In a game that was occasionally as ugly as the snowy weather in Minneapolis, the eighth-ranked Ohio State football team earned a 31-24 win – but likely no style points in its chase for a College Football Playoff spot – at No. 25 Minnesota Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Ohio State (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten) scored 17 unanswered points between the second and fourth quarters break a 14-14 tie and earn their second win over a ranked opponent this season. Turnovers were a major reason why the Golden Gophers were able to keep the game close despite being outgained 489-303. Each of Ohio State’s three turnovers led to a Minnesota touchdown.
The miscues did not diminish what was another impressive performance by Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. The redshirt freshman threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another, giving him 38 TDs this season and a program record for trips to the end zone in a single campaign. Braxton Miller, the man Barrett replaced because of injury, scored 36 touchdowns last season.
Against Gophers, Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards and added 189 rushing yards – including an 86-yard TD run that was the longest by a quarterback in Ohio State history. He did throw one interception but was again the engine of the Buckeyes’ attack.
Barrett’s three TD passes went to three receivers. Redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall, sophomore Michael Thomas and senior Evan Spencer all caught scoring strikes, and Marshall was Barrett’s leading receiver with five receptions for 95 yards. Marshall did commit one of the three OSU turnovers, however, on a muffed punt in the fourth quarter.
The OSU rushing attack was led by Barrett, but top tailback Ezekiel Elliott had another solid day as well. The sophomore carried the ball a team-high 18 times for 91 yards.
The Buckeyes fared well on defense, allowing 145 yards rushing and three touchdowns to Minnesota tailback David Cobb but not much else. Quarterback Mitch Leidner completed just 7 of 19 passes for 85 yards and had two passes intercepted. He was also sacked three times.
Senior cornerback Doran Grant and sophomore safety Vonn Bell intercepted passes, and sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa and fifth-year senior defensive end Steve Miller each had a full sack. Junior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington led the Buckeyes with eight tackles.
Grinding It Out
Ohio State was held to a three-and-out to start the game. Elliott started the possession with a 5-yard run, and the Buckeyes faced a manageable third-and-short situation after a 3-yard pass from Barrett to Thomas. Unfortunately for OSU, a false start penalty on sophomore right guard Pat Elflein made it third-and-7. Barrett gained 6 yards on a scramble, avoiding a sack in the process, but the Buckeyes were forced to punt.
It was Ohio State’s first three-and-out in its last 30 possessions.
The Buckeyes faced a similar situation in their second drive, but this time produced a far different result. After the OSU defense forced a Minnesota punt, Barrett and company took over at the OSU 5. On third-and-1 from the OSU 14, Barrett faked a pitch to Elliott after taking the snap and rushed left. He found daylight, cutting across the field and outrunning several Minnesota defenders. Barrett broke a tackle attempt by Minnesota cornerback Eric Murray inside the Gophers 10 and reached the end zone.
The 86-yard TD run was the third longest in Ohio State history, trailing just Morris Bradshaw (88 yard run vs. Wisconsin in 1971) and Eddie George (87 yard run vs. Minnesota in 1995). It was also the longest run by an OSU quarterback in program history, besting the 81-yard run by Miller vs. Indiana in 2011.
OSU freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger added the extra point to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead with 10:14 remaining in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes added to their lead with another long scoring drive on their next possession. Taking over at the OSU 13, Barrett led an eight-play, 87-yard march that ended with another big play by Barrett. Facing a third-and-7 at the OSU 43, Barrett took a shotgun snap and was soon under pressure. He stepped up in the pocket and found Marshall racing across the field at the Minnesota 41. Marshall hauled in the Barrett pass and turned upfield near the left sideline en route to a 57-yard touchdown.
Ohio State extended its lead to 14-7 after Nuernbeger added the PAT with 4:33 left on the first-quarter clock.
While Barrett led Ohio State to its first two touchdown drives in the first quarter, his first miscue of the day led to Minnesota’s first points. Late in the first quarter with the Buckeyes facing a first-and-10 at the OSU 44, Barrett attempted to find Corey Smith on a deep pass but overthrew the receiver. Minnesota cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun was there to make the easy interception at the U of M 5. He turned up field, got some blocks and returned the pick 56 yards to the OSU 39.
The Golden Gophers then turned to Cobb. The senior carried the ball on five straight plays, the last going for a 5-yard touchdown run that cut the Ohio State lead to 14-7 with 14:27 left in the second quarter after a Ryan Santoso extra-point kick.
Later in the second quarter, Ohio State squandered a change to regain momentum. The Buckeyes began a possession with 11:34 left before halftime at the OSU 4 following an impressive punt by Minnesota’s Peter Mortell. Barrett engineered a 96-yard drive, led in big part by a 38-yard scramble by the redshirt freshman QB on a third-and-9 that advanced the ball to the Minnesota 34. The Buckeyes drove all the way to the 7, where Barrett found Marshall on a pass inside the 5. Marshall looked primed to reach the end zone, but a hit by Minnesota’s Boddy-Calhoun forced a fumble. The ball rolled into the end zone, where Spencer attempted to fall on it. The ball squirted out, however, and Minnesota linebacker De'Vondre Campbell recovered it for a touchback.
It was Ohio State’s second turnover of the game, and for the second time it led to a Minnesota touchdown.
The Golden Gophers knotted the game with 84 seconds left before the break. It was Cobb again for the Gophers, breaking a Tyvis Powell tackle attempt on a third-and-15 play that broke for a 30-yard TD run. The rushing touchdown capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive that included eight Cobb rushes for 51 yards. Leidner also aided the cause by completing a fourth-and-3 pass to fullback Miles Thomas that went for 10 yards to the OSU 25.
A Sansoto PAT tied the game with 1:24 left in the first half.
The Buckeyes did take the lead into halftime thanks to a late field goal. After the second Cobb TD, the Buckeyes took over at the OSU 38 following a 38-yard kickoff return by freshman Curtis Samuel. Barrett threw the ball or kept it on a rush on every play of the ensuing drive, leading the Buckeyes to the Minnesota 5 with time winding down. On the final play of the first half, Nuernberger booted a 22-yard field goal from the left hash to give Ohio State a 17-14 advantage.
The two Ohio State turnovers were the key in the first half. The Buckeyes outgained Minnesota 354-133 – with Barrett rushing for 168 yards and throwing for 144, giving him a Big Ten-best 312 yards in one half – but the turnovers allowed the Gophers to keep the game close.
A questionable pass interference call prevented the Buckeyes from cashing in on a big play in the first minute of the second half. OSU senior cornerback Doran Grant intercepted a Leidner pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back because of a penalty. Grant was flagged for defensive pass interference against intended receiver Isaac Fruechte. Replays showed that Fruechte slipped, but the penalty was nonetheless called.
Ohio State did catch a break on the same drive, however, when Minnesota was held to a 53-yard field goal attempt by Sansoto. The boot was long enough, but it hit the left upright to allow OSU to maintain its three-point lead with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
A pair of defensive plays stood out prior the missed kick. OSU linebacker Joshua Perry and Washington combined on a 3-yard sack of Leidner on a second-and-8 at the OSU 32, and on the next play, defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Steve Miller stopped a Leidner keeper for no gain to set up the long field goal attempt.
The missed field goal loomed even larger when Ohio State scored on its ensuing possession. Barrett might never have an easier touchdown pass, connecting with a wide open Thomas for a 30-yard score. A Minnesota defensive miscue led to the score. Thomas raced past Murray and the Gopher cornerback had no help deep. Thomas was waiting alone in the end zone when Barrett’s pass reached him.
Nuernberger added the PAT, giving Ohio State a 24-14 lead with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.
Barrett set a school record with his 37th touchdown of the season (28 passing, nine rushing).
Ohio State’s defense helped the lead hold. Minnesota’s next two drives ended in turnovers. The first came at the end of what was once a promising Gopher drive. Leidner led Minnesota to the OSU 40 before throwing an interception that was caught by Grant at the 17. Grant returned the turnover to the OSU 45, but the Buckeyes were unable to get anything going on their next possession.
After a Cameron Johnston punt, Leidner again had a pass picked off. This time it was Vonn Bell doing the honors, stepping in front of a third-and-6 pass attempt at the Minnesota 47. The sophomore safety reached the 32 after the pick, setting up good field position for Barrett and the offense.
The Buckeyes needed just six plays to find the end zone. After Elliott rushed for a combined 6 yards on the first two plays of the drive, Barrett did the rest. He completed three out of four pass attempts, with the last one going 22 yards to Evan Spencer for a touchdown on a screen pass. A PAT by Nuernberger gave the Buckeyes a commanding 31-14 lead with 10:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Midway through the final quarter, Ohio State committed a third turnover that led to a third Minnesota touchdown. Marshall muffed a punt, which was recovered by Minnesota’s Miles Thomas at the OSU 14. The Gophers turned that turnover into points two plays later on a 12-yard Cobb run for a touchdown, which after a Sansoto PAT, cut the Ohio State lead to 31-21 with 7:08 remaining.
The Gophers made it a one-score game with 1:19 remaining on a Sansoto 34-yard field goal that concluded a nine-play, 63-yard drive that took just 1:15 off the clock.
That was as close as Minnesota could get. The ensuing onside kick by Sansoto was recovered by OSU senior tight end Jeff Heuerman, allowing the Buckeyes to run out the clock.