By LARRY LAGE
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – One of the greatest rivalries in sport appears to be set for another classic.
Ohio State No. 2 and Michigan No. 3 will both go 20 unbeaten when they meet in The Game at the Horseshoe on Saturday.
The winner receives a trip to the Big Ten championship game and a probable spot in the College Football Playoffs.
“That’s why we’ve been trying all year, 11-0, and now playing The Game,” said Ronnie Bell, Michigan receiver. “That’s all we wanted.”
The Wolverines claim a rare victory in the series. By the time Jim Harbaugh finally defeated the Buckyes at home last year, they had a school-record eight straight wins and 15-of-16 against Michigan.
How was it for coach Ryan Day to have a full year to reflect on that loss to the Wolverines?
“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t good,” Day said. “We’ll probably talk more about that this week, but we’re looking forward to preparing. Our guys have been focused on that all offseason. And throughout the season it was always in the back of my mind.
“We work on it every day of the year. And so the week is officially here.”
The Buckeyes have been waiting to beat their rivals at home for two years and missed their last opportunity in 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season when the matchup was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Wolverines’ program.
Michigan has not won Ohio State since 2000, which was also the last year they won a second straight game in the series.
The Buckeyes haven’t lost a game since Hassan Haskins set a school record with five rushing touchdowns and Aidan Hutchinson had three sacks in Michigan’s win last year.
“After that game, we were highly motivated this season to get back to where we are now,” Day said.
After dominating conference opponents for much of the season, both powerhouse programs battled for their 11th win.
Collapsing Illinois led Michigan for several minutes in the first half and held the lead late in the third quarter until Jake Moody scored a 35-yard field goal nine seconds from time.
Harbaugh, who has both coached and played in the rivalry, was in no mood to look forward to the Buckeyes after surviving a scare in the game and Blake Corum running back.
“I just want to enjoy this,” Harbaugh said.
Trailing in Maryland from the end of the second quarter to early in the third quarter, Ohio State led by just three points in the final minutes before retiring.
Both teams have ailing backfields.
Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson made his comeback against Maryland after missing two games with an injury. He caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from CJ Stroud but only had 19 yards on 11 carries.
The Buckeyes are hoping running back Miyan Williams will line up against Michigan after walking out of the game last weekend with a leg injury.
Corum grabbed his left knee after being tackled late in the first half and retired after a carry and a pass block early in the third quarter against the Fighting Illini. His backup, Donovan Edwards, did not play due to an undisclosed injury.
On Sunday, Corum spoke to reporters outside a school in Ypsilanti where he was giving out turkey meals and other items as part of a charity drive.
“The knee is fine. It gets better. I’ll be back,” he said.
When asked if he wanted to play on Saturday, Corum replied: “I’ll be there.”
Michigan has relied on their running game but may need to lean more on their inconsistent passing game, which has missed many high-throwing and dropped opportunities.
“A lot of the meat is still on the bone and it’s ready to come loose next Saturday,” said quarterback JJ McCarthy.
AP sportswriter Noah Trister and Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed to this report.
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