About as good as the Buckeyes were while beating then-No. 8 Michigan State the week prior in East Lansing.
And how good was that? Good enough to win both times while losing the turnover battle. It's not the way the Buckeyes would normally draw it up, but it just goes to show just how well the OSU offense is churning at this particular moment.
“This was a top-25 team with a top-20 defense, on the road in very unfavorable conditions, and we turned it over I don’t know how many times and still found a way to win,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “It’s a great team effort, it’s very encouraging from that standpoint absolutely, but obviously we’re not going to be able to go where we want to go turning the ball over like that.”
The giveaways were particularly important to the game in Minneapolis considering all three Golden Gopher touchdowns came after turnovers, including two that gave Minnesota short fields.
“It just shows that we’re almost there,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 91 yards in the win. “We’re almost where we need to be. We keep making these little dumb mistakes but without the mistakes, the game last weekend and this weekend would’ve been different outcomes.”
Quarterback J.T. Barrett committed the first turnover, throwing an inaccurate and unnecessary deep ball to Corey Smith, who was covered on a streak route, late in the first quarter.
“He should have thrown it to the inside and he overthrew it,” head coach Urban Meyer said at the postgame press conference as Barrett sat next to win. “Two things you don’t do on that play are throw deep (and) to the outside.”
The other two turnovers were committed by redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall, who showed both his explosiveness and his green nature in the win. Marshall’s first fumble came late in the first half as he appeared to be motoring in for a touchdown that would have given OSU a 21-7 lead.
As he neared the goal line, Marshall took a hit on the arm that sent the ball tumbling into the end zone; making matters worse, as Marshall dove after the ball, he knocked it away from Evan Spencer, allowing the Golden Gophers to dive on the ball for a safety, leading to an 80-yard, game-tying TD drive for the home team.
And then, just when Ohio State appeared to have put the game away with a 31-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Marshall couldn’t catch a punt and Minnesota recovered the muff. Two plays later, running back David Cobb went into the end zone and it was suddenly a game again.
The Ohio State coaching staff kept going to Marshall – who finished with one rush, five catches and three punt returns – something Meyer said was part of his plan.
“We’re different than a lot of people; I don’t just yank guys out of the game,” Meyer said. “If someone is not going hard, then that’s a different story. Obviously that has to stop or eventually he’ll lose playing time, but Dontre (Wilson) is out (with an injury). We have to have him be more productive. We’re going to go right back to him. That’s what good teams do, they pick each other up.”
Despite showing confidence in his young charges, Meyer said the Buckeyes weren’t just going to let the giveaways slide.
“You don’t hope (it gets better), you grind them,” the head coach said. “We’re going to grind them big time. I have to evaluate that. We don’t just keep going. That’s not what I mean at all. We don’t yank guys. Now, if I go back and study the film and there’s a loose ball, that kind of thing, we’ll get an opportunity to try to fix it, and then eventually they won’t play.
“But you’re right, think about that – to go on the road with those turnovers and still win, I’m not saying the score would have been out of hand, but (Marshall is) going in to score and he gives it up on the 7-yard line or whatever it was. He’s too good a player, we have to get that fixed.”
Marshall, who led the team with five catches for 95 yards and a TD, also has the support of his teammates after the unfortunate turn of events. "That’s going to happen in games like this," safety Vonn Bell said. "You have to keep on being positive, tell him, ‘We got you, the defense is going to get the ball back to you, don’t let it keep you down, just keep on executing and keep on going.’ "