans?
“Not crazy. Wouldn’t describe myself as that.”
Anything beyond that?
“No. I mean, I don’t know that my personality really, how relevant that will be to the ballgame this week. Probably irrelevant.”
Is there anything unique about competing against Urban Meyer, whether it’s on the field or recruiting or anywhere else you come up against each other?
“Unique in that it’s at the highest level.”
“In terms of competition on the field or recruiting, everything’s at the highest level. Competition’s at the highest level.”
Can you update us on Wilton Speight’s condition, and do you expect him to play?
“No, I do not have an update today. Hasn’t been evaluated today.”
[After THE JUMP: Harbaugh waxes poetic about Peppers, lists all the cities he lived in as a kid, and explains why love for his children and football can’t be accurately expressed with a pie chart]
Do you expect John [O’Korn] to still be the starter if Wilton can’t play?
“Just everything we’ve said. It hasn’t changed. It’s a day-to-day process of evaluation.”
You got a couple more big special teams plays on Saturday. Can you talk about how that phase has improved over the course of the year and where it’s at now?
“We’re—we’ve got a hot hand in that regard. Use Kenny Allen as an example: making both field goals, his punts were pinpoint, kickoffs I think he was on a streak of so many touchbacks in a row. Making plays in the punt block game, coverage has been good, and hopefully we can get a return or two to add to the cause.”
I know you always talk about every week being a championship week, but with your history you certainly do embrace everything that comes with this rivalry, don’t you? Even if you don’t want to put it on a pedestal, you certainly understand it and embrace it, do you?
“I do. Embrace it and enjoy it.”
Look forward to it?
Can you talk about the opportunity and the challenge you guys have at Ohio State. In part, to bring this rivalry back Michigan needs to win because they haven’t won much in recent years.
“Yeah, I certainly can talk about that. It’s a great opportunity and tremendous challenge.”
Can you expound on that?
“Well…you ask a yes/no question, you get a yes/no answer. I mean, you ask the obvious question, talk about the opportunity that we have. I mean, it’s a great opportunity. The task will be—it’s a large task. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
What poses the greatest challenge when you look at Ohio State offensively and defensively? What jumps out right away?
“They’re great. They’re a great football team. Great coaching, tremendous talent.”
Talk about your defense and leaders like Chris Wormley and how important that’s going to be on Saturday.
“Well, I mean, any big game, any championship game, also any road game, you pack your defense. Our guys will be up for the challenge and I’m looking forward to a great week of preparation in terms of practice and getting ready to play this game.”
Chris is a leader.
“Chris is. There’s no question about it. A captain. Tremendous guy, upstanding sportsman, and talented player. Showers us with virtues. He’s got a lot of them. Highest character at the highest level.”
When you guys watch Curtis Samuel on tape, you guys have played some playmakers this year but is Curtis the biggest threat to challenge everyone that you’ve seen?
“Well, he’s been outstanding, and it’s a team with a lot of playmakers. But yeah, we’re just into that now and evaluating what we can do, what we can do to have success defending Ohio State and also moving the football ourselves. So that’s the beginning of that process right now, but it’s obvious. It’s obvious. It jumps right out at you that it’s a great team. No question. Numerous playmakers. Superb talent.”
Jabrill Peppers does a lot of great things. If you had to pintpoint maybe one thing that’s exceptional in your mind that you see that other people maybe don’t see, what is it?
“Explosive! He’s explosive. Just as an athlete, you see it, you feel it, you understand it whether he’s making a tackle, whether he’s got the football in his hand, whether he’s closing ground, whether he’s covering. When he runs by you, you feel it. You feel the wind. You feel the air moving and you feel the force into the ground. It’s dart-like. It’s explosive.”
You did say this was a rivalry you look forward to every year. What is it about the Ohio State game that makes you look forward to this game, this matchup, every season?
“Competition. That’s the best part of it.”
Has Wilton progressed positively in this past week, and how has he deal with staying up to speed [while he’s been out]?
“Yeah, he’s been better every day. “
Being born in Toledo and the border town thing, how does this ri—
“That’s from my eye he’s gotten better every day. To clarify, I’m not a doctor. Don’t have a medical degree. Didn’t even take any medical classes in college. To my eye, he’s looking better every day.”
Being from Toledo, how does this rivalry resonate?
“We lived there for about a year of my life, but I’ve always just taken great pride in being from Toledo, being from Perrysburg. It’s where you were born. ‘Hey, where were you born?’ I was born in Toledo, Ohio. Live in Perrysburg. Lived in Eaton. Lived in Xenia. Lived in Bowling Green. Lived in Morehead, Kentucky. Lived in Iowa City. Lived in Ann Arbor. Lived in Palo Alto. That was just the growing-up years, through the time I was in high school. Take pride in where you’re from and what your story is and what it was like.
“My dad was a high school football coach at Perrysburg High School, and he’s coached at all those spots that I just mentioned. He was always or his team and take pride in being from there. I have commonality with people that are from there. That’s something that has always given us joy. ‘Oh, you’re from there? We lived there!’ Lot of things to talk about. People from a lot of—”
Have you and Urban—
“Yeah, we’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about being born in the same hospital. What a small world, as they say.”
A lot’s been written about when you played there at Ohio State. Have you been back to that stadium since, and what kind of environment are you expecting to prepare for on gameday?
“No, I haven’t been back since.”
And the gameday environment? Is this something you also embrace?
“Probably be really good, I would anticipate. Big game, championship game. Just a great, healthy, fair, honest…loud, boisterous environment, I would expect.”
How pivotal is somebody like Jake Butt in a game like this considering just how difficult yards are to come by? He’s been through battle before and understands both sides of the rivalry.
“Really critical. I think that showed up a lot this past week in our win over Indiana. I thought our seniors really took control of the game, at least from our side, our perspective. This game, those same seniors, those players, those starters, good players, our best players, will have a great challenge ahead of them. I know they’re up for it. They play a huge role.”
You said before the season that this team could accomplish anything it wanted if they put the work in. Those may not be your exact word, but something like that.
“If. Yeah. [chuckles] If.”
You’re 11 games in. Have you learned anything more about these guys? Do you feel that they’re more ready than you did, more ready to compete for and win a championship? What’s your feeling overall on this team right now?
“Feel like we’re ready to go to battle in a football-fight way.”
“Ready to lead ‘em. Yeah.”
And you’re ready to lead them? Is that what you said?
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
Ryan Glasgow said after the game the other day of JT Barrett that preparing for him is like preparing for nobody else during a season. What does JT bring? What makes him so difficult to defend and prepare for?
“Slippery. Tough runner like a running back, but he’s got the vision of a quarterback, he’s got the throwing ability of a quarterback. There’s times where he can put the ball into the tightest of windows. Yeah. All the heady plays he makes, the athletic plays he makes, the fine throwing plays he makes. He plays with a lot of confidence. He’s an outstanding player. It’s a unique combination for a quarterback to have all those things.”
Thirty years ago, 1986, you made the guarantee. What do you remember from that week and that game?
“Not much. Just that it did happen and the outcome of the ballgame. That’s what I remember. It was a long time ago.”
There are articles out there saying this is a renewal of the Ten Year War with you and Urban Meyer. Do you feel momentum building into something like that? You must remember that time back then.
“Just really thinking about the process of preparation this week. Getting ready for the actual game. Haven’t had time to…”
So it doesn’t feel bigger than it has before?
“I mean, you’re—that’s what we’re thinking about. That’s what I’m thinking about. Writers may be thinking about something different, but you’re asking me to comment on it. I’m thinking about the ballgame. I’m thinking about preparation for today’s practice.”
You obviously go way back in this rivalry as a player and observing from a distance and your old coach Bo relishing it. Do you have any favorite thoughts or memories of watching games or playing in games in this particular rivalry?
“Yeah, have quite a bit of experience. Some playing, some watching. Was there a question to that?”
A favorite one?
“Uh, no. Can’t say that there’s a favorite.”
In terms of great games in your career, how does this rank up to the Super Bowl, and you guys talk about competition and competitiveness. Any similarities between that game going in and this game?
“I’ve been asked that a lot, that form of that question a lot, to compare. Sometimes it’s wins; what’s your biggest win, toughest loss. To me, the games, it’s the competition that’s the best part. Fair, honest, healthy competition. You ask me what’s the best part, that’s the best part every game. I don’t even look—I don’t look at it as a pie chart. ‘That was my favorite, that’s my less favorite.’
“It’s almost like your kids. I love ‘em all 100%. Each game, each opportunity, each chance for your team to show what they’ve got. That’s the way I look at it. I’ve got seven kids. Love ‘em all, each one, 100%. I don’t break ‘em up into pie charts.”