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Top defenses match up as No. 2 Ohio State visits No. 3 Michigan

Field Level Media

November 22, 2023 at 6:25 am.

The bitter rivalry between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan has brokered many a storyline, and the 2023 edition will add a strange chapter when the teams meet Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

On the line are a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa and College Football Playoff implications, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will be serving the last of a three-game suspension. He was sidelined by the conference because of the sign-stealing scheme organized by former recruiting analyst Connor Stalions.

Harbaugh is allowed to coach during the week, but offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore will be the acting head coach on game day, as he was for wins over Penn State and Maryland. Whatever his title, Moore realizes the gravity of the rivalry.

“We all know what it means,” he said. “It’s The Game. It’s the one you practice, you play for, you work for all year. So, we all know the stakes. And that would give us a chance to go to repeat our Big Ten title.”

The Wolverines (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) seek their third straight win against the Buckeyes for the first time since 1995-97.

“We are in a position to be in position. That’s what we know,” Harbaugh said. “(We’re) 11-0, they’re 11-0. Everything, all focus and preparation, is on this game — as it should be.”

The Buckeyes (11-0, 8-0) are out for revenge after dominating The Game for years. They won eight in a row from 2012-19 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 game.

Since then, the Wolverines won 42-27 at home in 2021 and 45-23 last season in Columbus.

“There are guys with scars, and I’m one of them,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Tuesday. “It just drives you every day to work harder and make sure you do everything possible to win the game.”

Even with blowouts in the past two meetings, the numbers suggest a down-in-the-trenches, low-scoring game. The Wolverines are first nationally in scoring defense (9.0), total defense (234.8 yards per game) and defensive touchdowns (five) and are second in pass defense (144.8), just behind Ohio State’s 144.4.

The Buckeyes are second in scoring defense (9.3) and third in total defense (252.9)

“They’re going to provide a challenge, but we’re always up for a challenge,” Michigan running back Blake Corum said. “They’re fundamentally sound. They play good as a unit and they fly around, so I think it will be a good game. We just have to have a good week of preparation and prepare for a top defense.”

The Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoff last season despite the loss to Michigan and fell to Georgia in the semifinals, but Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke understands the responsibility to beat the Wolverines.

“I’m not just doing it for myself,” he said. “I’m doing it for my teammates. I’m doing it for my head coach. I’m doing it for our coaches. I’m doing it for the state of Ohio. We don’t want to let them down.”

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