McCarthy, McCord aim sights on ‘The Game’ matchup 

Rivalries are meant to be bitter. 

“The Game” on Saturday will pit No. 2 Ohio State in Ann Arbor to face No. 3 Michigan in a top-10 bout for a third-consecutive year. 

Over the years, rivalry moments have taken place between the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and the distaste for one another is there. This year, both teams are 11-0, both teams are atop the Big Ten East Division and both teams are fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game. 

“I respect them,” Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord said. “It’s hard to stand up here and say I don’t respect the team who’s 11-0, who’s done some really good things in the past few years and they’re a really good team so I think there’s definitely a respect level there. I think we know that they’re a good team, and I would say vice versa so I think there’s definitely a respect level there.” 

PODCAST: Despite chalk at the top, week 12 had intrigue

Two seasons ago, Michigan topped Ohio State for the first time in 10 years. Fans stormed the field at Michigan Stadium and celebrated like a new era had begun, and so it did. 

The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 42-27 in 2021, when Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy was a true freshman. McCarthy recalled that game two years ago, and said it was like a turning point in the rivalry. 

“It’s kind of like the meme, it was cinema. It really was,” McCarthy said. “It was just a movie. With the snow falling with the just crowd. It felt like the crowd, it was really one heartbeat that was matched with the team and just everything about it was just magical. And I don’t expect anything less this weekend.” 

Last season, McCarthy got his chance to take part in “The Game” and came out on the winning end. He went 12-for-24 with 263 passing yards and three touchdowns, as the Wolverines knocked off Ohio State 45-23 for a second-straight season. 

Michigan has been through some turmoil since the last rivalry meeting with the Buckeyes. The Wolverines suffered a 52-45 loss to No. 3 TCU in the College Football Playoff, and head coach Jim Harbaugh has been suspended for five regular season games this year as a result of alleged NCAA violations and in-person scouting. 

McCarthy is no longer a rookie or young player. He’s a veteran, and his experience has led him to lead the Big Ten in completion percentage with 73.8% and passing efficiency with a rating of 178.3. 

“I think experience is one of the greatest edges you can have as a player,” McCarthy said. “Going into last year that first drive just all those emotions that were creeping in, it was something I’ve never felt before. So now it’s predictable, therefore manageable, and I’ll know how to handle my emotions and get them down to where they need to be.”

READ: Big Board: Week 13

McCarthy and McCord know one another. They both graduated as part of the class of 2021, and both were four-star recruits according to Rivals. 

McCarthy said he talks with McCord every now and then, and since both teams are in the thick of the season in a playoff race, he said he hasn’t spoken to the Buckeye quarterback this week. 

But that doesn’t mean McCarthy isn’t looking forward to going against someone from his recruiting class. 

“It’s going to be really surreal to see him out there in this environment, this game, and just going out there and (I) wish him safety and make sure he stays healthy,” McCarthy said. “But he’s going to give our defense a little bit of some trouble at times, and we got to respond and be able to attack him in any way possible.” 

McCord said he remembers going to recruiting camps that McCarthy also attended, and McCord said he has respect for the Wolverines quarterback. 

“I’ve known J.J. since I think my sophomore year of high school really when we started to go to kind of those national camps,” McCord said. “We got recruited by a lot of the same schools and so just getting to know him as one of the kids in my class who I got pretty close with.” 

READ: Washington rises to No. 4 in 4th CFP rankings

Ohio State is seeking to right its rivalry wrongs of the past two seasons while Michigan hopes to silence critics amid a series of scandals over the past year. 

McCarthy and McCord are the guys tasked with taking on those lofty goals for Michigan and Ohio State, respectively. McCarthy said the Wolverines work “the hardest in the entire country,” and McCord said he’s ready to embrace the challenge. 

“I think that’s when you’re a little kid, you dream of moments like this,” McCord said. “Two undefeated teams in the biggest rivalry in sports, you can’t draw it up any better than that. But I think at the same time, like I said earlier, it’s all about the preparation during the week. It’s all about putting the work in and giving yourself an opportunity to go out and succeed.”