The 2021 season kicked off and gave Gopher fans a night of up and down emotions, a roller-coaster of excitement and disappointment. In the end, the team expected to win, pulled away and Ohio State beat Minnesota 45-31.
The Gophers took the opening kickoff and established a decent opening drive getting 3 first downs, 34 yards and eating up 9 minutes of clock before having to punt. The punt went out of bounds inside the Buckeye 10 and they were pinned deep for their first drive. As a start to the game against the #3 team in the country? Not bad, right?
But Ohio State’s offense took the field and looked unstoppable. Moving the ball easily in the first few plays of the drive and then Miyan Williams ran off tackle right, exploding 72 yards for a touchdown.
Another Gopher punt, a Buckeye drive for a field goal and the Gophers were quickly down 10-0. This is the point when things were looking bleak. Ohio State was opening huge holes, their receivers were wide open and the Gopher offense was clawing for every possible yard.
Then things flipped.
The Gophers, going for it on 4th and 1, give the ball to Mohamed Ibrahim who goes 56 yards to the Buckeye 15, setting up a touchdown pass to Dylan Wright two plays later.
Desperately needing a defensive stop, Terell Smith picked off CJ Stroud giving the ball back to Minnesota on the 37. Eventually Ibrahim punched the ball into the end zone and the Gophers actually had the lead over the #3 Buckeyes! And that lead was held till hafltime...a halftime lead over Ohio State.
This is the time when excitement was riding high. Ohio State essentially controlled the game for the first 19 minutes and Minnesota then flipped the script to control it for the next 11.
Surely Ohio State would come out of the half and take over, right? Kind of.
Yes, they came out and scored quickly, retaking the lead. But the Gophers answered! Another Ibrahim touchdown gave the lead right back on the following drive. Hope restored, confidence rising with a 17-21 lead. Another shot of optimism was shot into the veins of Gopher fans when another OSU punt was forced.
Gopher ball, up 4 with 8:37 remaining in the 3rd quarter. This is when things came undone for Minnesota.
Back to back penalties pushed Minnesota back to a 3rd and 30, which clearly led to a punt. And Ohio State scores on 1 play to take the lead 24-21. Minnesota, on their ensuing possession allows Morgan to be strip sacked, which returned 32 yards for another Buckeye touchdown. Now the bleakness returned with a 31-21 Buckeye lead and all the momentum heading in the wrong direction.
Ohio State wasn’t done. A field goal, a 70-yard touchdown pass to TreVeyon Henderson and a 61-yard touchdown pass to CJ Stroud...all in the 4th quarter. Those explosive plays accentuated the level of talent that was on the Ohio State sideline.
In the end the Gophers battled throughout the 4th quarter. Putting together a couple nice drives without Ibrahim after injuring his leg.
Giving up 45 points and losing by double-digits is never what you come into the game to accomplish. Clearly the Gophers were facing a team that was loaded with talent and has their sights set on returning to the College Football Playoff. A loss was expected.
The Gopher offensive line played very well. Ibrahim is an incredibly talented running back who rushed for 163 yards on Ohio State in just barely over 3 quarters of play. That is a credit to him and the line. Most certainly that was an encouraging sign for the Gopher offense going up an extremely talented defensive front.
Dylan Wright was also a pleasant surprise. The Texas A&M transfer clearly had Morgan’s trust throughout the night and made some very nice catches, finishing with 5 receptions and a touchdown.
The final quarter and a half was quite ugly as Ohio State flexed their muscle amid several Gopher mistakes.
Concerns about a number of Gopher injuries should be interesting storylines to follow. But up next for the Gophers is a game against Miami-OH a week from Saturday.