Bucking all conventional logic, the Buckeyes have lost the turnover margin in each of their last two wins against the Wolverines and still come away with wins. In a come-from-behind victory in 2005, OSU fumbled the ball away twice and forced no Michigan turnovers. Those numbers became even more alarming in 2006, when the Buckeyes prevailed 42-39 but lost the turnover margin 3-0.
This time around, OSU is putting an increased emphasis on winning the turnover margin in the annual rivalry game.
"We looked at the storyline and the past two years we lost the turnover margin but won, but the past 10 or 12 years before that the team that's won the turnover margin won the game," junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We know it's going to be no different. If we want to win this game we'll have to win the turnover margin."
The last time Michigan committed a turnover against the Buckeyes came in 2004, when a fired-up OSU defense forced freshman quarterback Chad Henne to throw two interceptions. The Buckeyes won that game, 37-21, and won the turnover margin 2-0.
Last year's discrepancy between turnovers and the final score came as even more of a surprise considering how well the Buckeyes had forced turnovers up to that point. Through 11 games in 2006, OSU forced a total of 27 turnovers en route to an 11-0 record but forced zero in the final two games of the season.
With 18 takeaways this season, the Buckeye defense has not been as adept at taking the ball from opposing teams as its counterpart from a year ago.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis said the Buckeyes have been in the right place to make plays but have not always come up with the turnover.
"We've had the opportunity," he said. "I think (at) Purdue, we dropped six or seven possible interceptions, so that game right there, if we catch every one, we're even with last year."
One season ago, Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes with five interceptions. This season, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins leads the team with three picks while Laurinaitis has two. Freeman attributed Laurinaitis' drop in that category to teams adjusting and not throwing toward the middle of the field as frequently as they did one season ago.
As a team, the Buckeyes have one less interception (10) than their own quarterback, Todd Boeckman, has thrown.
According to Freeman, turnovers are often simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. They are not something a defense can simply force.
"I think the first thing you can do is try to make a tackle, and with that the second guy can come in and maybe try to get a big hit and try to cause a fumble," he said. "An interception comes by playing the ball and being at the right place at the right time. I don't think we can sit here and say, ‘Hey, we've got to strip the ball when you get in there.' You've got to secure it, especially with a back like Mike Hart, you've got to secure the tackle first and the fumble can come after that."
Laurinaitis said the team has not noticed the drop off in turnovers this season because of the overall success of the defense for the majority of the year.
"I think our defense is a stronger unit than last year's," he said. "We're a close-knit group more than last year and just because we've dropped a few more balls doesn't make a difference."
While they know they can not force them, the Buckeyes will be looking to cause a few turnovers against the Wolverines this weekend. If they do not win the turnover margin, Laurinaitis said, they know their chances for victory diminish significantly.
That, coupled with the need to beat a team in rushing yards, could prove to be the keys to the game.
"We've gotten lucky and escaped the last two years with not getting a turnover from them," Laurinaitis said. "You have to worry about the turnover margin and the rushing yards because really the game is won in the trenches every week and if you can control the rushing battle and the turnover margin you'll be all right."