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.