ANN ARBOR — Last week was an emotional roller coaster for Michigan’s starting center, Olu Oluwatimi, who navigated life-and-death situations before playing every offensive snap in a win over Illinois.
A few days removed from that game, he reflected on a week he won’t forget and looked ahead to a day he likely won’t either.
“This is the game of the year,” Oluwatimi said of Michigan’s matchup with Ohio State on Saturday. “Everybody around the country is going to be watching. At noon, I don’t know too many people that are not going to be tuned into what we’re doing.”
It’s part of the reason he transferred to Michigan after four years at Virginia. He wanted to play in a game like this. His play this season helped Michigan get there.
Oluwatimi has started every game at center through Michigan’s 11-0 start, the leader of an offensive line that has paved the way for Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum and a rushing offense that ranks fourth in the country.
Michigan nose tackle Mazi Smith, who goes head to head with Oluwatimi at times during practice, knew months ago that the transfer was going to upgrade Michigan’s offensive line. “He’s just a heavier anchor,” Smith said. “As soon as he got here he fit right in. A Michigan Man from Virginia.”
Oluwatimi’s former program made headlines last week for the worst possible reason: A former Virginia football player shot and killed three current members of the team.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke about it the next day, mentioning Oluwatimi’s connection to the victims.
“Those were my teammates. I knew them as well as probably anyone other than their family,” Oluwatimi said on Tuesday night. “Last week was tough. I relied on my teammates here, my family. A lot of long nights, some tears. But when you’ve got a great support system, and when Coach Harbaugh is continually checking up on me, it makes me feel loved. That got me through it.”
On top of that, Oluwatimi’s dad, his idol, underwent surgery on Thursday to remove a brain tumor. It went well, but still — it was serious stuff.
Oluwatimi put it all behind him and contributed to Michigan’s 19-17 victory over Illinois. “Bringing a win home for my brothers in heaven,” he said.
All season, Oluwatimi has brought veteran leadership to an offensive line considered among the best in the country. At the line of scrimmage, both he and quarterback J.J. McCarthy assess the defense.
“He’s got a lot more experience than I do, and he sees things that I don’t,” McCarthy said. “He does a great job of communicating that with me.”
McCarthy focuses on the secondary. Oluwatimi locks in on the front seven. Together, they make sure their teammates are in the right spots and know what to do after the snap.
Dissecting and disseminating that information will be especially challenging at Ohio Stadium. Oluwatimi is confident Michigan’s offense will be prepared for the noise, just as he believes the Wolverines can run the ball effectively even if Corum and/or Donovan Edwards are limited due to injury.
Virginia has its rivals, but Michigan-Ohio State is different, Oluwatimi said.
“Ohio State expects to compete for a national championship each year, and we expect the same thing here,” he said. Virginia had those goals too, but they weren’t always realistic, Oluwatimi said.
They are in Ann Arbor, and will be on the line on Saturday. It’s everything Oluwatimi wanted.