Despite Minnesota’s less-than-stellar record, I don’t think this one is a gimme for the Buckeyes.
The Gophers have shown in ways both good and bad that they often play to the level of their competition. Sure, the close wins against MAC schools (10-7 against Kent State and 27-24 against Ohio) were not a good look for the program, but Minnesota held its own in a 23-17 loss to TCU to open the season and probably should have beaten Michigan in a 29-26 loss Oct. 31. None of those are particularly positive final results for the program, but they’re still signs that the Gophers can make things more difficult for others when they’re not making life more difficult for themselves.
The Gophers are dealing with the loss of head coach Jerry Kill, who resigned abruptly after health problems resurfaced, but interim head coach Tracy Claeys showed under similar circumstances in 2013 that he’s a capable leader.
Furthermore, Ohio State will be dealing with the suspension of quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had just seized the starting role with a 49-7 throttling of Rutgers when he was charged with OVI. His one-game absence puts the offense in the hands of junior Cardale Jones, who is undefeated but has been inconsistent this season in his performance.
Looking at all those factors, I think there’s a good chance this one is closer than the 23-point spread would indicate. Ohio State is a good team, but Minnesota can make things look ugly.
Score: Ohio State 31, Minnesota 24
A year ago, Ohio State used the arm and legs of J.T. Barrett to hold on for a win in snowy Minneapolis.
The Buckeyes won’t have the services of Barrett this time around, however, as Cardale Jones takes back the reins of the Ohio State offense. I don’t expect the play-calling to be too drastically different, other than the number of carries by Jones to be down from what we are used to when Barrett is in the game. Look for Braxton Miller to exceed the amount of touches we have been accustomed to seeing this season, as I am willing to bet Ohio State will show a little bit more on offense to give Michigan State more to prepare for as the showdown with the Spartans is now just a couple of weeks away.
Defensively, I can’t see the Buckeyes giving up too much. Minnesota hit some passes last week that should have very well been intercepted. Mitch Leidner is a linebacker playing quarterback, and while he does have a solid arm, his decision making has been suspect in his time at Minnesota. He can run effectively however, which has proved to give the Ohio State defense problems.
All in all, I think Minnesota has the tools to pull the upset (as we saw last year), but it seems unlikely that the Gophers will put it all together in prime time in Ohio Stadium.
Score: Ohio State 35, Minnesota 13
Remember when Cardale Jones was the quarterback Urban Meyer chose to start over J.T. Barrett? No? At this point it does seem like that never happened, but things seem to have worked themselves back around.
With Barrett out for his one-game suspension, I understand why Ohio State fans are concerned about the offense, since Barrett is very good. But let’s not forget that Meyer isn’t exactly having to pull me out of the press box in order to field a quarterback against Minnesota. Instead, he gets to turn to a junior signal caller who is 10-0 as a starter and, you know, won a national title.
The offense will look different, certainly, but Jones doesn’t make the Buckeyes worse by any means. Ezekiel Elliott is still Ezekiel Elliott, the defense is still loaded and the Buckeyes are still one of the best teams around. I expect Jones to go out and prove (again) that he is more than capable, even surpassing 300 yards through the air as the Golden Gophers load up against the run.
With Jones rolling I still expect Braxton Miller to get reps in the red zone, and he’ll even throw his first real pass of the season. On top of that, Elliott’s 100-yard streak will continue and Joey Bosa will have his Lombardi moment with a big game.
Yeah, it’s not Barrett’s team this week, but the Buckeyes are still going to roll against Minnesota.
Score: Ohio State 45, Minnesota 20
I’ve heard a few people say this week that Ohio State needs to watch out for Minnesota given the Golden Gophers nearly beat Michigan last week, but to me, that just goes to show that Goldy isn’t going to be able to get the job done vs. the Buckeyes.
Yes, Minnesota nearly just beat the Wolverines, but it didn’t – at home, at night, while playing in honor of a departed coach team members and the university community clearly loved and respected. If Minnesota couldn’t get the job done there – against a team that’s not as good as Ohio State – how are they going to go on the road a week later and beat the Buckeyes under the lights in Ohio Stadium?
I do think there are certain things to like about this Minnesota team – the secondary is good, the running game has some potential – but all in all this isn’t even as good a version of the Gophers as the one that nearly beat OSU in a snowstorm in Minneapolis a season ago.
As for the Buckeyes, it has been an interesting week given the situation with J.T. Barrett, but it’s not like OSU is turning to an unproven backup or anything like that. We know Cardale Jones can lead this team to victory, and I fully expect him to do that. I think he’s the kind of guy who plays best when he doesn’t have anything to worry about, and he likely knows he’s the guy this week with Barrett out.
Score: Ohio State 45, Minnesota 17
The number of extenuating circumstances surrounding this game makes it a pretty hard one for me to get a handle on. How will the Buckeyes respond to the suspension of J.T. Barrett? Will Cardale Jones play like the quarterback who completed 75 percent of his passes for 291 yards against Maryland or the one who lost his job to Barrett with an up-and-down showing against Penn State? As for Minnesota, how will the Golden Gophers respond after an emotional loss to Michigan following the health-related resignation of head coach Jerry Kill? Like I said, there is a lot going on here.
As for the last question, I think Minnesota will be a little flat against Ohio State after the emotional game against the Wolverines, and that will allow the Buckeyes to take advantage. The Buckeyes should be relatively comfortable with Jones, though I think the productivity of the OSU offense will come down to the receivers’ ability to beat man coverage more than anything the quarterback does. I think Curtis Samuel and Michael Thomas each score long touchdowns, opening things up for Ezekiel Elliott to gain 150 yards.
Offensively, the Gophers have a mobile quarterback in Mitch Leidner, but I think the Silver Bullets will do a decent job corralling him. Minnesota is 13th in the Big Ten in scoring offense with just 21.1 points per game, and I don’t think they’ll hit that mark against OSU. Ohio State wins big without Barrett, and Jones pushes his record as a starter to 11-0.
Score: Ohio State 38, Minnesota 13
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