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Minnesota Football: Know Thy Enemy, Ohio State Buckeyes

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Ohio State Buckeyes comes to Minnesota with a lot of key starters to replace.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Ohio State vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Who are we talking about?

Well the season kicks off on Thursday for your Golden Gophers. Since we rarely face the Buckeyes and I don’t care to learn the intracies of 13 other teams’ depth charts, I took the liberty of reaching out to Chris from Land Grant, Holy Land to help me understand more about the Buckeyes.

Key departures

Ohio State lost a lot of experience due to graduation and the NFL draft. The list includes a first round pick at QB, a few key pieces on the OL, and multiple players on the defensive side of the ball. With all that being said there are a few departures that will hurt more than others.

With players like Shaun Wade, Tuf Borland, and a few other multi-year starters leaving the program there are some big shoes to fill, but none bigger than the four listed below:

  • QB - Justin Fields: The most recent Silver Football winner and quarterback of the year in the B1G is probably the one that comes to mind for everyone outside of Ohio State. Fields leaves a lasting legacy and big shoes to fill at the position which can lead to some challenges in week one.
  • OG - Wyatt Davis: The All-American guard leaves Ohio State after being a multi-year anchor in the middle of the OL.
  • Will LB - Pete Werner: Not to be confused with Tuf Borland, Pete Werner provided a lot of versatility at linebacker during his time at Ohio State. Manning the Will linebacker position he was tasked with a lot of responsibility and with his place as a multi-year starter being opened up there’s not a lot of gameday experience to fill that void.
  • NT - Tommy Togiai: Arguably the biggest loss on the defensive side of the ball due to his impact in the run game and his draft grade to Ohio State fans could have warranted another year in Columbus. Overall this position has very limited gameday experience and if players like Taron Vincent don’t meet the expectations their recruiting rankings established for them this could be a position of worry.

Key returnees

  • WR - Chris Olave: With a first round grade many were shocked by Olave’s decision to remain a Buckeye, but as the team is breaking in a new quarterback this was monumental. His decision provides a great deep threat and third down target, but it also showed he has a lot of confidence in the guys in the QB room if he trusted them enough to help him maintain or gain draft position.
  • DT - Haskell Garrett: With the loss of Tommy Togiai, this was a monumental return bringing back an All-American. The room without Garrett would have limited experience at best and would rely on a ton of first year starters. After coming back from a gunshot wound to the face, he was the engine that drove the 2020 defense. His leadership and ability will once again be the driving force of the Buckeyes’ defense.
  • LT - Thayer Munford: A rare 4 year starter at LT came back to distinguish himself and if you don’t see the pattern here helping a first year quarterback is the key. Having the number one receiver from 2020 and a multi-year starter at LT returning will really allow a first year quarterback to flourish immediately. Per PFF, Munford posted a 91.8 grade this past season, the fourth-best mark in the FBS.
  • DE - Tyreke Smith: Smith was projected to be a mid round pick in a weak EDGE class in the NFL Draft, but he chose to stay at Ohio State. Flashing extreme potential he has not fully lived up to expectations with only 4 career sacks. Now with being the elder statesman in the room expectations for production are at an all-time high and if he can provide anything close to the lofty list of distinguished DE’s he will be a huge cog in Ohio State’s 2021 success.

Newcomers who may have an impact?

  • DE - J.T. Tuimoloau/Jack Sawyer: The two defensive ends and the crown jewels of the 2021 recruiting class. Both of these players have the ability to be impact freshmen and contribute as early as week one. The number three and four 247 composite ranked recruits will be in a deep room, but their talent will garner early opportunities to be in the rotation.
  • RB - Treyveon Henderson: Many have compared him to Reggie Bush in terms of game breaking ability as a recruit and some even going as far to say the most complete RB recruit since Bush himself. Henderson comes into a room with no clear cut leader unlike the Gophers and can really become a featured player with a strong performance in Fall camp.
  • LB - Palaie Gateote: The USC LB transfer was a former 5-star recruit from Bishop Gorman and even though his status is unclear his pedigree needs to be included. After struggling to find his footing due to injuries at USC he is looking for a fresh start in a room with no returning starters. If he can take hold of one of the starting spots he can become an impact player immediately.
  • 2021 WR Class: Specifically Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. who made names for themselves with their spring game performances. Egbuka with 127 yards on 11 catches and Harrison Jr. with 41 yards and TD could break out early in a loaded room if some of the older names slip up. Egbuka will be a name by the end of the year who is a huge contributor.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

Ohio State’s biggest strength is roster depth, but from a roster standpoint 1-85 there aren’t many teams who have the top-to-bottom talent. Regardless of experience level Ohio State has elite talent at every position, it’s just about individuals maximizing that talent. Whoever ends up playing this year will have earned every snap.

If I had to highlight two position groups it’s wide receiver and offensive tackle. The receiver room is filled with 5-star prospects, two potential 2022 first rounders, and many more top-100 receiver recruits. Their importance won’t be undermined as Ohio State breaks in a new quarterback. The same goes for OT which has Nicholas Petit-Frere and 4-year starter Thayer Munford, both will be vying for All-American honors. The two will hold down the edges and their back up Paris Johnson Jr. will more than likely bump inside to guard to get immediate playing time. Overall those two positions highlight the strongest points for Ohio State.

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

Experience is where Ohio State will be lacking especially at some key positions on both sides of the ball. Key positions like QB, LB, and IOL will be the spots where the losses on the roster are most notable with huge names missing. The talent is there at all the positions with blue chip prospects from a recruiting standpoint and plenty of players who have played on a rotational basis, but with the game being week one there could be some growing pains the Gophers take advantage of.

On the field our secondary was a point of trouble for the Buckeyes in 2020 and that could be the case again after being ranked in the 120’s for passing defense and in the bottom third for almost every passing category they will be tested. Tanner Morgan is a guy who has the potential to challenge the DB’s early and it will be a real test to start the year.

Brief overview of 2020 expectations:

As an Ohio State person, the expectation is always at the bare minimum winning the B1G. Despite having a new QB and new starters at multiple positions the talent is there to compete with the best in the country and win a national title. If I’m a Minnesota fan reading this, believe in your team in week one, but by year’s end Ohio State will be a different monster.

The team has all the talent at key positions, it will come down to the way each new starter performs with the highest emphasis being on the QB position. If whoever wins the jobs can figure it out and Kerry Coombs can fix some of the defensive issues from last year, Ohio State will be on another level once again.

With two challenging games to get the year started, if Ohio State makes it out of those two unscathed it’ll be Ohio State against whoever wins the B1G West in the conference title with Ohio State playing for another playoff appearance. The Buckeyes’ roster is just too deep to think the drop off will be significant in key places,

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

CJ Stroud will be the teams MVP this season and the main reason is the season rides on whoever ends up winning the QB job. If Stroud can come close to 80% of Justin Fields’ production Ohio State should be able to win at least 10 games. Stroud flashed great decision making in the spring game and led multiple scoring drives.

The quarterback position is always important and that’s even more true in a first year quarterback. With expectations at an all-time high for a first year starter, if he’s not the MVP that means someone else carried the team or the year was not as successful as it should have been in the eyes of Ohio State. Ohio State’s players believe in him, so I guess I do too.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss

11-1: I’d say 12-0 just due to recent history, but without a Chase Young on defense or Justin Fields on offense there is a chance at a loss. If Tyreke Smith or Zach Harrison aren’t elite, CJ Stroud isn’t a superstar right away, or Ohio State can’t find a run game that works there are quite a few pieces that will decide if this team wins early.

The B1G East has not shown enough improvement for me to say there’s a legitimate threat at the crown, but Penn State at home and Michigan seemingly set on remaining average there’s only 3 teams I can see beating Ohio State: Minnesota, Oregon, and Nebraska. The reasoning for Minnesota is a lot of returning experience, Oregon has a deep defense, and Nebraska on the road after a huge game against Penn State could catch Ohio State sleeping. That being said I think if Ohio State is to drop one it is to Oregon week 2.

The best win will be Oregon if Ohio State does win, because they are a team with a ton of experience on defense and that means Ohio State is really good at quarterback. If i”m going off Oregon being the loss then it would have to Michigan in the BIg House because after the cancellation this team will want it badly. The Buckeyes win that and the East is locked up once again.

Fun fact for this year’s team:

There’s always concern in the first game and early season match ups see Ohio State vs. Navy then Virginia Tech in 2014. Navy is not as talented as Minnesota, but the example shows that young quarterbacks in their first starts aren’t always the best. Survival will be key and Ohio State will need CJ Stroud and the offense to step up big. On the defensive side Ohio State’s secondary might be challenged, but the real worry will be stopping Mohamed Ibrahim with the new starters at LB.

This is not a game where I worry Ohio State will look ahead to week two because it is a conference match up against a very respectable opponent with a coach who has shown an ability to ruffle blue blood feathers while rowing the boat. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident, but there will always be that worry when there are a lot of new faces. Day hasn’t lost a conference game yet and I don’t think it starts week one.

The talent will be too much and I think depth will play a major factor in the first game.