Can Ohio State's Pass-Heavy Offense Win a Rivalry Game That's Historically Decided By the Rushing Attack?

By David Regimbal on November 22, 2018 at 1:30 pm
Mike Weber
© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Run the ball and win The Game.

Even with all the variables — lucky and unlucky bounces, personnel and schematic advantages, good and bad coaching — the simple notion of winning the rushing battle has proven to be a remarkable indicator of whether its Ohio State or Michigan winning on the scoreboard.

Dating back to 2002, the team who enforced its will and gained the rushing advantage has won college football's greatest rivalry game.

Year OSU Rush Yds UM Rush Yds Result
2017 226 100 OSU 31, UM 20
2016 206 91 OSU 30, UM 27
2015 369 57 OSU 42, UM 13
2014 233 121 OSU 42, UM 28
2013 393 152 OSU 42, UM 41
2012 207 108 OSU 26, UM 21
2011 137 277 OSU 34, UM 40
2010 258 182 OSU 37, UM 7
2009 251 80 OSU 21, UM 10
2008 232 111 OSU 42, UM 7
2007 229 15 OSU 14, UM 3
2006 187 130 OSU 42, UM 39
2005 118 32 OSU 25, UM 21
2004 205 71 OSU 37, UM 21
2003 54 170 OSU 21, UM 35
2002 140 121 OSU 14, UM 9

The 2007 line (Mike Hart's final game against Ohio State) Is hilariously not a typo.

Coincidences don't happen 16 times in a row. That could be a bad omen for Ohio State this Saturday.

The Buckeyes rushing attack has been erratic all season. It looked as explosive as ever when it piled up 375 yards against Oregon State and 225 against Rutgers to open the year, but there was a steep, extended drop off that started when Ohio State took on TCU.

When the Buckeyes limped into their contest with Purdue, they were averaging closer to three yards per attempt in conference play. 

J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have started to find lanes to run through since the Week 10 bye. Dobbins put up 163 and and 203 rushing yards against Nebraska and Maryland and Weber tallied 104 against the nation's top run-defense in Michigan State.

But the Buckeyes have relied far more heavily on Dwayne Haskins' arm than anything the running backs provided this season.

That's for good reason, too. Haskins ranks first nationally in passing touchdowns, third in passing yards and fifth in passing efficiency. He and an experienced group of wide receivers have paced the third-best passing offense (and second-best total offense) in the country.

But for the last 16 years, the winning team between Ohio State and Michigan relied on a superior rushing attack. And in the 115th edition of The Game, that edge goes to the Wolverines.

Karan Higdon leads a three-back rotation with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 scores. Chris Evans and Tru Wilson provide a nice change of pace, and quarterback Shea Patterson is a threat with 255 rushing yards this season.

The Wolverines come into the weekend ranked No. 23 in rushing offense. That is by no means elite, but it's only 10 spots behind a Maryland squad that just bulldozed its way to 339 rushing yards and 51 points against a Buckeyes defense that knew the run was coming.

The numbers certainly favor Michigan, which is likely the source for its confidence heading into this weekend's matchup. When asked if he would guarantee a victory over the Buckeyes on Monday, Higdon gave a knowing glance to his dual-threat quarterback before responding.

"Yeah, I do," Higdon said. "That's how I feel. I believe firmly in my brothers, and this team, and this coaching staff, and as a captain, I'll take that stand. Why not?"

That can serve as a direct challenge to Weber, Dobbins and Haskins. And if Ohio State's backfield can't outrush the Wolverines, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to flip the script  to pull out a victory.

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