Column: Ohio State has enough answers to beat Michigan


This will be a straight to questions column.

At the beginning of college football coaches’ press conferences a moderator often introduces a coach by saying, “Coach, would you like to make an opening statement or go straight to questions?”

If you are reading this column you already know that undefeated No. 2 Ohio State’s game at undefeated No. 3 Michigan today is the biggest game in the OSU-Michigan rivalry since 2006 when No.1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in a battle of unbeatens.

You already know the winner of this game will play in the Big Ten championship game and probably the College Football Playoff.

You already know that after winning 17 of 19 games against its biggest rival from 2001 to 2019, Ohio State has seen its dominance of “The Game” ended by Michigan wins by shockingly one-sided scores the last two seasons.

Unless you have disconnected from all forms of media for the last month, you know the NCAA is investigating Michigan for allegations of stealing opponents’ sideline signals in prohibited ways.

You know Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been suspended for the last three games of the regular season by the Big Ten because of that investigation.

You know many Michigan fans think the accusations are a conspiracy, a witch hunt and a travesty. You know a lot of Ohio State fans think the accusations explain 45-23 and 42-27 losses to Michigan the last two seasons.

You’ve seen the T-shirts, the signs and the memes. You know the intensity, the television ratings and the vitriol might be at an all-time high.

So, straight to questions.

— Will Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy be the quarterback who threw 18 touchdown passes in the first eight games of the season, the quarterback who did not throw a touchdown pass in the Wolverines’ last three games or somewhere in between?

McCarthy reportedly has been dealing with an ankle injury but he said he feels good earlier this week.

— Explosive plays. Who gets them and who stops them?

Michigan ranks No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (9.0 points a game) and Ohio State is No. 2 (9.2 points a game). One or two quick-strike touchdowns could make a huge difference in this game.

Ohio State’s defense has been on a year-long mission to contain explosive plays after Michigan scored touchdowns on plays of 85 yards, 75 yards, 75 yards, 69 yards and 45 yards in a 45-23 win over the Buckeyes last season.

The two longest plays against OSU’s defense this season have been 45 yards and 36 yards and neither one produced a touchdown. Michigan has allowed only five plays of 40 yards or more.

— Quarterback composure. Which quarterback will have more of it? Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord is playing in his first game against Michigan while McCarthy will be playing in his third game against OSU, two as a starter and one as a back-up to Cade McNamara.

McCord has thrown only four interceptions but all four have been in road games. Earlier in the season he fumbled twice while being sacked and made some passes under pressure that could be described as “Yikes” throws.

How he handles pressure – physical and mental – could play a big role today.

— Is Ohio State’s offensive line ready for this moment?

That was the question before the season opener at Indiana and it’s still an ongoing question. Ryan Day says the line has become more consistent and you can find numbers that seem to support that idea.

Ohio State has averaged 177 yards rushing in its last four games after averaging 98 yards rushing in

the three games before that. But those numbers might say more about the value of TreVeyon Henderson at running back than about the offensive line. Henderson has played in the last four games after sitting out the previous three because of an injury.

— Will Harbaugh not being at the game make a difference?

This will be the sixth game this season he has not been able to coach. But it is by far the biggest of those six games.

Harbaugh plays a significant role in developing quarterbacks at Michigan. So if anyone is going to miss him on Saturday it might be McCarthy.

But it’s a certainty that Harbaugh has already talked with McCarthy about every possible situation and every possible question that he might face against Ohio State.

— How important is the running game for Ohio State?

Very important. If it moves the ball on the ground and converts on third downs OSU keeps the ball out of the hands of Michigan’s offense.

Maybe most importantly, if Ohio State can run the ball with some consistency Michigan can’t get away with putting a minimal number of defensive players in the box to defend against the run and dropping the rest back in pass coverage against OSU’s receivers.

— Marvin Harrison Jr. has scored a touchdown in nine of Ohio State’s 11 games, including the last seven in a row. Will he catch a touchdown pass against Michigan?

Yes. And if he doesn’t Emeka Egbuka or Cade Stover will.

Ten games ago Michigan appeared to be the best team in the Big Ten without a doubt. Five games ago OSU had gotten a little closer but Michigan was still almost universally favored to beat the Buckeyes for a third year in a row.

But Ohio State has improved more than Michigan in the second half of the season to close the gap and maybe make it a one score game. Take OSU in an upset.

The prediction: Ohio State 27, Michigan 24.

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