With starting quarterback J.T. Barrett suspended, things didn’t get rolling off the bat for Ohio State against Minnesota.
It took the No. 3 Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) more than 25 minutes to score, but the slow start proved to be good enough as the they held off the Golden Gophers (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) for a 28-14 win Saturday night.
Ohio State’s first points came on defense when junior safety Vonn Bell returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown before the Buckeyes took a 14-0 halftime lead via a 15-yard run by junior Ezekiel Elliott.
The cushion became 21 in the third quarter after junior Cardale Jones — filling in for Barrett — found junior receiver Michael Thomas for a 6-yard touchdown, but the Buckeyes’ didn’t score again until Minnesota had pulled within seven points. The Gophers’ onside kick attempt ended up out of bounds after their second touchdown, and Jones iced the game three plays later with a 38-yard touchdown run.
Jones finished the game with 12 completions on 22 attempts for 187 yards to go with 12 carries for 65 yards. Elliott proved to be the work horse on offense, totaling 114 yards on 26 carries while Thomas had four catches for 39 yards. Fifth-year senior Braxton Miller had a 45-yard reception in the second half, but his head appeared to hit the turf hard and he didn’t return to the game.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 27 of 44 passes for 281 yards and two scores and receiver K.J. Maybe had 10 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, but the Gophers totaled just 33 rushing yards in the loss.
How It Happened
After Minnesota opened the game with a 23-yard kick return neither team managed a first down until the fourth drive of the game when Elliott rushed for 8 yards on third-and-2. But the Buckeyes’ second drive of the night still ended with a punt, as did the ensuing Minnesota drive.
Ohio State took over and picked up one first down before having to punt once again, setting the Gophers up for an 11-play, 47-yard drive that led to a 50-yard field goal try which drifted left of the uprights, keeping the game tied and zero.
Junior punter Cameron Johnston was called on for the fourth time in the first half after the miss and he pinned the Gophers at their own 8-yard line. After runs of 1 and 3 yards by Shannon Brooks Ohio State senior linebacker Joshua Perry hit Leidner as he threw on third down, leading to Bell’s interception return for a touchdown for the game’s first points. The play briefly seemed to be called back when Perry was called for targeting, but the flag was waived off after further review.
After another Minnesota punt the Ohio State offense came to life after the defense got things started. A loss of 7 yards by Miller put the Buckeyes in an 18-yard hole on third down, but Jones found space up the middle for a 19-yard carry to keep the play alive. Three plays later he connected with Marshall for 44 yards before Elliott scampered in from the 15-yard line to give Ohio State a 14-0 halftime lead.
Much like the first half, each of the first two drives of the second half ended in punts. The Buckeyes ended that streak with a nine-play, 59-yard drive that included two trips to the end zone by Thomas. He initially seemed to score from five yards out after a quick pass from Jones, but the play was called back for a penalty. Two play slater Jones found Thomas once again, this time on a fade to the left sideline in the end zone on third down, making it 21-0 with 6:43 to play in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes’ defense kept the momentum with the home team, forcing a three and out as sophomore linebacker Darron Lee got free on a blitz and hit Leidner as he threw on third down.
Ohio State found its way back to the red zone on the ensuing drive, but it didn’t end in points. After Minnesota’s Briean Boddy-Calhoun broke up a deep pass to Marshall in the end zone and Elliott picked up three yards on second down, Jones fumbled on third down, leading to a Gopher recovery. Three plays later the Buckeyes’ had the ball back, though, as the defense forced Minnesota’s seventh punt in the first three quarters.
Two incomplete passes sandwiched by an Elliott 6-yard run led to a Buckeye punt of their own before Leidner found Rodrick Williams for 31 yards on Minnesota’s first play of the ensuing drive. He connected with Brandon Lingen for 25-yards two plays later, putting the Gophers in the red zone for the first time. Sophomore Damon Webb — playing for the first time since the Hawaii game in week two — broke up a third down pass in the end zone, though, before Leidner found Maye for 8 yards to convert on fourth down. The duo connected again three plays later, this time for a 4-yard touchdown to break up the shutout.
Jones connected with Miller for 45 yards on third down on the ensuing drive, but the former quarterback was slow to get up and was helped off the field by two members of Ohio State’s training staff. The drive stalled from there and the Buckeyes came up empty when fifth-year senior Jack Willoughby missed a 35-yard field goal try, keeping the score at 21-7 with 7:46 on the clock.
Despite a 15-yard personal foul call against sophomore defensive end Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State forced a fourth-and-9 and Minnesota elected to punt.
Elliott broke the 100-yard barrier on first down after the boot, but the Buckeyes’ drive stalled before they could get to mid field when Jones’ deep pass to sophomore Curtis Samuel was broken up on third down. Johnston punted for the seventh time with 4:19 to play in the game, setting the Gophers up with 78 yards to cover.
That’s exactly what Minnesota did, though, in six plays, taking 2:03 off the clock. The drive was sparked by a 57-yard Leidner completion to Maye on third down before he found Rashad Still from 10 yards out to pull the Gophers within seven points with 2:10 to play.