It’s almost here. The longest weeks of the year for an Ohio State fan are the ones before the game with Michigan — particularly when the Wolverines beat your squad for a conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff the year before. As the last days fall away, Ohio State fans have to be more than a little nervous. It can’t happen again, can it?

Hey, in a rivalry, anything can happen.

That said, there are some solid reasons to feel good about where the Buckeyes stand.

1) Run defense is way better than a year ago

Last season, Michigan rushed for 297 yards on 7.2 per carry and used that advantage to control the game. It was a significant issue for Ohio State.

In 2 years under former coordinator Kerry Coombs, Ohio State allowed 200+ rushing yards 5 times, and better than 5 yards per carry 4 times. Under new coordinator Jim Knowles, OSU has allowed 200 rushing yards once (206 vs. Northwestern) and allowed 5 yards per carry once (Wisconsin, in Ohio State’s 52-21 victory). Last season, Ohio State allowed 55 runs of 10+ yards (9th in the B1G). This year, they’ve allowed 31 such runs (3rd in the B1G).

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As last week’s game with Illinois showed, Michigan’s offense gets pretty pedestrian against a decent run defense.

2) Michigan’s passing game on 3rd down isn’t very good

Along with the first point, getting Michigan to third down bodes very well for opposing defenses. Michigan is 10th in the Big Ten in QB rating on 3rd down passes. The Wolverines complete just 49% of such throws (13th in the conference) and have hit just 5 15+yard passes on 3rd down all season (which is last in the Big Ten; Ohio State has 18). All of this is also a big factor in the phenomenon listed next. …

3) Michigan can be held to 3s instead of 7s

Much of the success of Knowles’s defense has been bending rather than breaking. Which makes Michigan a good fit for OSU. While Michigan scores on an impressive 93% of its red zone possessions (3rd in the Big Ten), it converts those trips into touchdowns just 64% of the time, which is 8th in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, 29% of the Wolverines’ red-zone trips end in field goals, which is the 3rd most in the league. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s defense gives up touchdowns on just 59% of red-zone possessions.

Let the Wolverines kick a bunch of field goals. They won’t be enough.

4) CJ Stroud is lights out against top competition

In his Ohio State career, CJ Stroud has started 6 games against ranked teams. In those games, he’s thrown 20 touchdowns against 2 interceptions and completed 75% of his passes.

It’s not really surprising.

In his 2022 numbers, Stroud’s big-moment ability is written large. His QB rating is higher in the 4th quarter than in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd. He’s a better passer on 4th down than on 1st, 2nd or 3rd (and better on 3rd down than 1st or 2nd). Meanwhile, the last time the Wolverines lost and the last time they allowed 300 yards passing were the same game. In the last 3 years, Michigan is 2-3 when allowing 300 yards passing … and 22-3 when they don’t. The good news is that Stroud should get there.

5) Surely, SOMEBODY can run the ball for Buckeyes

The even bigger indicator of success for Michigan’s defense is the ground game.

The last time Michigan allowed 5.1 yards per carry and won was October 2018. In the meanwhile, opponents have topped that mark 7 times, and won those games by an average of 23 points. A year ago, the Buckeyes rushed for 2.1 yards per carry. That shouldn’t happen again. Ohio State has topped that 5.1 yards per carry mark in 7 of their 11 games.

Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson each average over 5.1 yards per carry, and third-stringer Dallan Hayden is right at that figure. On the few occasions they’ve been behind, Ohio State has picked up 5.2 yards per carry — about a full yard ahead of last year’s pace. Ohio State is averaging 5.8 yards per carry in November — and a year ago, they averaged just 4.6 in that month.

A season ago, Ohio State allowed 22 tackles for loss in November (tied for 8th in the Big Ten). This year, they’ve allowed 10 (tied for best). At the end of the day, this game probably comes down to putting a hat on a hat up front and running the football. A year ago, Ohio State wasn’t particularly well-equipped to play that game. This year, they can do it.