COLUMBUS, Ohio — Can Ohio State football cover the spread against Michigan on Saturday?
The Buckeyes are favored by 12 points in Ann Arbor after hammering Illinois last weekend. Here are three keys for the Ohio State-Michigan game, followed by predictions from our three Land of 10 Ohio State writers.
1. Harnessing emotion
Playing with emotion in this rivalry is a must, but it has to be done right. The second it goes from controlled to uncontrolled, things can go sideways. Take 2013, for instance. A bad Michigan team nearly beat an undefeated Ohio State squad, and it happened in part because the Wolverines baited Ohio State into a fight early in the second quarter by surrounding freshman Dontre Wilson after a punt return. Wilson and right guard Marcus Hall were ejected, and Michigan ended up hanging with the Buckeyes the entire game. Obviously there were other factors in that near-upset, but that didn’t help.
The Buckeyes will need to play with fire, but they need to make sure it doesn’t burn so bright that it becomes detrimental. Aside from 2013 they’ve been pretty good at that in the Urban Meyer era, so there shouldn’t be too much to worry about there.
2. Quarterback carousel
Any one of three quarterbacks could end up playing for Michigan. Brandon Peters exited Michigan’s game last week against Wisconsin with a head injury and is unlikely to play, but he’s still a possibility. Former starter Wilton Speight sustained an injury against Purdue that has kept him out since then and is even less likely to be called back into duty. That makes John O’Korn the odds-on favorite to start, which should be good news for the Buckeyes since he’s not great at football. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the last five games he’s played, and he’s completed barely 50 percent of his passes. However, the Buckeyes are expecting a run-heavy approach no matter who’s behind center.
“They do what they do,” Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “They run the ball downhill, get in a lot of tight end and running back sets. They try and out-tough you — that’s what they do. That’s their MO. They’re not going to change anything. They’re a great program like we are, and we don’t change for other people. There are subtle differences and we’re preparing for those, but they’re not going to get away from what they do, which is power football.”
3. Strength vs. strength
Ohio State has an advantage when the Wolverines have the ball. Michigan is ranked No. 102 nationally in scoring offense, while the Buckeyes are No. 8 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. It’s not looking good for Michigan’s chances of putting up points. But for the Buckeyes to win comfortably, they’ll have to solve the Wolverines’ equally stellar defense. The difference, of course, is that the Buckeyes have a high-powered offense to match. Ohio State is No. 4 in total offense, while Michigan is No. 3 in total defense. If the Buckeyes can string together some drives and hit on a few big plays, it shouldn’t really be all that close.
Ohio State-Michigan picks: score predictions
Point spread: Ohio State -12
Over/under: 50.5 points
The Buckeyes are 5-6 against the spread this season, and they will have to win comfortably to cover the spread this week. Eight of the Buckeyes’ 11 games have gone over the point total, which is set at 50.5 points on Saturday. The three Land of 10 Ohio State beat writers are split as to whether the Buckeyes will cover the point spread, but all three have them winning by double digits.
Jeremy Birmingham: Ohio State 23, Michigan 13
Ryan Ginn: Ohio State 35, Michigan 10
Austin Ward: Ohio State 34, Michigan 17