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Three ways to win: Ohio State at Michigan

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Ohio State’s Tyvis Powell intercepts a pass intended for Michigan’s on a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter in 2013. The play sealed the Buckeyes' 42-41 victory in Ann Arbor.

BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge

COLUMBUS – This version of the Ohio State-Michigan game is somewhat unusual because one team is a heavy favorite. The Buckeyes are a 12-point favorite for the game, the second-biggest spread for a road team in the past 22 years.

However, the only time a team was bigger road favorite in that span – the Buckeyes gave 15.5 points in 2013 at UM – Ohio State survived only because it stopped a two-point conversion in the final minute of the game in a 42-41 victory.

The underdog has not won in 12 years in this series, but there is path to victory for both teams:

Michigan

1. Get creative. Michigan built its identity on power running. In the age of the spread, Michigan prides itself in trotting out two backs and two tight ends in the same formation – but doing that all game is not going to work against OSU. The Buckeyes’ defensive line has a clear advantage against the UM offensive line, and Michigan must do something to compliment its running attack. Ohio State will put eight players in the box all game until Michigan does something to change the Buckeyes’ minds.

2. Force at least two turnovers. Michigan’s offense has struggled, and with its quarterback status in doubt, the defense and special teams have to lend a hand. A couple of short fields, or better yet, a non-offensive touchdown, greatly aid the Wolverines’ hopes of pulling the upset.

3. Hang around. This does not have to be pretty. In fact, Michigan is better suited to play ugly. A low-scoring game with lots of punts is exactly what the Wolverines need. As a double-digit underdog, simply getting the game into the fourth quarter with a chance is all a team can ask.

Ohio State

1. Don’t blink. In all likelihood, Michigan needs help to win this game, and Ohio State shouldn’t go out of its way to provide it. That means no drive-killing penalties – OSU is dead last in the Big Ten in penalty yardage – or bad turnovers that turned the Iowa game from bad to horrible. The Buckeyes would do well to borrow the Nick Saban mentality: any drive that ends in a kick (punt, field goal, extra point) will get the job done over the course of the game.

2. Be yourself. There is a time and place to see what would happen if the offense throws the ball 40 times or to break out gadget plays. This is neither. Ohio State’s power-running identity, when done well, opens the rest of the offense. Should the Buckeyes stick to it and find any level of success, they’ll be in very good shape.

3. Make Michigan earn it. Against a struggling offense, nothing can come cheap. UM’s defense is good enough to protect a lead, so any botched assignments or big plays that lead to points could be very costly for OSU. If the Buckeyes keep Michigan from gaining any steam on offense, they’ll likely head home with a sixth straight victory in the series.

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 419-724-6110 or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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