Staff Picks: Will Buckeyes Snap the Streak in The Game?

Losing streaks against Michigan have been few and far between over the past 25 years but the Buckeyes enter Saturday’s undefeated showdown looking to avoid a three-gamer. A lot has been made about the on-going Michigan sign-stealing investigation, but that none of that will matter once the ball is kicked off at noon on Saturday.

Will the Buckeyes get a much-needed win in Ann Arbor or will Michigan make it three straight?

Ross Fulton

Bill Connelly’s SP+ has Michigan as a six point favorite but notes that (to paraphrase) Michigan has underperformed expectations by about 6.5 points the last few weeks, while Ohio State has overperformed by about four points. The Buckeyes’ offense continues to move in the right direction, partially because of the return of key playmakers, and partly because of Ryan Day’s embrace of gap and hard play action passing concepts.

Day needs to stay patient against Michigan’s split safety looks, using a mix of weak zone and counter Trey, RPOs, and quick game against soft corners. The Buckeyes need to stay ahead of schedule to minimize Jesse Minter’s creepers and fire zones causing confusion for Ohio State’s pass protection and/or speeding up Kyle McCord.

Defensively, Jim Knowles needs to continue mixing coverages to keep JJ McCarthy off balance. Look for Knowles to play zone early before going to single high concepts when needed against Michigan’s passing game. The key is rushing in a way that keeps McCarthy in the pocket.

Ohio State has an advantage in two key matchups, namely Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka against Michigan’s second corner, and the Buckeyes’ defensive ends against the Wolverine offensive tackles. Look for a big game from Trey Henderson. If McCord is able to connect on some explosive plays when the opportunities present themselves, the Buckeyes should be in good shape.

Ohio State 26 Michigan 20

Tony Gerdeman

What I should do and what I’m going to do are two different things, which is fitting because I’m about to make a pick involving the Michigan football team. The Wolverine running game has been a disappointment this year, and their lack of explosion has been mysteriously silent. To me, that just means they’re due. We have talked and talked about the lack of big plays given up by the Ohio State defense, but lesser Michigan teams have managed a big play or two against the Buckeyes over the years. 

Michigan’s passing game hasn’t been all that explosive either, but quarterback JJ McCarthy is dangerous from every angle. Sometimes he’s a danger to himself as well. The Ohio State defense needs to have a plan for McCarthy’s scrambling. On the other side of the ball, I don’t expect the Buckeyes to run the ball all that well between the tackles, but they should be able to hit some things outside of it — especially if the Michigan safeties are staying back to prevent the big plays from Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka. If Kyle McCord is protected, does he hold the ball too long waiting for something from Harrison, or does he go through his progressions and find the open man. 

Even though the Buckeyes have been through this at South Bend, this is going to be a different animal. The Michigan crowd and team are angry because the entire world is against them. The irony there, however, is that the world has always been against them, they’ve just finally noticed. 

I’m generally a home-field advantage guy, but all signs are pointing to the Buckeyes. This OSU offense has gone stagnant at times, so having that happen now would be bad. I think the OSU defense can hang with Michigan’s bully ball, but the Wolverines have made key plays when they needed to be made this year. This will be the best team either side has faced, which means this game is going to tell us a lot more about both teams. Michigan needs this game like their life depends on it. In reality, however, a win for the Wolverines would be more like a last meal before the executioner came knocking. Based on the way the two teams have played this month, the Buckeyes should win this one. Based on me needing to see it first, I’m going to take Michigan. 

Michigan 24 Ohio State 23

Marc Givler

This is the most important Ohio State vs. Michigan game in a long, long time and for a variety of reasons. Obviously an undefeated season, conference championship, and national championship aspirations are on the line on Saturday afternoon.

But this game should be dubbed The Narrative Game. If Michigan wins, the narrative is going to be that the sign-stealing investigation doesn’t matter, that Michigan is simply a better program right now than Ohio State and none of the changes made the Buckeyes in over the past year or two have made the difference.

If Ohio State wins, the narrative is going to be that Michigan had to resort to cheating to finally start getting wins in this rivalry game and that now that they don’t have Stalions on the sideline, order has been restored and the Buckeyes are once again the dominant program in the Big Ten.

Right or wrong, fair or not, that is what is at stake on Saturday afternoon.

Ohio State has played better football lately on offense and having a healthy Tre Henderson, combined with a change to more gap-scheme running has really made a positive impact on the Buckeyes’ running game.

But this will continue to be a defense driven team. We’ve seen a lot of big numbers in this game over the past decade or so, but I’m expecting a throwback to the Tressel Era where the first to 20 wins in a tight game with field position and which side can make a couple of explosive plays deciding the outcome.

Ohio State 23 Michigan 20

Kevin Noon

Here it is, the only prediction of the season that matters. Nobody is going to remember that I nailed a score perfectly only a couple of weeks ago. Not only do I need to get this one right, but the right team must win.

Ohio State is much healthier overall as a team this season going into this game than it was in the past two seasons, and that matters a lot. Michigan has not seen this version of TreVeyon Henderson in a game. Michigan has not seen this version of the Ohio State defense in a game either with 2021 leading to a coaching change and 2022 exposing what “a few big plays” being baked into a defense would lead to.

Sure, I have my concerns. I still am not sold overall on Ohio State’s offensive line in run blocking situations. I am not sold on Kyle McCord’s overall health. I am certainly not sold on Ohio State’s special teams.

On the other side, and I don’t say this lightly, Michigan doesn’t know what’s coming. Yes, there have been 11 games played this season and there is plenty of tape to be viewed. Sure, there are the two previous versions of this game to know tendencies. But Michigan is not going to be able to make those in-play adjustments that have seemed to work at such a high-percentage for the past couple of seasons, and that is going to matter.

Call it a sign, hit the bat signal, however you want to phrase it, the Wolverines are not going to have that inside information during the game. The absence of Connor Stalions and his scheme is going to be far more impactful than the absence of Jim Harbaugh in this one.

It’s going to be nasty, it’s going to be chippy, hell, we may even see Michigan try and run a psy-op or two (like in the good old days when Harbaugh had nothing else to bring to the table) but the Buckeyes are operating from a different space now and tunnel wars or anything else like that will knock move the Buckeyes from the high ground. 

Ohio State 28 Michigan 23

Tom Orr

A month or so back, I was fully prepared to pick Michigan to beat Ohio
State by 10-14 points. This is clearly the best Michigan team of the
Jim Harbaugh era, and Ohio State has looked far from its usual level
on offense.

But then a funny thing happened. The Connor Stalions story broke, and
after a blowout win over Michigan State, suddenly Michigan didn’t look
quite as dominant. They played Purdue to basically the exact same
result as Ohio State. They beat Penn State in more or less the exact
same way as Ohio State. And then they jumped out to an early lead
against Maryland, but struggled terribly in the second half on
offense, and barely escaped with a win.

It’s not reasonable to chalk ALL of this up to the absence of Stalions
and his merry band of sideline recorders. However, the people
dismissing that as any factor are simply lying to themselves. So how
much does that impact the results on Saturday? It’s hard to know.

How much will it impact the results that Jim Harbaugh is serving his
second suspension of the season for two separate violations? It’s hard
to know.

How much of JJ McCarthy’s recent statistical regression is due to the
gameday absence of Harbaugh, the absence of Stalions, a nagging
injury, or just the fact that the last couple of weeks are the first
time Michigan has played decent competition all year? It is once again
hard to know.

While all of that has been happening in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes have
been steadily improving all season. The offensive line has gone from
Superfund site to maybe okay. Kyle McCord has gone from wildly
inconsistent and sometimes very bad to pretty okay and sometimes very
good. The defense has been great all season. They’re getting a lot of
injured players back. It seems like this is the best they’ve been
playing all season. Michigan seems like they’re a touchdown worse than
they were a month ago, and Ohio State might be a field goal or a
touchdown better. So the margin of that 10-14 point Michigan win
projection has suddenly vanished.

This is as uncertain as I’ve been about a game pick in years. I could
see Michigan scoring early, Ohio State making one crucial mistake,
falling behind by 10 or 14 points early, and seeing things spiral in
front of a Michigan crowd that will be out for blood.

I could see Ohio State’s defense locking down the Michigan running
attack, making McCarthy try to beat them, having him struggle for one
or more of the reasons listed two paragraphs up, seeing the doubts
creep in, having the crowd get uneasy and then turn, and the Buckeyes
walking out with a multiple-score win.

Or this could end up being every bit as close and classic of a game as
many advanced stat systems are projecting. This is where I shrug, and
am compelled to act like I’m not just blindly shooting in the dark.

So here goes: It’s close, it’s low-scoring, and one team makes one big
mistake late that decides the game.

Michigan 20 Ohio State 17

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