In addition to the physical toll that beating the Spartans by two scores took on the Buckeyes, the team’s best win of the year had an emotional and mental price as well. Given everything that went into Ohio State’s big win, refocusing for Saturday’s game against Minnesota was a high priority.
“We had a good game, celebrated it and now it’s time to move on to Minnesota,” senior defensive tackle Mike Bennett said Monday. “You just have to understand that Michigan State wasn’t our entire season, you have to keep going, we have to keep playing football games. The end goal is the whole point we’re playing all these teams. It was such a big deal to beat Michigan State, it wasn’t beating Michigan State to beat Michigan State, it was beating Michigan State to have the chance to beat Minnesota and then beating Minnesota to have the chance to beat Indiana.
“So once we beat Michigan State I was immediately trying to refocus and we were trying to refocus other people too just to make sure they understand that there is a bigger goal out there than just beating one team.”
While Bennett said he immediately began shifting his attention to Minnesota after the win – or at least tried to – other Buckeyes admitted that they took some time to celebrate the hard-fought victory. Receiver Mike Thomas and lineman Darryl Baldwin both confirmed that the coaching staff gave the team more than the typical 24 hours to enjoy the Michigan State win.
“We’re still kind of celebrating our victory from this weekend and enjoying it, but tomorrow and today we are coming in to get our assignment from coach,” Thomas said Monday. “It’s a good team win and we all came together as a team and did our job, so coach is letting us enjoy it, but we know it’s right back to work.”
That means getting ready for a 7-2 Minnesota team fresh off a 51-14 drubbing of Iowa. That preparation is further complicated by the fact the Buckeyes are coming off an 8 p.m. game, their third night game in three weeks, while the Gophers faced the Hawkeyes at noon Nov. 8. Minnesota and Ohio State kickoff at noon this weekend and the home team will have a time advantage on their side.
Coach Urban Meyer said the fact that his team had Veterans Day off from school has helped with the recovery.
“They have eight hours on us,” the coach said. “We have to get those eight hours back.
“So that's a very serious you tend to lose hydration, body weight and certainly rest and the great thing I didn't know we had Tuesday off, but our kids don't have class on Tuesday. That's a big makeup day for everything. And that is real.”
While the physical recovery was complicated by the disparity in the two teams’ kickoffs last weekend, Baldwin said that the mental recovery should not be an issue when the team heads to Minnesota.
“We just have to keep our goals in our mind, and that’s playing for championships in November,” the lineman said. “We have everything right in front of us, and we just have to be ready for that and only think about that.”
Weather Will Be A Factor
In addition to dealing with a tough Minnesota team on Saturday, the Buckeyes will have to cope with the weather as below-freezing temperatures are expected.
Granted, that’s not particularly surprising for the 10th game of the season.
“The weather? It's going to be cold, I imagine, Minnesota in November,” Meyer said when asked if the conditions could adversely impact his team. “I don't know. I heard there's no snow or rain right now. I don't know. I think they're a very good running team. Might limit some of the throw-game stuff and their defense is kind of built to stop the runs.”
For now, there is no precipitation expected during the game, though the high temperature in Minneapolis for Saturday is just 26 degrees. The Buckeyes last three games have had temperatures in the mid to low 30s by the time the 8 p.m. games came to a close, according to Weather.com, but Ohio State has yet to play a game with below-freezing temperatures.
“Doesn’t really change anything I don’t think,” Bennett said of the weather. “If it’s cold or if it’s hot, the only really difference is whether you put on thermal leggings or not. The only thing that really changes is if your hands hurt or not. You just have to try not to focus on your hands hurting. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to play. There’s always going to be a reason why you’re not going to play your best game, but you’ve got to push through that. I assume that November in Minnesota is going to be cold, we’ll be ready for that.”
As the defensive tackle said, the hands are the biggest area of concern with low temperatures, meaning dropped balls become a concern for receivers. Thomas was quick to say that wouldn’t be an issue no matter the cold.
“I feel like in that moment you kind of don’t feel anything, you know you have to catch it,” he said. “And if you drop it and it hit your hands, it’s kind of embarrassing.
“I’ll still catch the ball.”
One player who won’t have to deal with the cold Saturday is sophomore Dontre Wilson. The starting hybrid “H” suffered a broken bone in foot in the win over Michigan State and even caught a touchdown pass after suffering the injury. The Texan had surgery to have a pin inserted in his foot and will be out until the Buckeyes play their bowl game, Meyer said Wednesday.
Replacing Wilson, the team’s leader in all-purpose yards through nine games with 1,064, will not be easy. Fellow “H” Jalin Marshall will be elevated to the No. 1 spot this week against Minnesota.
“When me and Dontre were sharing the position we did share reps, so it just gives me the opportunity to play a little more,” Marshall said. “It’s heartbreaking to me because we’re so close, but I feel like I’m ready to take on that role and play a little more at the H-back position.”
Marshall, who is roommates with Wilson, appears capable of filling in. The redshirt freshman has 481 all-purpose yards on 31 fewer touches. His yards per touch on punt returns, kick returns and rushes are better than Wilson’s, while Marshall trails Wilson by just three yards a catch. The depth at the position with Wilson’s injury is the bigger concern.
“Noah Brown gets in the mix and Corey Smith gets in the mix,” Meyer said of replacing Wilson. “Evan Spencer is a multiple guy that can do a lot of things. Nick Vannett is a guy. So the good thing there's some personnel. It's not exactly like Dontre, but on 240 pound H-back Noah Brown brings a little something to the table, too. He's earned some right to play.”
The Buckeyes offense exploded against the Spartans, and despite some costly early mistakes Wilson and his 7-yard touchdown on a broken foot was a factor. Thomas, however, said the unit should be able to move on at a high level.
“It’s a big blow, but we won’t harp on it too much,” the receiver said. “Other guys have to step up and they’ll be held accountable.”
Junior linebacker Craig Fada is dealing with a sprained ankle, but he is expected to play against Minnesota, Meyer said. Cornerback Armani Reeves is back and working out, but not a full go, while running back Bri-onte Dunn will be a game-time decision.
Meyer said that the Gophers, who crept into the College Football Playoff Rankings Nov. 11 at No. 25, are a better than their ranking. “When I see them play, they’re very good,” he said.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett is two touchdowns from tie Braxton Miller’s school record of 36 set last season.
The Buckeyes and Gophers are playing for the first time in four years. Meyer has never faced Minnesota as Ohio State’s coach.