The Game is finally here. How do Ohio State and Michigan match up with X's and O's?

The storylines have been discussed. The tea leaves have been read. The predictions have been made.

Now The Game is finally here. Ohio State vs. Michigan with everything at stake.

Can Ohio State slow Michigan’s run game? Can Wolverine quarterback J.J. McCarthy throw effectively? Can Ohio State get its running game going? Will C.J. Stroud light up Michigan’s secondary? How will the kicking game factor in?

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Here’s what to watch:

Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg tackles Michigan running back Blake Corum last year.
Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg tackles Michigan running back Blake Corum last year.

Michigan run game vs. Ohio State run defense

So much depends on the health of Wolverine runners. Blake Corum (1,457 yards, 18 touchdowns) injured a knee last week against Illinois and had only one carry in the second half. His talented backup, Donovan Edwards, didn’t dress last week.

If neither can play or is limited, that could be a mortal blow to Michigan’s chances. But all might not be lost for Michigan. The Wolverines’ offensive line is even better than the one that allowed Michigan to run for 297 yards against the Buckeyes last year. The linemen can maul and also have the athleticism to pull block effectively.

Ohio State’s run defense has been stout this season. Its line has clogged the middle and allowed linebacker Tommy Eichenberg to pursue the ball cleanly. The Buckeyes have yielded only 3.08 yards per carry, ninth-best in the country. But they haven’t faced a test even close to as challenging as this one.

Ohio State linebacker Cody Simon tackles Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy last year.
Ohio State linebacker Cody Simon tackles Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy last year.

Michigan pass game vs. Ohio State pass defense

Jim Harbaugh picked McCarthy over now-injured incumbent Cade McNamara because of his greater potential. McCarthy is athletic and has a strong arm, but Michigan’s passing game hasn’t clicked as expected. McCarthy has had issues with accuracy, and none of his receivers has been consistently dangerous. The season-ending injury to standout tight end Erick All didn’t help.

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Ohio State’s pass defense has been shaky at times. Until recently, Buckeye cornerbacks have been a revolving door because of injuries, and their performance has reflected that. Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown are finally healthy, and the hope is that they’re settling in. Lathan Ransom is a Thorpe Award semifinalist and fellow safety Ronnie Hickman has excelled again this season.

The key for any pass defense is a pass rush, and the Buckeyes’ front four, led by ends Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau has provided that. Harassing McCarthy while not allowing him to scramble will be key.

Ohio State run game vs. Michigan run defense

The Buckeyes average more yards per carry (5.53) than Michigan (5.51), but it doesn’t feel that way. Like the Wolverines, the Buckeyes have uncertainty at running back. TreVeyon Henderson was ineffective last week in his return and had a walking boot on during the second half after Dallan Hayden took over. Miyan Williams didn’t play against Maryland.

Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith rushes against Connecticut offensive lineman Noel Ofori-Nyadu.
Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith rushes against Connecticut offensive lineman Noel Ofori-Nyadu.

Hayden has developed quickly. The freshman runs hard and has good vision. If he must carry the load, the Buckeyes are confident he’s up to the challenge after Michigan stuffed OSU’s run game last year.

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Whoever runs the ball will be face an elite Michigan run defense. The Wolverines are second nationally in both yardage allowed (79.5 per game) and yards allowed per carry (2.79). Nose tackle Mazi Smith doesn’t necessarily fill the stat sheet, but he’s the key to the run defense with his ability to be disruptive and occupy blockers.

Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka makes a catch against Maryland.
Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka makes a catch against Maryland.

Ohio State passing game vs. Michigan pass defense

This is where the Buckeyes have their clearest advantage. Michigan’s secondary has been susceptible to big plays, and Ohio State’s passing game can be explosive. Aidan Hutchinson led a fierce pass rush that disrupted C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes’ passing game last year, but he and David Ojabo are now in the NFL. Michigan still has a good pass rush, but its best rusher, Mike Morris, was injured against Nebraska and didn’t play against Illinois. Ohio State’s pass protection has been excellent most of the season.

The Wolverines’ best defensive back is probably converted receiver Mike Sainristil, who covers the slot receiver. Ohio State has been without Jaxon Smith-Njigba for almost the entire season, but Marvin Harrison Jr. has emerged as perhaps the country’s top receiver. Emeka Egbuka has also shined, and tight end Cade Stover has made big plays.

It’s worth noting that only once in OSU’s past four games has Stroud thrown for multiple touchdowns, though the one touchdown-less game came in the fierce winds at Northwestern. The weather is expected to be ideal Saturday.

Special teams

OSU’s Noah Ruggles is 12 for 14 on field goals, with the only misses a 39-yarder in the opener and a 54-yarder against Penn State. Jake Moody is 25 for 30 on field goals for Michigan. Punting has been a strength for each team. Michigan’s Brad Robbins, who played at Westerville South, has not had a touchback all season. OSU’s Jesse Mirco hasn’t punted much but has been superb when needed. Neither team has excelled in the punt return game. Ransom has blocked punts in consecutive games.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: OSU vs. Michigan football matchups to watch