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Ohio State football vs. Michigan: Game-Time Decisions for the Buckeyes against the Wolverines

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Game has arrived with Ohio State football and Michigan ready to play in the most amped-up version of the rivalry since 2006.

The Buckeyes are ranked second, and the Wolverines third in the College Football Playoff. Saying everything is on the line might be underselling how important this game is. There are obvious implications in terms of what’s possible for either side. But the legacies of multiple characters are on the line as well.

Here are some questions that need to be answered in The Game:

Who controls the game tempo?

Saturday’s game is a fight between teams on opposite ends of the spectrum. Ohio State has an explosive offense led by the passing attack that allows it to quickly pile on the points. Michigan has a more rugged approach looking to run the ball and control the tempo, and shorten the games, only taking shots when the moment presents itself.

There’s no game where the tempo is more important than The Game. The Wolverines’ average time of possession is 35:06.27, which ranks third nationally. That’s 06:26:09 per possession. The longer they have the ball while finishing off drives with touchdowns, the longer OSU’s offense spends as spectators.

Jim Knowles has expressed since the moment he was hired that his goal is to get the offense the ball as many times as possible. In no game has either philosophy meant more than it will on Saturday. The Buckeyes have to get off the field in third down and can’t allow Michigan to prolong drives. The magic number is five. How many Wolverine drives can Ohio State keep under five minutes?

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Can Ohio State continue its red zone success?

Ohio State has scored on 52 of its 54 trips to the red zone this season. The only team with a higher percentage than its 96.30% is Georgia’s 96.72%, and that’s only because the Bulldogs have been there seven more times. The Buckeyes have also scored touchdowns on 43 of those trips, with only Tennessee (47) and USC (46) having more. And yes, both have more trips than them.

This season’s red zone success when it comes to finishing off drives with touchdowns is where this offense has improved the most since last season, up from 65.52% to a nation-best 79.63%. That should come in handy against Michigan, which is 15th nationally in red zone touchdowns allowed at 47.37%.

The inability to finish off drives played a significant role in why OSU lost the way it did last season, even if it wasn’t the only problem that day. On two separate occasions, it was forced to settle for field goals in the red zone.

More than likely, Michigan will try to limit the explosive plays by making the Buckeyes drive. All that means is they must execute in the red zone whether that be by running the ball or throwing it.

Stroud’s Ohio Stadium send-off

Everything is on the table for C.J. Stroud on Saturday. If everything goes right and he plays at the level we expect him to, he can walk away with a Heisman Trophy, a trip to the Big Ten championship, College Football Playoff and most importantly, his first win over Michigan.

If everything goes wrong, the Heisman’s out of the question and for the second straight year, OSU finishes a season without accomplishing any of its goals. He also becomes the first starting quarterback to never beat the Wolverines despite multiple chances since Greg Frey lost three straight from 1988-90.

It sounds hyperbolic, but Stroud’s legacy as a Buckeye is on the line on Saturday. His individual numbers suggest he’s one of the best quarterbacks in program history. But none of those numbers will matter if he loses. Instead of being the factors that build his case for superiority, they became the bullet points for why his tenure was a disappointment.

Stroud’s Heisman moment has arrived, and this moment holds more weight than what we’re typically used to seeing.

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If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Program Gambling Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522-4700.

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