How can the Buckeyes beat Michigan? Three keys for Ohio State football's rivalry game

The Ohio State football team plays its most heated rival, Michigan, at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium as the Buckeyes look to punch a ticket to the Big Ten championship game while also exacting some revenge on the Wolverines.

Ohio State went nearly a decade without losing to Michigan from from 2012-2019. After not playing "The Game" in 2020 due to a Michigan COVID-19 outbreak, Ohio State's dominance over Michigan was snapped last season with a 42-27 loss in snowy Ann Arbor.

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It was on the minds of the Buckeyes nearly all offseason, and as soon as Ohio State dispatched Maryland last week, it was on to "the team up north."

Here are three keys for No. 2 Ohio State against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday:

Ohio State needs to keep emotions in check vs. Wolverines

Emotions figure to be high for the Buckeyes, who are seeking to avenge a loss in The Game for the first time in a decade. Over the past year, they have put a bull's-eye on their archrival and the intense focus on Michigan could give them a lift on Saturday. But they’ll also need to keep their composure, a level of poise they didn’t always show in last season’s matchup when they committed a season-high 10 penalties, including five false starts to set back drives.

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Start fast against Michigan football

Few teams are better at ball control than Michigan, which ranks third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in time of possession, a result of a run-heavy style. That approach could be tested if the Buckeyes build an early lead, a scenario that would put pressure on quarterback J.J. McCarthy to push the ball down the field in order to keep pace with Ohio State rather than hand off to Blake Corum or their other running backs. Are the Wolverines capable of winning with McCarthy’s arm? That style better suits Ryan Day and Co.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud walks off the field during the fourth quarter of last year's loss at Michigan.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud walks off the field during the fourth quarter of last year's loss at Michigan.

Protect C.J. Stroud

Stroud had to make a lot of throws under duress in last season’s loss at Michigan, facing pressure on nearly half of his drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus. It kept the Buckeyes from rallying in the second half. Though Aidan Hutchinson is no longer a fixture along the defensive line, the Wolverines’ pass rush remains among the best in the nation. Their 31 sacks are tied for the 19th-most in the FBS. Ohio State’s offensive line must leave Stroud with a cleaner pocket.

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Key matchup for Ohio State vs. Michigan

Ohio State rush defense vs. Michigan rush offense

The battle in the trenches will be a referendum on the first season of Jim Knowles’ rebuild. The hiring of Knowles in December was precipitated by the loss at Michigan in which the Buckeyes were gashed at the line of scrimmage, giving up 297 yards on the ground. There have been signs of progress throughout this fall, most notably an improved rush defense and ability to get off the field on third down. But Michigan, bringing its smash-mouth rushing style to the high-stakes clash, is the ultimate barometer of the turnaround. Look for the game to swing based on this matchup.

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Key stat for Buckeyes

20: Consecutive games in which the winner between Ohio State and Michigan has been the team that outrushes the other.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Michigan vs Ohio State football and how the Buckeyes win