A LOOK BACK: Last year, Minnesota had a great plan against Ohio State, and it's really the best way to play the Buckeyes. To beat Ohio State under Urban Meyer, the best strategy is to beat them up physically and turn the game into a street fight. Usually in the Big Ten the talent disparity catches up with the opponent and Ohio State takes over to win. But this approach at least gives the underdog a shot, as opposed to letting Ohio State just track meet them out of the building. Minnesota played well last year, but J.T. Barrett went wild late and put the game away for the Buckeyes. The Gopher plan was to stop Ezekiel Elliott and let the QB beat them, which he did. I expect them to utilize the same defensive game plan this Saturday. Put the game in the hands of Cardale Jones, and not let Zeke control the game.
OHIO STATE OUTLOOK: Coaches hate distractions, and Barrett just provided the mother of all distractions with his behavior. This team had finally found an offensive identity, and Barrett had grabbed the starting job back before deciding to risk both last Friday night. I do not like where this team is from a mental standpoint. The bye weeks in college football are thought to be for getting healthy and refocusing on the task at hand, when in reallity the week is used by the players for partying and looking closer into their NFL status. This is not exclusive to Ohio State, but is pretty much the rule across college football. For a team that had struggled early in the year before finding itself, the bye week was not a good thing in my opinion.
MINNESOTA OUTLOOK: This is a tough one to predict. Is this the team that battled TCU and Michigan to the wire? Or the team that squeaked by powerhouses Kent State and Ohio University? If this team is flat from the narrow loss to Michigan and the emotional drain of Jerry Kill resigning, they will get killed by Ohio State. I have no idea of where this team is from a mental standpoint, but from a physical style they have a chance to be in this game. The talent is not close, but the Gophers have an experienced quarterback and a physical offensive line.
OHIO STATE DEFENSE: The main worry is the run defense, specifically Joel Hale, Michael Hill and Donovan Munger. Minnesota will look to run the football right at Ohio State in attempt to shorten the game and establish a physical tempo. Ohio State will bring Tyvis Powell down into the box to help stop the run, as I don't think Chris Ash will respect their passing game. Barring Ohio State turnovers, Minnesota should struggle to move the football and score points. For the Gophers, punting the football is not a bad thing if it flips the field and keeps the game close. If Minnesota falls behind early and is forced to throw, it's going to be ugly for the Gophers. They need to throw when they want to, not when they have to.
OHIO STATE OFFENSE: This game should come down to Cardale Jones, and his ability to throw the football and run it when the opportunities arise. If he's very good, Ohio State is going to score points in bunches. If he plays like he did earlier this year, then the Buckeyes will struggle to score 30. He is the key to the game for Ohio State. There's no way anyone could see Ohio State losing a game where Jones plays well. If I'm Minnesota, I would stack the line of scrimmage and do whatever I needed to do to force Elliott into a 27 carry-85 yard game. I would let Jones run whenever he wanted and take my chances. I would single cover all the Ohio State receivers and dare them to beat me through the air. If Jones can throw it well, then I would take my 45-12 azz whipping and go home. But if Jones struggles again, as he has often this season, then the Gophers would have a puncher's chance.
THE PREDICTION: I think this game will reveal itself early, and it should be clear by halftime where this one is headed. If Ohio State jumps Minnesota early and gets out to a 21-3 lead, then it's time for the Gophers to call in the dogs and pee on the fire because this hunt will be over. But if they can keep Ohio State from exploding early and get the game played to a slower pace, then Minneosta can make a game of it. I'm expecting a fairly close game, and one that stays interesting into the fourth quarter. I think Minnesota can win the game if a lot of things break right for them, although I do not expect that to happen. I think this is a game Ohio State needs to plow through, get the win, and move on.
THE SCORE: Let's call it OHIO STATE 31 MINNESOTA 23.