Saturday, Oct. 30
8 p.m. ET, ABC Regional
TCF Bank Stadium; Minneapolis
The Golden Gophers
Interim head coach: Jeff Horton, 0-1 at Minnesota (20-49 overall, seventh season)
2009 record: 6-7 (3-5, 8th Big Ten Conference)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 42-7
School location: Minneapolis
Colors: Maroon and Gold
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium
Fight song: "Minnesota Rouser"
Minnesota Players To Watch
QB Adam Weber: Everything Minnesota does as an office goes through the senior, who has started 46 consecutive games. He's been erratic, completing only 55.8 percent of his passes, but Weber is tied for 12th in the nation with 17 touchdown passes. Interim head coach Jeff Horton has said the Golden Gophers will air it out in his tenure, and Weber threw 49 times vs. Penn State on Oct. 23.
WR Da'Jon McKnight: A big, fast target who checks in at 6-3, McKnight is on fire in recent weeks for the Golden Gophers. He has six touchdown catches in three games, including three vs. Penn State and two in a rivalry game Oct. 9 at Wisconsin. McKnight's nine touchdowns receiving top the Big Ten, and he's topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last two games.
WR MarQueis Gray: The Buckeyes might want to know where the sophomore is at all times. In addition to his 33 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns, Gray is the team's backup quarterback. He led a scoring drive vs. OSU a season ago, and with the Golden Gophers having nothing to lose, Gray might be called upon for a trick play or two against the Buckeyes.
LB Gary Tinsley: Tinsley is the team's leading tackler with 63 and has also shown he can make some plays. He has one interception on the year and one forced fumble as well as 6½ tackles for loss. Tinsley is averaging 10.3 tackles per game in four Big Ten contests.
Sept. 2, at Middle Tennessee State, W 24-17
Sept. 11, South Dakota, L 41-38
Sept. 18, No. 18 USC, L 32-21
Sept. 25, Northern Illinois, L 34-23
Oct. 2, Northwestern, L 29-28
Oct. 9, at No. 19 Wisconsin, L 41-23
Oct. 16, at Purdue, L 28-17
Oct. 23, Penn State, L 33-21
QB 8 Adam Weber, 6-3, 221
RB 22 Duane Bennett, 5-9, 210
FB 44 Ed Cotton, 6-0, 219
WR 6 Da'Jon McKnight, 6-3, 209
WR 5 MarQueis Gray, 6-4, 230
TE 85 Eric Lair, 6-3, 238
LT 58 Ed Olson, 6-7, 305
LG 68 Chris Bunders, 6-3, 322
C 53 D.J. Burris, 6-2, 305
RG 73 Matt Carufel, 6-5, 302
RT 71 Jeff Wills, 6-7, 350
DE 95 D.L. Wilhite, 6-3, 245
DT 68 Jewhan Edwards, 6-2, 330
DT 96 Brandon Kirksey, 6-2, 296
DE 97 Anthony Jacobs, 6-2, 300
SLB 43 Ryan Grant, 6-2, 225/26 Mike Rallis, 6-2, 235
LB 51 Gary Tinsley, 6-1, 225
WLB 4 Keanon Cooper, 6-0, 225
CB 6 Michael Carter, 5-11, 185/14 Kyle Henderson, 5-11, 185
FS 2 Ryan Collado, 5-9, 182
SS 27 Kyle Theret, 5-10, 193
CB 11 Troy Stoudermire, 5-11, 190
Five Fast Facts:
1. Of the 17 major stats kept by the NCAA on its team statistical pages, the Golden Gophers place in the top five of the Big Ten in only three: punt return average (third, 10.0 yards), sacks allowed (fifth, 1.13 per game) and turnover margin (fifth, plus-0.38 per game).
2. Once a heavy recruiter of Ohio under Glen Mason, Minnesota has only four natives of the Buckeye State on its roster. The list includes starting center D.J. Burris (Kenton), starting safety Ryan Collado (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy), backup left tackle Dominic Alford (Shaker Heights) and linebacker Willie Tatum (Pickerington Central).
3. Minnesota hasn't beaten Ohio State at home since a 35-31 win in 1981, its penultimate home game in the "Brick House," the on-campus Memorial Stadium. Ohio State was a perfect 11-0 inside the Metrodome.
4. With only three sacks in eight games, Minnesota is dead last in the country in sacks.
Offensive Personnel Report For the fourth season in a row, Adam Weber will be the Minnesota quarterback when the Golden Gophers face the Buckeyes.
Always a favorite of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel for his toughness, Weber will try to turn around a legacy of struggles vs. the Buckeyes. In his previous three starts, the 6-3, 221-pounder is 0-3 with two touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 58.3 percent of his passes.
One of only five Big Ten passers to reach five digits in throwing yards in his career with 10,199 and Minnesota's all-time leader in TDs thrown with 69, Weber has been explosive but erratic in 2010. The senior has completed only 55.8 percent of his passes (148 of 265) for 1,961 yards, but he has 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
The quarterback draw is also part of the team's offense, and Weber has 34 rushes for 111 yards. However, it sounds like Horton's plan is to open up the offense and throw more passes, as Weber tossed the ball 49 times against Penn State, completing 26 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Minnesota finished the game with 26 first downs and ran 84 plays but couldn't finish off a number of drives. Weber was intercepted once and threw incomplete on three fourth downs.
"That's not good enough," Horton said. "We have to do those things that's going to help us win, and that's create more big plays. If you can run 84 plays, only score 21 points, we need more big plays. I think that's a real key for us."
Minnesota is sixth in the league in passing with 246.1 yards per game while placing ninth in scoring with 24.4 points per game and eighth in yardage at 386.8.
Weber is the only quarterback to have thrown a pass this season for the Golden Gophers. Backup MarQueis Gray – who led a touchdown drive last year vs. OSU – is spending much of his time as a wideout this year.
When it comes to the running game, juniors Eskridge and Duane Bennett share the team lead with 444 rushing yards apiece. Eskridge carried the mail against Penn State, rushing 26 times for 111 yards, and the downhill runner's season numbers include 118 rushes, two scores and a yards-per-carry mark of 3.8
Bennett, meanwhile, is more slippery and is also a versatile receiver. He has 104 carries on the year for two TDs and a 5.3-yards-per-carry average while hauling in 17 passes for 186 yards and a score.
Freshman Donnell Kirkwood of Delray Beach, Fla., had 27 rushes for 107 yards in the opening four games before suffering hamstring and calf injuries that have kept him out of four straight.
Senior fullback Jon Hoese (6-4, 240) has been a dependable short-yardage back with 16 rushes for 52 yards and three touchdowns, but he suffered a hamstring injury against Penn State and is doubtful to play vs. Ohio State. Sophomore Ed Cotton is expected to take over, and he doesn't have a rush on the year.
The Golden Gophers have two big playmakers at wideout in Gray (6-4, 230) and 6-3, 209-pound target Da'Jon McKnight. The latter is coming off a three-touchdown performance against Penn State, giving McKnight six touchdowns in three games. On the year, the junior has caught a team-high 36 passes for 542 yards and nine scores.
Gray, meanwhile, has enough talent that former head coach Tim Brewster called him a possible top-10 pick at wideout if he stays there. Despite battling through nagging injuries, the sophomore has 33 grabs for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
"Adam is throwing the ball and gave Da'Jon a chance to catch it," Horton said. "Da'Jon, viewing the film, a lot of his catches are spectacular. He's very confident. He's going to get it. That makes the quarterback confident if he can get it anywhere close to him, he can come down with it. It's great to see that chemistry developing.
"It was great last week to see MarQueis come back and have a big game. You had Da'Jon with eight catches, you had MarQueis with seven. They complement each other. If Ohio State feels they got to try to take away the one, you feel good about your match ups with MarQueis."
The third wideout is 6-0, 180-pound sophomore Bryant Allen. Also a member of Minnesota's basketball team, Allen has 13 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown.
Minnesota's starting tight end, junior Eric Lair, has come on with multiple grabs in every game. Despite entering the season with one career catch, Lair has 29 on the year for 407 yards and two touchdowns.
Along the offensive line, the Golden Gophers have players in the program who have accounted for 137 career starts, led by senior center D.J. Burris. After making the opening snap vs. Penn State, Burris has 36 career starts.
The two players to his right are also seniors. Guard Matt Carufel is a Notre Dame transfer who has been a dependable player the past two seasons, while right tackle Jeff Wills has started every game the past two years. Listed at 6-7, 350 pounds, Wills is down from the 445 pounds he once weighed in at.
The starting left guard is junior Chris Bunders, who has started every game the past two seasons. The youngest starter on the squad is redshirt freshman left tackle Ed Olson, though he's fighting an ankle injury and splitting time with senior tackle Dom Alford (6-3, 325).
The Golden Gophers also have depth backup center Ryan Wynn (a 6-5, 296-pound junior) and junior Ryan Orton, a 6-4, 307-pounder who can play guard and tackle and made one start earlier this year in place of the injured Olson.
Defensive Personnel Report If Brewster wants to look back at one reason for his firing, he can take a look at the fact he was unable to put together a formidable defense. Minnesota is 10th in the league in yards allowed (406.4) and last in rushing defense (194.1), passing efficiency defense (162.2) and scoring defense (31.9).
Lacking a senior, the defensive line has been pushed around in both the running and passing games. The most productive member of the unit is versatile junior Anthony Jacobs, who has started at both end and tackle this season. Predominantly an end, Jacobs has 22 tackles and four tackles for loss.
D.L. Wilhite, the starter on the other side, has the build of a pass rusher at 6-3, 245 pounds. On the season, Wilhite has 12 tackles including one of the team's sacks. Another has gone to his backup, redshirt freshman Kendall Gregory-McGhee (6-5, 275), the son of former All-America linebacker Kanavis McGhee of Colorado. Gregory-McGhee has four stops overall.
Minnesota has also gotten three starts out of redshirt freshman end Matt Garin, a 6-4, 245-pounder with six tackles.
In the middle, junior Jewhan Edwards is the definition of a run stuffer. Standing 6-2, 330 pounds, Edwards has 18 tackles, a team-best eight tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. His fellow starter, junior Brandon Kirksey, has 18 tackles including 5½ for loss.
Former OSU recruit Ra'Shede Hageman (6-6, 294), a converted tight end, has four tackles as a reserve and will be returning from suspension for the game.
Minnesota has started six different linebackers on the season, with the only constant being middle man Gary Tinsley. A junior, Tinsley leads the team with 63 tackles while making 6½ tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception, which he fumbled into the end-zone pylon during the loss at Purdue.
The team also likes sophomore strongside linebacker Mike Rallis, though he's been limited by a hip pointer and a torn stomach muscle. Rallis entered Minnesota as a 200-pound walk-on but now stands 6-2, 235, and in six games he has 27 tackles, five TFL and two interceptions.
Starting on the weak side, sophomore Keanon Cooper has 41 tackles and three stops for loss.
Sophomore Spencer Reeves has two starts and has made 17 tackles, while sophomore Ryan Grant – the grandson of former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant – has three starts and 15 stops. Redshirt freshman Aaron Hill has 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in two starts.
Minnesota's defensive backfield has been in on a number of turnovers but has really struggled defending both the run and the pass, resulting in eight different starters throughout the season. That's without presumed starter Kim Royston, a Wisconsin transfer who is yet to play after suffering a broken leg during the offseason.
At the moment, the Golden Gophers are starting two seniors at safety in Ryan Collado and Kyle Theret, though both have struggled with tackling throughout their careers.
A converted cornerback, Collado is fourth on the team with 39 tackles and has two TFL, an interception and a fumble recovery. Theret was suspended for the first time games for a violation of team rules but has 47 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in six contests since his return.
Junior Christyn Lewis and true freshman James Manuel started the year as the safeties. The 6-2, 184-pound Lewis has 23 stops, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, while Manuel (6-2, 210) has 25 stops, both a forced and recovered fumble and a pick.
Junior speedster Troy Stoudermire has had a topsy-turvy year. He was suspended for the Sept. 25 game with Northern Illinois for conduct detrimental to the team and upon his return moved from wideout to cornerback. There, Stoudermire has started two straight games and has 17 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Sophomore Michael Carter started vs. Penn state on the other side. Carter has 24 stops, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
True freshman Brock Vereen (6-0, 180), the brother of Cal running back Shane Vereen, has three starts and eight tackles. Sophomore Kyle Henderson (5-11, 185), a transfer from Minnesota State-Mankato, also has a start and has made 20 tackles.