This could be a challenge for Ohio State, which played a physical offense a week ago and gave up three TDs and 7.6 yards per carry to Michigan State's Jeremy Langford. Ohio State's defensive line has been OK but not great against the run this year, but the good news is the run fits have usually been good enough that even when the front gets pushed around, the LBs and secondary fill the holes and keep teams from springing big gains (OSU has allowed just 10 20+ runs this year and three 30+). But it'll be interesting to see if OSU can handle Minnesota's continuous, punishing attack. The Buckeyes haven't faced a team this dedicated to the run since Navy, and that's a whole different animal. I would expect to see walkout linebacker Darron Lee in the box more, and senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant will have to step up huge.
2. What player will be the X-factor in this game for either team?
I'd say Grant fits the bill. He's a senior captain but has been splitting time with stud freshman Raekwon McMillan. Grant's strength is playing downhill against the run, so he could very well be quite an important player as he'll have to get off blocks and plug holes for Ohio State to have success shutting down David Cobb and the Minnesota running game.
Simply put, experience. Barrett battled his butt off against the Hokies but just didn't have a great day, coming close to hitting some big passes but also missing some blitzes and committing a few huge mistakes in the loss. Since then he's become more comfortable in the offense and just looks more like a veteran. He seems to be a quick learner and is very comfortable in an offense that looks to distribute the ball to playmakers quickly all over the field. He's not afraid to take a deep shot but he's also very good at just taking what is given to him. Now that he's played in some tough environments, Barrett seems to have seen it all and is learning quickly.
4. Gives us a player on both sides of the ball Minnesota needs to know about.
On offense, redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall will bear notice. He's playing the hybrid "H" back/receiver spot that Percy Harvin made famous at Florida, and the former five-star prospect is a smooth athlete who is playing well of late. Marshall had been splitting time at the position with sophomore Dontre Wilson, but Wilson suffered a broken foot at MSU and is out. That means more reps for Marshall, who has looked dangerous in recent games, and the former prep quarterback is also the man OSU uses when it breaks out the wildcat (he's already thrown a pass this year out of it, too).Defensively, everyone knows about Joey Bosa, who leads the Big Ten in backfield disruptions (sacks and TFL) and is a likely All-American. But someone who just had a huge game at Michigan State is Michael Bennett. A senior who could go very high in the draft, Bennett is a very quick but strong defensive tackle with great athleticism who is slippery for opposing linemen to handle. He had two TFL, a sack and forced a fumble vs. Michigan State, and after the admitted he had been playing too tentatively and was going to cut loose the last few games. If he does that again at Minnesota, he will be tough to handle.
5. What are the keys to the game and your prediction?
I think Ohio State has to get off to a quick start because letting Minnesota get ahead with its running game could lead to bad times. If Cobb gets going, Minnesota's offense gets confidence and the Gophers can shorten the game with the run attack, it could be rough day for OSU. And obviously playing the run better than at MSU will be a key, too, though I'd expect the Buckeyes to have a good plan vs. Minnesota. Offensively, Ohio State's running attack has been very good of late, so doing to Minnesota what the Gophers want to do to you will be key. Since the beginning of the year, I thought this was one of the toughest challenges on the Ohio State schedule, so I think this one will be close for a while before the Buckeyes pull away in the end.