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Ohio State Hangs on to Beat Minnesota 31-24

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone was well aware of the challenge facing the #25 Golden Gophers today as they hosted #8 Ohio State.  Both teams were coming off of dominant wins in pivotal games.  We are all well aware of the 51 unanswered points that the Gophers racked up on rival Iowa.  But Ohio State was bringing a whole other level of talent and explosiveness to TCF Bank Field.  The Buckeyes went to Michigan State with the Big Ten East on the line and showed their explosiveness against a very good defense putting up 49 points and 568 yards on the Spartans.  This game was going to be a challenge.  The end result was a 31-24 Buckeye win where momentum swung a couple times but never far enough in Minnesota's favor to result in the upset.

Things started innocuously enough with the Gophers forcing a three-and-out on Ohio State's first possession but it quickly got ugly for Minnesota after a couple game-breaking plays allowed the Buckeyes to open up a quick 14-0 lead.  Their second possession began on the OSU 5 yard line and on third and one from the 14 JT Barrett made his first impactful play of the game on a zone read where Damien Wilson took a half-step to his left biting on the fake hand off, from there is was an 86-yard sprint for Barrett to the end zone and a 7-0 Buckeye lead.

Your Gophers followed that with a three-and-out giving the ball right back to Barrett and the Buckeyes on their own 13.  This time Barrett eventually connected with Jalin Marshall for a 57-yard touchdown as Cedric Thompson thought he had a pass breakup but missed.  The Gophers received the ball, now down two touchdowns and proceeded to not move the ball and punted the ball back to OSU after three plays.  At this point Ohio State was apparently flexing their muscle and Minnesota was struggling not only to stop the Buckeyes but also unable to move the ball offensively.  Coach Kill on his offensive struggles against a very talented Ohio State defense.

"We ran the ball some and did some pretty good things, but we made some critical errors that didn't allow us to sustain drives.  They got us in third and long and you don't want to be third and long against them."

Ohio State took the ball looking to put the foot on the gas and pull away from Minnesota further.  On their third play of the possession JT Barrett took a deep shot down the right sideline that was overthrown and intercepted by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, returned 56 yards and Minnesota took the ball back on the OSU 39.  Five David Cobb rushes later the Gophers were on the scoreboard and playing with a little confidence.  This was was the first of what was to be a theme.  Ohio State turns the ball over, David Cob runs a lot and the Gophers score.

Later in the second quarter, Ohio State is marching to an apparent touchdown when Jalin Marshall gets hit at the goalline by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, fumbles and the Gophers recover in the endzone, narrowly avoiding another two touchdown hole.  With their possession beginning at the 20, Minnesota took 11 plays to go 80 yards and surprisingly tied the game up when David Cobb took a handoff on third and 15 and broke free for a 30-yard touchdown.

Ohio State was able to get into field goal range before halftime and took a 17-14 lead into the break.  Then scored two additional touchdowns in the second half to go up 31-14 and once again appeared to be poised to roll up a three or four (or more) touchdown win on Minnesota.  But then things got interesting again, this time in the fourth quarter with the Gophers trialing by three scores.

Minnesota was unable to move the ball and forced to punt, fortunately Marshall was having trouble and dropped the fair-catch.  With a host of yellow jerseys around the Gophers recovered at the 14.  Two Cobb rushes later Minnesota was in the end zone again down 31-21.  The Gophers managed to stop the Buckeye's next possession, took the ball back, quickly got into field goal position after a 31-yard scramble by Leidner.  With 1:23 left on the clock they decided on the quick FG and then take their chances with the onside kick.  Santoso made it, bringing the gap to one score, the onside was unsuccessful and Ohio State came out in the victory formation to seal the win.

On the one hand this is a game that never should have been just a seven-point margin.  Ohio State amassed 489 of total offense to Minnesota's 303.  They averaged 7.6 yards per rush, had a handful of explosive plays and converted 9/13 on third down.  With those numbers a 21-point win would not be all that surprising.

On the other hand Minnesota had a number of missed opportunities that could have turned this into the biggest win in Jerry Kill's career.  Ryan Santoso's missed FG that bounced off the left upright would have put the Gophers in position to tie the game from the 17 yard line rather than kick a FG to get within seven.  Mitch Leidner's pass to a wide open KJ Maye that was just out of reach prevented a third quarter touchdown.  Blown coverage by the secondary allowed Ohio State's third touchdown to be the easiest touchdown pass of Barrett's career.

Depending on your perspective this game was either a couple plays away from being a blowout or a couple plays away from being a massive upset.

Individually I think the Gophers had a couple guys who really struggled today and a couple guys who played outstanding.

Unfortunately this was a game where Mitch Leidner struggled.  Several badly overthrown balls, a couple of really bad decisions, missed Maye on a sure touchdown and overall finished just 7/19 passing with 2 interceptions and just 85 yards passing.  A sharper Leidner may have been a huge difference maker, potentially one that changes the outcome of the game.

Defensively I was disappointed today with the Gopher linebackers.  After having an outstanding game last week against Iowa I thought the entire unit struggled today.  To be fair, this is a difficult offense with several very good skill position players to defend.  One misstep or wrong read and it is very difficult to make up ground and still make a play against the Buckeyes.  A number of times the Gopher linebackers were just a half-step off in their angles and the results were big gains for Ohio State.

Who played well?  David Cobb was outstanding today, no surprise here.  The senior rushed for 145 yards on 27 carries (5.4 yard average) and scored all three Gopher touchdowns.  He is really good and is closing in on the Gopher's single-season rushing record with two games to play.  On the other side, Briean Boddy-Calhoun had a great game defensively with an interception, a forced fumble and four tackles.  Both of his turnovers were imperative to keeping Minnesota in the game.

In the end it was clear that Ohio State is a really good football team.  The Gophers battled and came up short against one of the nation's best teams.  Moral victory?  No, we don't need them anymore.  A missed opportunity, a chance to steal a win from an Ohio State team that made enough mistakes to give us that chance.  We came up short and move on to a couple of pivotal Big Ten West road games.

"We have a tough task.  We knew that at the beginning.  We can't have a hangover and we've got to go back to work and I know these kids will.  They fought their tail off today against a very good football team, a team that's top eight in the country, and I'm sure that if they win out they're going to be in great shape.  However, if we do our job, we'll play them again."

A trip to Nebraska is up next.  The Gophers do control their own destiny but a couple of challenging road games is a tough gauntlet to run.