That was the most disheartening part of their 34-21 loss to Ohio State. Minnesota forced a fumble on the Buckeye' second possession, but otherwise turned the ball over three times in falling to the best team in the Big Ten. It rallied with two touchdowns in the final eight minutes, but by then, the outcome had long been decided.
"The name of the game is explosive plays and turnovers, and they won the explosive plays 11-3 and won the turnover battle 3-1," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "That's why they won the game."
Minnesota had the unenviable task of welcoming back Ohio State tailback Beanie Wells, who started the year as a strong Heisman candidate before injuring his toe in the opener. Wells had missed the last 3 1/2 games, but returned to average over seven yards per carry and rush for 106 yards against the Gophers.
Explosive freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor added 97 yards as the Buckeyes gashed Minnesota's defense for 279 yards on the ground. The Buckeyes had eight runs of 10 yards or more and six of 20 yards or more.
The Gophers are clearly much better than the one-win team from last year, but the loss to the Buckeyes, in which they were outgained, 414-268, proves they have a long way to go before they are among the Big Ten's elite.
"They're a few steps ahead of us. I think that's pretty obvious," Gophers quarterback Adam Weber said. "But a few of our mistakes maybe made us look worse than we actually are."
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB DeLeon Eskridge — Finished with 131 yards of total offense (76 rushing, 55 receiving). His eight catches were a career high and he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, although he didn't get into the end zone.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Da'Jon McKnight — His touchdown catch in the fourth quarter might force the coaches to take a longer look at the true freshman.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're a few steps ahead of us. I think that's pretty obvious. But a few of our mistakes maybe made us look worse than we actually are." — QB Adam Weber, comparing his rebuilding Gophers to the Buckeyes
LOOKING GOOD: QB Adam Weber threw for 187 yards, putting him over the 4,000-yard mark for his career. Weber now ranks seventh all time in school history with 4,049 passing yards. True freshman Da'Jon McKnight made an acrobatic 22-yard touchdown catch in the game's final minutes for the Gophers' second touchdown of the quarter. It came too late to salvage the outcome, but the ability he showed to go up and make the catch should give Weber more confidence in him moving forward. DT Eric Small stripped tailback Beanie Wells in the first quarter, marking the 14th turnover forced by the defense this season. It was the sixth fumble recovery for the Gophers and led to a field goal.
STILL NEEDS WORK: On third-and-inches from the Ohio State 15, the Gophers had a false start, then failed to convert. It was a missed opportunity in the first quarter, considering the drive started on Ohio State's 24 and a touchdown would have knotted the score at 7-7. Adam Weber's second interception of the season came on a bad throw in the second quarter. The Gophers had possession on the Buckeyes' 37, but Weber tried forcing a throw into coverage around the 14 that was intercepted and returned to midfield. Instead of Minnesota possibly getting points, the Buckeyes wound up with a field goal. A busted play was made much worse when Weber panicked under pressure from the defense and pitched an option toward DeLeon Eskridge in the third quarter, but he had no chance to catch it. The Buckeyes pounced on the ball and came out of the ensuing drive with a touchdown.
Minnesota 31, Northern Illinois 27: Duane Bennett scored on a one-yard plunge with 22 seconds left to send the Gophers to a season-opening victory. Bennett scored a pair of touchdowns on the day and helped Minnesota avoid losing despite choking away an 11-point second-half lead.
Minnesota 42, Bowling Green 17: Quarterback Adam Weber threw for 233 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, and the Gophers put the game away with a 21-point avalanche in the fourth quarter. Minnesota turned four BG turnovers in the second half into touchdowns, blowing open what had been a tight game.
Minnesota 35, Montana State 23: Eric Decker caught nine passes for 154 yards and a score, DeLeon Eskridge became the first freshman in 22 years to rush for at least three touchdowns and the Gophers improved to 3-0 with the victory over the Bobcats.
Minnesota 37, Florida Atlantic 3 — Freshman DeLeon Eskridge rushed for 78 yards and two scores, the Gophers rushed for 206 yards as a team and the defense kept FAU out of the end zone to improve to 4-0 this year. Minnesota limited FAU to 276 total yards one season after the Owls scored 42 points and racked up nearly 600 yards of offense against the Gophers.
Ohio State 34, Minnesota 21 — For the first time this year, the Gophers lost the turnover battle, and ultimately the game. The Gophers turned the ball over three times, leading to exactly half of the Buckeyes' points (17 of 34). Freshman DeLeon Eskridge had 76 yards on 18 carries and Adam Weber threw for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss.