Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Complete Game Preview
One week after picking up its biggest win of the season—and reinserting itself into the College Football Playoff discussion in the process—the Ohio State football team will head to Minnesota for a matchup with the Golden Gophers.
And while the Buckeyes' big win over Michigan State last weekend garnered national attention, Minnesota is far from a gimme opponent, entering this weekend's contest with a 7-2 record. Ohio State may have the inside track to a second straight Big Ten Championship Game, but the Gophers will present its toughest test until a likely trip to Indianapolis, as Minnesota is coming off a 51-14 beatdown of Iowa.
Will the Buckeyes be able to maintain the momentum they took away from East Lansing, or will the Gophers play spoiler in what could be a potential trap game for Ohio State? We'll find out on Saturday. But until then, here's everything you need to know about this weekend's Big Ten battle:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 15
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Place: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Spread: Ohio State (-14.5), via Odds Shark
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Don't Look Ahead
With a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game assumed to be locked up, it wouldn't be hard to imagine Ohio State already looking ahead to the next big contest on its schedule. In fact, it might be likely.
But quarterback J.T. Barrett insists that while this weekend's matchup at Minnesota may have "trap game," written all over, the Buckeyes aren't going to get caught looking ahead. Just as it did in the weeks leading up to its highly touted game against Michigan State, Barrett insists that Ohio State will be taking a one-game-at-a-time approach into the remainder of its schedule.
"One of the main things will be making sure we just practice really hard on Tuesday and Wednesday," Barrett said following the win in East Lansing. "We're going to enjoy this. But we know we still have to play another game next week."
That game will come against a Golden Gophers team that has proved to be one of the more talented in the Big Ten and still has an outside chance at playing in the Big Ten Championship Game itself. With that in mind, the Buckeyes would best be served putting their monumental win over the Spartans in the past in order to focus on the present.
Since suffering its lone loss of the season in a Week 2 defeat to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has since reeled off seven consecutive wins while playing arguably as well as anyone in the country. On Monday, head coach Urban Meyer said that the key to his team's success has been sticking to what it does best, despite the struggles it saw in its loss to the Hokies.
"This is where I think coaches make a lot of mistakes. You don't just go blow the whole thing up when you lose a game. That's fragile," Meyer said. "You coach them really hard when you win."
Thus, it's hard to imagine that the Buckeyes have been coached harder than they will be this week as Meyer attempts to maintain the momentum Ohio State has managed to keep on its side. That's been a message that's been received by the Buckeyes players who, well, who insist that they're no longer dwelling on last weekend's big win.
"I've really tried to not listen to anything that goes on outside of here," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "There's always kind of going to be distractions. That's kind of the point is to make people listen to you. If you're too busy listening to what the media has to say or what people are saying about you on Twitter, that's only going to get in your head."
Minnesota Keys to Victory
Run, Run, Run
While Ohio State did manage to walk away with its biggest win of the season last Saturday, its performance was far from perfect. Surrendering 137 yards and three touchdowns to Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford, the Buckeyes defense struggled against the run in an effort that OSU defensive coordinator Chris Ash admitted was disappointing.
"We played well enough to win the game," Ash said. "But we didn't play up to Ohio State standards Saturday night."
Saturday will present another tough test for the Buckeyes on the ground, with Gophers running back David Cobb having rushed for 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns through Minnesota's first nine games of the season.
If the Gophers are going to spring an upset on Ohio State, it will likely come with heavy contributions from Cobb, who is capable of carving up the Buckeyes defense in the same fashion that Langford did a week ago.
The question is, would Ohio State be able to overcome such a performance this time as well?
"We're not measuring ourselves on what others do," Ash insisted. "We're measuring ourselves on what we do."
Open It Up
Just as the Buckeyes did a week ago in their showdown with the Spartans, it would be wise for Minnesota to empty its arsenal against Ohio State, holding nothing back in its game plan. As Ash pointed out, there is plenty that the Golden Gophers are capable of, and it might take all of it for them to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday.
"Coach [Jerry] Kill has done a great job with that program. Watching the program develop over the last four years he's been there, he's done an outstanding job. He's got an offensive line that's physical and backs that run hard," Ash said. "He's got several tight ends that do a great job of blocking at the point of attack. And they've got a nice scheme to keep you guessing some misdirection. And they have power downhill and stuff. A lot of challenges as we go forward and face Minnesota."
Add in sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner, who has thrown for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 8.06 yards per attempt, and it's clear that there's some legitimacy to Minnesota's record at this point in the season. Perhaps this weekend isn't a true "trap game" for the Buckeyes, but it will take the Gophers' full effort to keep Saturday's game competitive.
Ohio State Players to Watch
As a national audience learned last Saturday, Barrett has quietly emerged as one of the best signal-callers in the country, totaling 386 total yards and five touchdowns against a Michigan State defense that ranked fifth in the country heading into its battle with the Buckeyes.
Barrett's play has earned him deserved Heisman Trophy chatter, as the redshirt freshman possesses the nation's second-best passer efficiency rating, trailing only Oregon's Marcus Mariota. On Monday, Meyer praised the development of his emerging star of a signal-caller, who has come a long way since completing just 9-of-29 pass attempts in the Buckeyes' defeat at the hands of the Hokies.
"His biggest jump is just being the manager. He does a good job getting us in the right play. He understands defenses really well now," Meyer said. "And his accuracy, when he's accurate, that's a tough one to stop."
As the national spotlight begins to shine on Barrett, it will be interesting to see how he responds against the Gophers. Another big game could firmly plant his name into the Heisman discussion as more and more eyes begin to gravitate toward Ohio State.
A preseason All-American candidate, Bennett enjoyed perhaps his best game of the season against Michigan State. As the Spartans line shifted its attention toward defensive end Joey Bosa, the senior Bennett took full advantage, tallying four solo tackles and a sack against MSU.
"It obviously is going to feel a lot better when you contribute statistically, especially in a game that big," Bennett said. "I think I played a little bit more aggressively."
As Bennett will surely stand out on film to Gophers, it will be worth watching what effect he manages to have on this Saturday's game. Despite Minnesota's impressive offensive line, accounting for both him and Bosa is a nightmare for any opponent, which could be a huge advantage for the Buckeyes heading into the homestretch of the season.
Minnesota Players to Watch
As mentioned earlier, the key to Minnesota's success hinges on Cobb, who has averaged 5.3 yards per carry for the Golden Gophers in his senior season. Not only does his ability allow Minnesota to possess a potent run game, but it also shows up in its passing attack, where Leidner has been able to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
"They do such a good job of running the football right now, you've got to devote more defenders to stop the run. And it isolates your backs in one‑on‑one situations," Ash said. "And they've done a great job exploiting that. They've taken deep shots in certain personnel groupings over the top and connected with them."
But don't be mistaken: Containing Cobb remains a challenge for Ohio State in and of itself. And Ash is well-aware of that, as the 5'11", 229-pounder embodies the typical power-running back.
"He's a hard runner and he gets the yards," Ash said. "He keeps his legs driving all the time. He's a load. He's a challenge and he fits well with their scheme."
While Cobb may be the player who stands out statistically, the star of the Minnesota offense has been tight end Maxx Williams, who is arguably the best player at his position in all the Big Ten.
He certainly looked that way in Gophers' thrashing of the Hawkeyes, anyway, catching three touchdowns in the Minnesota route.
"He's a guy that motions around. They put him as a wing a lot of times," Ash said. "Lead blocker at the point of attack. A guy that gets down on a lot of play actions, whether it's verticals or wheel routes to get behind the coverage."
At 6'4" and 250 pounds, Williams also offers a notable size advantage over smaller defensive backs attempting to cover him. That could very well be the case this Saturday as well, as Kill and his staff will undoubtedly attempt to get their biggest playmaker involved early.
"He's a handful," Ash said. "He can get matched up on corners. He's got a little size advantage on some smaller DBs, goes up and makes nice plays down the field. But he's a good all‑around player."
What They're Saying
While he is yet to coach against him in his career, Meyer maintains that he holds a lot of respect for the Gophers' Kill. The winner of last season's Big Ten Coach of the Year award, Kill has guided Minnesota to a 24-23 record during his time in Minneapolis, including two consecutive trips to bowl games.
"I've known Jerry Kill a long time. And I've always thought he was one of the best football coaches and his coaching staff has been together, I think his defensive corps has been together forever. And his offensive corps for like 15 years," Meyer said. "He's won at every level. And I admire those guys that do that. I have a lot of admiration for him as a coach. And he knows that. He's a friend. This is the first time I've ever coached against one of his teams. And it's everything you'd think of a Jerry Kill-coached team."
As far as the potential of Minnesota being a "trap game" for the Buckeyes, Meyer insists that's not the case. Despite coming off such a huge win, the Ohio State head coach insists that his team is focused on the task ahead and not what happened last weekend in East Lansing.
"We enjoy the win, learn from the win, and they'll get the mission tomorrow," Meyer said on Monday. "And it will be a big—I'll know after how they practice. But we have to make sure that they're ready for practice on Tuesday."
As for the Buckeyes' playoff odds, the Gophers aren't selling Ohio State short. Minnesota knows that the best team on its schedule is coming to town on Saturday as it attempts to play the role of spoiler in the Buckeyes' current bounce-back.
“Of all the teams in the country, I think they’re getting judged the most unfairly,” Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said, via Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune. “Against Virginia Tech, they had to start a kid that’s a [redshirt] freshman. They’ve done a great job developing offensively, and continue to get better and better defensively. It’s hard to believe that there’s somebody playing better than them right now.”
While all signs may point to Ohio State's matchup with Minnesota being a "trap game" of sorts, it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes enduring a letdown after a win that Meyer deemed as "one for the ages." Ohio State simply has too much riding on the outcome of this weekend's game, and it should be smooth sailing until Indianapolis should it find a way to defeat the Golden Gophers.
Weather could be a factor in Saturday's outcome, with Weather.com projecting single-digit temperatures in Minneapolis throughout the weekend. That will be all the more reason for the Buckeyes to continue to establish their running attack and rely on an offensive line that played its best game of the season in East Lansing.
Given the climate, however, a blowout may be unlikely, as Ohio State could pick up an early lead and be content controlling the clock and playing the field-position game from there. But the Buckeyes simply have too much talent and too much going for them at this moment to imagine a loss, especially to an opponent just two weeks removed from losing to Illinois.
Look for Ohio State to establish a lead early and just do what's necessary from there. It may not be sexy, but at this point in the season winning is what's most important for the Buckeyes.
Final score: Ohio State 31, Minnesota 14
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.