The Ohio State-Michigan game has produced some of the greatest moments in college football history.
The Ten-Year War. Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose. The epic 2006 game.
The rivals meet again Saturday with everything on the line for the third time in the past 12 years. But one thing is different this year: Michigan is favored.
The reason is defensive coordinator extraordinaire Don Brown. Once again, he’s orchestrated one of the best defenses in the country. For Ohio State to upset the Wolverines, it must crack the code only one other team has busted all season.
Here are the keys when Ohio State has the ball:
1. Move the chains and sustain drives. Michigan’s defense isn’t used to being on the field for long periods of time. Ohio State can tire them out with extended drives. The Wolverines rank fourth nationally in time of possession, a statistic that can be overrated but not in Michigan’s case. The ball-control strategy has worked in the team’s favor all season. If Michigan controls the pace of the game and keeps its defense off the field, the fresher the defense will be. It by no means guarantees victory for Ohio State, but a tired Michigan defense clearly works in the Buckeyes’ favor.
2. Dwayne Haskins need to complete passes. Yeah, it’s an obvious statement, but OSU’s best chance to win is Haskins putting up huge numbers. Part of the equation is Ohio State’s running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, giving the Buckeyes a lift. The offensive line never has fully meshed and the running backs have suffered because of it. If they can help open up the passing game and soften up Michigan’s defense, Haskins can go to work. Lavert Hill and Brandon Long will be the best cornerbacks he’s faced this season, but Haskins also is the most accurate passer Michigan will see. Quarterbacks are completing an Football Bowl Subdivision-low 47.1 percent of passes against the Wolverines. Perhaps the most pressing matter for Ohio State is to keep pressure to a minimum. Haskins is less effective when defenders are closing in.
3. No turnovers. Even with a home crowd, if you’re the underdog and the opponent is clearly the better team, giving them extra possessions is not a recipe for success. Michigan has made opponents pay this season for being sloppy. In games of this magnitude, losing the turnover margin often means losing the game.