The Game has high stakes as No. 2 Ohio State travels to face Jim Harbaugh-less 3rd-ranked Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — J.J. McCarthy says beating Ohio State means everything.
Ask any Buckeye, and he would say the same about Michigan.
A spot to the Big Ten championship game and a path to the College Football Playoff will be at stake when the second-ranked Buckeyes play the third-ranked Wolverines on Saturday at the Big House.
It will also mark the end of an era for one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
With the Big Ten expanding to 18 schools and eliminating divisions next season, there’s a chance the Wolverines and Buckeyes will play two times in future years because it will be possible for them to match up in the conference title game after facing off in the regular season.
Michigan has turned things around in the series, which dates to 1897, with two straight wins after losing a school-record eight consecutive games to Ohio State.
“Being able to get on top of that rivalry this last two years has been huge,” McCarthy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And, we don’t plan on being on the other side of that at all anymore.”
Jim Harbaugh will not be on the sideline with his team for the third straight Saturday, serving the final game of a Big Ten suspension for being in charge of a program that the conference says broke its sportsmanship policy with a sign-stealing scheme.
Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore will fill in for Harbaugh, who also missed the first three games because of a school suspension for breaking NCAA rules, to match wits against Ohio State coach Ryan Day.
For the second straight year, both the Buckeyes (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 2 CFP) and Wolverines (11-0, 8-0, No. 3 CFP) will have perfect records when they meet.
Ohio State is aiming to end a two-game losing streak, which followed a school-record eight straight wins.
“We’re still confident,” Buckeyes defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “I think that’s our motto is playing confident and being stingy and trying to get turnovers and just playing as aggressive as we can on the field.
“If we do that good things will happen.”
Day said it almost took a “fist fight” to keep four-year linebacker Tommy Eichenberg out for a second straight game last week because of an arm injury.
Day had to convince Eichenberg, perhaps the top player on one of college football’s best defenses, that it was important to have him healthy this week rather than risk injury on senior day at Ohio Stadium.
“Tommy will bring every single ounce of his person to this game, and he will fight to defend our honor,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said.
Ohio State’s banged-up safety, Josh Proctor, is expected to play, but the status of defensive lineman Mike Hall is less clear after he missed last week’s game.
McCarthy said playing in the previous game was “a little bit rough” after getting injured in the victory at then-No. 9 Penn State, but insisted Monday that he feels fantastic.
Michigan’s Roman Wilson, who has 10 receiving touchdowns, was knocked out of last week’s game at Maryland with a first-quarter hit. Myles Hinton started at left tackle against the Terrapins and had a knee injury, filling in for LaDarius Henderson, who missed the game with an injury. Linebacker Michael Barrett, the second-leading tackler on a top-ranked defense, left Maryland with his left shoulder wrapped.
“Should be good to go,” Moore said when asked about the injured players.
BEST OF BACKS
The team with the most rushing yards in The Game has won every matchup since 2001, according to Sportradar, and both schools have a star running behind an offensive line with future NFL players.
Michigan’s Blake Corum, who played only briefly in last year’s game because of a knee injury, has an FBS-high 20 rushing touchdowns to tie a school record.
Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson has ignited the running game that is opened up by star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. After missing three games with an injury, Henderson has run for an average of 124.8 yards with five touchdowns over the last four games.
“I think you’re seeing the identity we’re looking for,” Day said.
HE SAID IT
Lloyd Carr, who led Michigan to its last national championship in 1997, said he stands by Harbaugh amid a sign-stealing scandal and is upset that former staffer Connor Stalions allegedly broke rules.
“I believe and I trust in Jim Harbaugh,” Carr told the AP. “Secondly, I’m sickened by the Stalions deal. I’m sickened by it.
“It goes back to having a guy in our program that did the things that he did, and the damage that it has caused from every aspect of intercollegiate athletics, from the people at Michigan, the people that love Michigan, the university. The price that we’re paying sickens me.”
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