COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Michigan celebrated the 1,000th victory in program history with the understanding that No. 1,001 could be considerably sweeter.
If — and only if — it occurs next weekend against Ohio State.
“I think guys were just ecstatic to get that thousandth win, but they all knew exactly what time it was right after,” said offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who has been Michigan’s acting head coach during Jim Harbaugh’s suspension. “They all know what’s ahead, so super excited for that challenge.”
It’s finally time for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to meet in The Game, and after weeks of turmoil and a couple of close calls, they’ll do it with matching 11-0 records. It’s the second straight year that’s happened. Michigan reached its milestone by escaping with a 31-24 win at Maryland on Saturday, and Ohio State handled Minnesota 37-3.
“There’ll be a lot this week,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “There’ll be noise, there’ll be everything. What we have to do is we have to do a great job of preparing, and we can’t do anything different. We have to continue to stay with our routine, and then focus on maximizing every minute of this week.”
Michigan and Ohio State swapped places in the latest AP Top 25, with the Wolverines (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 3 CFP) dropping to No. 3 and the Buckeyes (11-0, 8-0, No. 2 CFP) moving up to No. 2. As of Sunday, FanDuel Sportsbook had Michigan favored by 3 1/2 points for next weekend’s home game against Ohio State.
“It feels great to be a part of this kind of game, coming into the game undefeated,” Wolverines linebacker Michael Barrett said. “With everything going on, just showing how this team is able to kind of face adversity, kind of work through adversity, keep that one-track mind that we’ve been preaching all year. Just being able to be here at this point is a great feeling.”
It will be impossible to separate this game from the sign-stealing scandal that has shaken up the Michigan program over the past month. If Ohio State wins, Buckeyes fans will offer that as evidence that the Wolverines needed nefarious help to beat OSU the last two years. If Michigan wins without the services of Connor Stalions — the former staffer at the center of the investigation — its partisans will say that shows the whole brouhaha was overblown.
Harbaugh was suspended for the final three regular-season games amid the fallout. He can coach during the week but won’t be on the sideline on game day. Moore has guided the Wolverines to wins over Penn State and Maryland the past two weeks — and over Bowling Green earlier in the season when Harbaugh was suspended over a different matter. Now comes the most important challenge yet.
The game against Maryland was the closest the Wolverines have come to losing. Michigan had to protect a one-score advantage the entire fourth quarter, its offense unable to pad the lead. A late intentional grounding call gave the Wolverines a safety and helped them hold on.
Ohio State’s great escape came back in September at Notre Dame, when the Buckeyes punched the ball into the end zone for a 17-14 win — after the Irish put only 10 men on the field.
“We’re in the same spot we were last year this time. We’re both undefeated,” Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “This year, we’re going up there and it’s going to be a good game. We’re excited. All the focus goes to them though. We’re still confident. 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.”
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