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Minnesota Football vs. Ohio State: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

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The Gophers went toe to toe with one of the most talented teams in the country

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are 0-1 to start the season, which is not entirely unexpected given that their season-opening opponent was the No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, a team with national championship aspirations. I hate losing, but as far as season-opening losses go, I’m not too worked up about this one. There was a lot that I liked, a lot that I didn’t like, and one particular injury that might actually break my heart if the worst is to be believed.

The Elite

Mohamed Ibrahim. Obviously, the elephant in the room is that Ibrahim did not return to the game after suffering a left leg injury near the end of the third quarter. Twitter’s Pro Football Doc diagnosed him with a ruptured Achilles tendon, which would mean that his season is over and the Gophers’ running back stable loses its prized stallion. Ibrahim was last seen walking to the locker room with a boot on his left foot in the fourth quarter, and P.J. Fleck declined to get into specifics in his postgame press conference, as per usual. Before he left the game, Ibrahim looked the part of the reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

The Minnesota Movers. It was not a perfect performance, but the Gophers’ offensive line lived up to expectations for the most part, especially against a formidable defensive line. Ohio State’s SB Nation site, Land-Grant Holy Land, was particularly frustrated with how the Minnesota’s offensive line had neutralized the Buckeyes’ defensive line for much of the night.

Dylan Wright. To no one’s surprise, Chris Autman-Bell did not suit up for the Gophers as he works his way back from an ankle injury suffered during preseason camp, putting pressure on the rest of receiving corps. But the Texas A&M transfer stepped up to fill the void, turning heads with five receptions for 57 receiving yards and a touchdown. If you’re drawing comparisons to Randy Moss on your first touchdown, you’re doing something right:

Tanner Morgan. I’m sure this will be a controversial take for some of our readers, but I thought Tanner played well. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers — 14-of-25 for 205 passing yards and one touchdown — but he was poised in the pocket and made a lot of good throws under pressure. Tanner certainly had his fair share of bad throws, but there was also a fair share of drops and a handful of plays where the officiating crew swallowed their whistles while Ohio State’s defensive backs mugged Minnesota’s receivers. There is room for improvement, but I liked most of what I saw from the Gophers’ signal caller, especially considering Morgan was without his top target.

4th & 1 from their own 29-yard line. Trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter, P.J. Fleck had a decision to make on 4th & 1 from their own 29-yard line. He decided to go for it — at halftime, he told KFAN’s Justin Gaard, “We didn’t come here to lay up” — and gave the ball to Mohamed Ibrahim, who broke free for 56 yards to set up Minnesota inside the red zone. The Gophers scored two plays later and completely changed the momentum in the game.

A sold-out crowd at Huntington Bank Stadium. It was good to see the stadium packed again, and the crowd was very much a factor, especially in the second quarter.

Minnesota went toe to toe with the No. 4-ranked team in the country. There are no moral victories. With that said, the Gophers made it clear the Buckeyes would be in for a fight when they went into the locker room with a 14-10 lead at halftime. They made more mistakes than they could afford to make against a team as talented as Ohio State, but Minnesota looked the part of a contender in the Big Ten West. They just need to continue getting better.

The Meh

Running backs not named Mohamed Ibrahim. Once Ibrahim left the game, all eyes turned to the unproven alternatives behind him on the depth chart. Trey Potts, Cam Wiley, and Bryce Williams combined to rush for 40 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. At least one of them is going to need to step up if Ibrahim is lost for any amount of time this season.

The Ugly

Penalties. The turning point in the game came in the third quarter, when the Gophers took a 21-17 lead and then forced Ohio State to go three-and-out. On their next possession, Minnesota was near midfield when Conner Olson was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Then Curtis Dunlap was flagged for holding on the very next play and suddenly the Gophers were facing 2nd & 30 from their own 17-yard line. After being forced to punt, the Buckeyes scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass on the first play of their drive to retake the lead. The back-breaker came on Minnesota’s next possession, when Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett returned a strip sack for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes a two-possession lead.

The Gophers’ secondary. First things first: The Buckeyes are loaded with elite wide receivers. They have a pair of All-Americans in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson and no shortage of talent behind them. Minnesota won’t be the last defense that looks silly trying to contain them, but I’m concerned with the defensive misalignments that allowed the Buckeyes to spring touchdown passes of 38, 56, 70, and 61 yards. It goes without saying, but this cannot become a regular occurrence. The back end of the Gophers’ defense frequently looked confused and out of position, which I’m sure was due in part to the loss of starting safety Jordan Howden, who missed all of the second half with an undisclosed injury. It needs to get cleaned up ASAP.

The Gophers’ pass rush (or lack thereof). Facing one of the best offensive lines in the country, the Minnesota defensive line struggled to pressure Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. When they are able to generate a pass rush, Stroud didn’t look comfortable and made freshman mistakes. But those moments were few and far between, especially in the second half.