Can Ohio State cut through gloom and beat Michigan?

By Jim Naveau

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COLUMBUS — The seven days since Ohio State lost to Michigan State last Saturday have been like watching a 24-hours-a-day, non-stop marathon of Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” on CNBC.

For those unfamiliar with Cramer, he is an overexcited stock picker who takes calls from viewers looking for advice on their investments.

If he likes a stock, he will yell, “Buy, buy, buy.” If he doesn’t like a stock, he will reply with, “Sell, sell, sell.”

What we have seen among Ohio State fans since last Saturday’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State is a massive sell-off. Panic selling, you might say.

The end of Ohio State’s 23-game winning streak and the probable demise of the dream of back-to-back national championships seem to have made Buckeyes fans significantly less confident about beating Michigan than any time in the last decade, with the exception of 2011.

It’s been hard to find a bold prediction of a solid Ohio State win even though OSU has won 10 of the last 11 games against Michigan.

The reasons for these widespread doubts also range from Jim Harbaugh, to Michigan has been playing well lately, to references to 1969, when Michigan shocked an Ohio State team that was trying to win back-to-back national championships in Bo Schembechler’s first season in Ann Arbor.

Almost any other year, a matchup between a 10-1 Ohio State team and a 9-2 Michigan team would energize both fan bases.

But it appears, at least from a distance, that Michigan fans are more fired up about this year’s game than OSU fans.

Michigan followers — to paraphrase a Wolverines player from the 1930s who ended up in the Oval Office — think the long national nightmare against Ohio State is about to end. Ohio State fans are still trying to wake up from last Saturday’s bad dream.

Ohio State’s games against Michigan have been close since Meyer arrived in 2012. OSU has won 26-21 at home, 42-41 at Michigan and 42-28 at home last year in a game which was close until the final minutes.

So, maybe Michigan’s rapid improvement in Harbaugh’s first season is a reason for concern.

What seems to be the bigger factor in the mood across Ohio, though, is the sudden realization that, no longer seen through the lens of unbroken success, this year’s Buckeyes might not be quite as imposing as they were thought to be.

Maybe Ohio State’s weaknesses and Michigan’s strengths both are being magnified.

For Michigan, the strengths start with a defense that leads the Big Ten in overall defense, pass defense and rush defense. That unit is led by a strong defensive line and two very good defensive backs, Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis.

Offensively, Michigan has struggled at times in the running game but quarterback Jake Rudock has thrown for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last three games.

OSU’s defense has carried the Buckeyes much of the season and ranks second nationally in points allowed (14.1). Michigan is sixth in that category (14.9).

Running back Ezekiel Elliott and run blocking were the two constants for Ohio State until he was held to 33 yards on 12 carries by Michigan State. The offensive line’s pass blocking woes, the delay in settling on a starting quarterback and the lack of playmakers among the receivers lead the list of OSU’s problems.

So, what happens today at Michigan Stadium?

The rivalry is back, which means so is the element of surprise. So, maybe Ohio State wins by doing something it hasn’t done all season – make a field goal of more than 40 yards.

The prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan 21.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

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