Reporters roundtable: After Ohio State drills Spartans, everything at stake in Ann Arbor

Bill Rabinowitz Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Editor's note: After each Ohio State football game, beat reporters Bill Rabinowitz and Joey Kaufman discuss the lasting storylines and other key developments.

If Ohio State was seeking momentum heading into its showdown with Michigan, the Buckeyes sure got it on Saturday. Ohio State crushed No. 7 Michigan State 56-7 after taking a 49-0 halftime lead.

C.J. Stroud threw six touchdown passes in a near-flawless performance to become the Heisman Trophy front-runner. The Buckeyes' defense did its part by overwhelming the Spartans and making their Heisman candidate, running back Kenneth Walker III, a non-factor.

Ohio State football:What is the all-time head-to-head record of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry?

Rabinowitz: As I wrote on Saturday, the first half was as close to perfection as you'll likely see in a college football game. Ohio State couldn't have scripted it any better. The Buckeyes asserted their superiority from the start, got style points they really don't need and then were able to rest starters in the second half. I wasn't surprised that coach Ryan Day said that his thoughts drifted to the Michigan game even before the Michigan State game ended. Saturday in Ann Arbor should be epic.

Kaufman: Michigan also taking care of its business over the weekend in a 59-18 rout of Maryland raises the stakes for the 117th playing of The Game. The winner clinches the Big Ten's East Division and advances to the conference championship game in Indianapolis, where a College Football Playoff berth would be up for grabs. As Jim Harbaugh put it, they're playing for "all the marbles." Like the good old days of this rivalry. Should be fun.

Rabinowitz: It is an intriguing game on many levels. This is essentially a round-of-16 College Football Playoff game. For Harbaugh, it's a chance to finally get over the hump. He said at Big Ten media days that he wanted to beat Ohio State and win the league title "or die trying." For the Buckeyes, it's another chance to assert their superiority and do so in enemy territory. If Ohio State plays the way it did last week, I don't think Michigan has much of a chance. But every week is a new week.

The play of Haskell Garrett (92) and the Ohio State run defense will be crucial against Michigan.

Kaufman: Based on last Saturday's bloodbath in Columbus, I'm tempted to believe the gap between the Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten is as wide as it has been in recent memory. They've won 26 straight conference games and beat a seventh-ranked team by seven touchdowns. But there is something to be said for the balance of Michigan. It'll be the most complete team in the league that Ohio State has faced this fall. The Wolverines rank third in the conference in both total offense and total defense. Past opponents like Michigan State and Minnesota have largely been top-tier on only one side of the ball.

Ohio State football:'I was already thinking about it.' After routing MSU, Ohio State gears up for Michigan

Rabinowitz: I still have questions about Michigan's ability to throw the ball effectively enough to keep pace with Ohio State if the game becomes a shootout. The Wolverines' passing game has improved. But Cade McNamara isn't the passer Stroud is, nor does Michigan have the receivers OSU has. But who does? Michigan's best chance is to shorten the game by grinding it out with its run game and hope that its star defensive ends, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, can pressure Stroud.

Kaufman: What doomed Michigan State is it fell behind so quickly that it was unable to even attempt such a ball-control approach. It abandoned its ground game by the second quarter as it trailed by three touchdowns. Patience might have benefited the Spartans if they had stuck with Walker longer. But it shows how fast things can snowball for teams going up against Ohio State. If Michigan is to stay competitive after recent blowouts in previous meetings in 2019 and 2018, the first few series will be critical. The Wolverines must slow the Buckeye blitzkrieg or find some open running lanes right away. Remember that defensive tackle Haskell Garrett snuffed out Walker's first carry in the backfield.

The play of Haskell Garrett (92) and the Ohio State run defense will be crucial against Michigan.

Rabinowitz: Ohio State's run defense will be crucial. If the Buckeyes can make the Wolverines throw, they'll be in good shape. Ohio State has generally been good against the run this year. Opponents are gaining only 3.1 yards per carry. Michigan is averaging 5.1 per rush. Hassan Haskins is their power runner. Blake Corum is more explosive but his status is uncertain after missing a couple of games. But other playmakers have emerged for the Wolverines the past few games. 

Kaufman: As we touched on above, the winner is going to be in a prime position to make the playoff. But especially for the Buckeyes, this is an opportunity to bolster their seeding. They'll likely be at least No. 3 when the new rankings are released Tuesday night after Oregon was blown out at Utah, and it's possible they could overtake fellow one-loss Alabama for the No. 2 spot with the Crimson Tide looking less convincing in its 42-35 win over Arkansas. Holding at either No. 2 or No. 3 could help them avoid having to face unbeaten Georgia and its vaunted defense in a semifinal matchup.

The play of Haskell Garrett (92) and the Ohio State run defense will be crucial against Michigan.

Rabinowitz: It doesn't really matter whether Ohio State is No. 2, which is where I think the Buckeyes will be this week, or No. 3. The key is not having to play Georgia in the semifinal. If Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC title game, OSU could end up at No. 1 if the Buckeyes win out. But if OSU loses this week or next, its playoff hopes are almost certainly gone. For the Buckeyes, it's been win-or-done since losing to Oregon. Just another reason Saturday in Ann Arbor means so much.

Kaufman: All the chaos across college football has been to the benefit of Ohio State, clearing out unbeaten Power Five Conference teams with the exception of Georgia. Despite the early-season loss, the Buckeyes reached November with control of their own destiny unlike 2018 when they were saddled with their defeat. Pretty nice situation. 

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