Ohio State-Michigan matchup ‘the start of the playoffs’

FILE - Ohio State offensive lineman Thayer Munford (75) blocks against Michigan in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., in this Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, file photo. Ohio State stars leaving early for the NFL happens every winter, but perhaps the more surprising news this time is about the number of important players who've decided to stay. Munford said he would be back.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

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FILE - Ohio State offensive lineman Thayer Munford (75) blocks against Michigan in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., in this Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, file photo. Ohio State stars leaving early for the NFL happens every winter, but perhaps the more surprising news this time is about the number of important players who've decided to stay. Munford said he would be back. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Buckeyes-Wolverines playing for berth in Big Ten Championship Game and possible CFP berth

More than bragging rights are on the line Saturday when Ohio State squares off with Michigan.

The winner will go to the Big Ten Championship Game, making this the 48th time since 1935 (when the game was moved to the end of the regular season) The Game has a potential for major impact on the Big Ten standings, according to the Michigan athletics communications.

ExploreWill lack of experience in The Game be a factor?

“We don’t need extra motivation for a game like this,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “Everything’s riding on it. This is two teams playing in the rivalry game with an opportunity to go to Indianapolis.”

The winner will stay alive in the race for a College Football Playoff berth, too.

“This is the start of the playoffs,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters in Ann Arbor this week. “The team that wins will advance, the team that doesn’t won’t. It is that, it’s also the big game, The Game, the rivalry.”

With the second-ranked Buckeyes and fifth-ranked Wolverines set for their 117th meeting, here are five things to know:

1. The most important matchup figures to be between Ohio State’s tackles and Michigan’s defensive ends.

The Wolverines have not one but two of the best pass rushers in the country in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. They share the Big Ten lead with 10 sacks apiece, and controlling them will be key for Ohio State’s vaunted passing game to get off the ground.

The Buckeyes will counter with one of the best offensive tackle tandems in the country in Nicholas Petit-Frere and Dawand Jones.

“I mean I think it’s the biggest challenge because it’s The Team Up North,” Petit-Frere said. “Regardless of what they’re ranked, at the end of the day this is one of the greatest rivalry games in all of sport. It’s called The Game for a reason. And it’s one of the most taxing and the most energy that we give to any single opponent that we have because we prepare for it 365 days a year.”

2. The Ohio State run defense also faces a stern test.

Minnesota and Oregon both ran for more than 200 yards against Ohio State in the first two weeks of the season, but the Buckeyes have only allowed even 100 yards in a game since (Nebraska had 113 three weeks ago).

The Buckeyes are up to 11th in the nation in stopping the run after bottling up Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III last week, but that effort was aided by the Spartans’ having to abandon their running game after falling behind early.

Michigan has one of the top running back tandems in the country with power back Hassan Adams and shifty Blake Corum, who have combined for over 1,800 yards this season with 23 touchdowns.

Corum missed the last two weeks with a sprained ankle, but he is likely to be in uniform Saturday.

The Michigan offensive line is No. 25 nationally in FootballOutsiders.com average line yards, a metric that measures only the effectiveness of the blocking on a run, and No. 5 in stuff rate, which measures how often a run is stopped for no gain or a loss.

Ohio State is 32nd in defensive line yards and 69th in stuff rate.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State football coach Ryan Day on Michigan’s defensive ends

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

3. The Ohio State running game could be a wild card.

The Buckeyes have been a pass-first team this season, and Michigan is at its best stopping the pass. If those units stalemate, the onus could shift to an Ohio State ground game that has been average this year (fourth in the Big Ten) against a Michigan defense that also has been just OK (sixth in the Big Ten).

Whichever team runs the ball better could also control time of possession, a possible boon for Michigan if it gives Ohio State fewer chances to create the types of back-breaking big plays the Buckeyes have thrived on all season.

“Time of possession has been something we’ve been really good at, sustaining drives, picking up first downs offensively, not turning the ball over,” Harbaugh said. “Defense has gotten stops, special teams has gotten the ball back for the offense in really good field position. All those things -- offense, defense, special teams, have been extremely good in terms of complementary football.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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WATCH: Jim Harbaugh on people speculating about his job security at Michigan

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4. There often seems to be a surprise contributor.

In 2017, Dwayne Haskins Jr. came off the bench to lead an Ohio State comeback win.

Three years ago, true freshman Chris Olave seemingly came out of nowhere to score two touchdowns and block a punt in Ohio State’s upset of the Wolverines.

A year later, true freshman Garrett Wilson went over the century mark receiving and caught a long touchdown pass.

The Buckeyes have so many weapons they might not need anyone else to step up this weekend, but Michigan is another story.

Freshmen receiver Andrel Anthony and running back Donovan Edwards have flashed their potential with big plays this season, but the biggest wild card could be J.J. McCarthy.

A true freshman quarterback from Illinois, McCarthy has been used as a change-of-pace at times this season for starter Cade McNamara. The youngster who told The Athletic he grew up rooting for the Scarlet and Gray has a stronger arm and more running ability — plus an axe to grind against Ohio State for recruiting Kyle McCord instead of him.

“I use (Wilson and Olave) as examples all the time to our young freshmen that you do sometimes take that full year to get your feet in the ground,” said Day, who also acknowledged being aware of McCarthy’s potential role. “We thought Donovan was a good player (in high school) and have a lot of respect for him. So it looks like he’s really coming into his own right now, so we’re going to be aware of where he’s at.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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WATCH: Ohio State football coach Ryan Day on Michigan Week

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5. Ohio State is trying to match the longest winning streak in the series by either team.

Michigan won nine in a row from 1901-09 before a 3-3 tie in 1910.

The Wolverines started 13-0-2 in the rivalry and still lead 58-52-6 despite winning only twice since 2001.

The Buckeyes are aiming to get one game closer in a rivalry that was last separated by only five games in 1904.

Ohio State could also even the series in games played at Michigan Stadium, where Michigan has a 23-22-3 advantage.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Michigan, Noon, Fox, 1410

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