And now comes Michigan.
The Game is not just a matchup of two undefeated teams, or teams ranked second and third in the playoff rankings; it’s the teams with the top two defenses in the nation. And of those two defenses, Ohio State’s is the one that’s allowed fewer points this month.
In its 37-3 win against Minnesota, the Gophers had 159 total yards and didn’t top 100 in either rushing or receiving. On consecutive series to open the second half, the Buckeyes forced a fumble of Athan Kaliakmanis on a sack and made an interception, with both plays setting up touchdowns.
Defensive end Jack Sawyer, who made six tackles, forced the fumble that fellow end JT Tuimoloau returned 16 yards. Jordan Hancock made the interception.
The effort came one week after the Buckeyes allowed just 94 yards rushing and 88 passing to Michigan State. They struggled more with Rutgers’ defense, giving up 232 rushing and 129 passing. But they’ve accomplished it through multiple injuries to starters.
Against Minnesota, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg missed his second straight game and safety Lathan Ransom his third. Tackle Mike Hall Jr. sat out, too.
“Not having Tommy out there, we’ve had a couple of guys down,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We should be at full capacity next week, which is great.
“But it’s all going to be tested next week.”
Entering the game, Ohio State had the second-ranked defense nationally, with Michigan No. 1.
The Wolverines (11-0) built a 23-3 lead over Maryland on Saturday but had to hold on for a 31-24 win. That came after wins of 41-13 over Purdue and 24-15 over Penn State.
It’s hard to say whether the fallout from the scouting scandal played any role in the defense’s performance. The Big Ten has prohibited coach Jim Harbaugh from being with the team on game days for three games, with the last time coming up against Ohio State. And on Friday, the school fired linebackers coach Chris Partridge for his role in covering up details of the scandal after the fact.
But the defense did its job against the Terrapins. After linebacker Michael Barrett sacked Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, Derrick Moore returned a fumble 4 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. The Wolverines also made two safeties, although the second came on a debatable intentional grounding call.
“Playing at Maryland, they don’t give us those calls like that,” Tagovailoa complained after the game.
Defensive back Michael Sainristil intercepted Maryland twice, including in the fourth quarter.
And now two strong defenses are set to meet for a game with a spot in the Big Ten championship game on the line.
“We all know what time it is,” Barrett said. “Once this game was over, we knew where our attention was going to go.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.