The Buckeyes have fallen behind 10-0 in three consecutive games, including losses the past two weeks to Purdue and Penn State. The contests with the Boilermakers was a noon start, as was an uninspiring win against Indiana three weeks ago.
It stands to reason the emotion of the rivalry with Michigan should be enough to get the Buckeyes fired up early, but one could have made that case for Senior Day last week against the Nittany Lions and for the game against Purdue in West Lafayette, where they had suffered an embarrassing loss two years ago.
Head coach Luke Fickell does not see that being a problem this week.
"It's about The Game," he said. "We've talked about it since the day we walked into camp. That's what it's been about. I've mentioned it in all the press conferences probably: It comes down to what are you thinking. Where is your mind? That's the one thing we talked about Sunday night that you have to be able to control. If you can control your mind, you've got a chance. Our bodies will do pretty much anything our minds put in it, especially at 18-22 years of age."
2. Can the Buckeyes force multiple turnovers?
Fickell and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock have talked all season about taking the ball away from opponents, but that has been easier said than done.
Ohio State is eighth in the Big Ten in takeaways with 16. That total includes three in the last four games. They have not recovered a fumble since Oct. 15.
Despite starting a freshman quarterback, the Buckeyes have protected the ball well and enter The Game with only 12 giveaways, a total tied for second-fewest in the conference.
Michigan, on the other hand, is second-worst in the Big Ten with 20 giveaways. That includes 15 interceptions.
"It's not a mystery to a lot of games when you look at the turnover margin," Fickell said. "But (Michigan is) an offense that's done a great job at moving the football. And maybe the only thing that stuttered themselves is maybe when they turned it over."
3. Which team will win on third down?
Michigan enters the game third in the Big Ten both in terms of converting and preventing third downs, and the Ohio State offense is ninth in the conference.
The Buckeye defense is a respectable sixth overall, but it has struggled mightily in that area over the past three weeks. Over a 10-quarter span starting with the Indiana game on Nov. 5 extending to halftime of the 20-13 loss to Penn State last week, the Buckeye defense allowed opponents to convert 24 of 42 (57.1 percent) of third down opportunities. Ohio State held the Nittany Lions to 1 for 6 on third downs in the second half, but by then it was too late.
They will need to be better this week to have a chance to stop the Wolverines.
4. How much will Denard Robinson's supporting cast contribute?
After a 37-7 win against Michigan last season, Ohio State defensive players revealed the plan was to force the Wolverines' star quarterback to give up the ball as much as possible. That might be the plan again, but Michigan has a more dangerous group of players around him in 2011.
Robinson still leads the Big Ten in total offense (243.7 per game in conference play), but running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is fourth in the Big Ten with 99.7 yards rushing and wide receiver Junior Hemingway (54.3 yards per game receiving) is one of the conference's most dangerous receivers.
"They're explosive with a great quarterback," senior nickel back Tyler Moeller said. "They can spread it out or run it on you. They have a lot of guys who can break a play at any moment. They're clicking as an offense and doing the right things."
5. Will there be a Michigan game wrinkle?
One of the trademarks of the Jim Tressel era was a tendency to pull out something on offense that had not been seen much, if at all, earlier in the season.
In 2004, Branden Joe was unveiled as the power back we'd all heard he would be since the beginning of the season. The senior fullback rushed 14 times for 52 yards in Ohio State's upset of No. 7 Michigan after he entered the contest with 23 carries for 53 yards in the season's first 10 games.
In 2005, Andree Tyree got the surprise call as a power-blocking third tight end, helping to ramp up the running game.
A year after that, Ted Ginn Jr. caught a long touchdown pass after lining up at tight end in what otherwise looked like a power personnel grouping on a second-and-short.
Little trickeration has been necessary the past three seasons with Michigan struggling, but might this offensive staff pull out a few extra stops in their final shot at the Wolverines?