That was the case on Saturday as Ohio State gave up 578 yards total offense but still managed to pull out a 45-31 win at Minnesota.
That total is the second most yards allowed ever by an OSU defense, trailing only the 659 yards OSU allowed in – ironically – a 49-42 win over Illinois in 1980.
Just as amazing, Minnesota tallied all of those yards against an OSU defense that was tops in the Big Ten and third nationally at 254.9 yards allowed per game.
Minnesota came in with the game's top rushing offense at just under 300 yards a game. But OSU did a decent job against the run, holding the Gophers to 188 yards on 42 attempts. Tailback Laurence Maroney led the way with 127 yards on 25 carries, although he only netted 13 yards on nine second-half attempts.
Much of UM's damage was done by quarterback Bryan Cupito, who completed 26 of 35 passes for a career-high 396 yards but just one touchdown.
In the final analysis, while this game was still on the line Minnesota only managed three touchdowns. OSU made the plays it needed to make to turn the Gophers away when it had to. The final yardage total was padded by UM's 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:07.
"Those are kind of meaningless yards," said OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter.
Afterwards, OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock got down to the bottom line.
"The win is a feather in our cap," Heacock said. "To beat that team up here after the bye week that they had and the intensity level they had, I think we all feel good about that. It was a total team effort. Our offense played great and didn't turn the ball over. They helped us today."
The Key Plays
Minnesota moved the ball against Ohio State unlike any team any recent memory. The Gophers had six possessions that tallied 58 yards or longer.
But as you look back at this game, there were a handful of plays that the Buckeyes pulled off that kept UM from scoring touchdowns that may have changed the outcome. Some of them include:
* First quarter, Third-and-8, OSU 14 -- OSU was ahead 7-0 and UM was driving. Cupito threw into the end zone for Jared Ellerson, but OSU corner Ashton Youboty deflected the pass. Youboty would go on and have an up-and-down day by giving up some long plays. But he kept UM off the board here as the Gophers had to settle for Jason Giannini's 32-yard field goal, and the kick soared wide right. A 66-yard UM drive went for naught.
* First quarter, Third-and-12, OSU 20 -- OSU was ahead 17-7, but the Gophers were threatening. Cupito hit tight end Jared Posthumus for a 7-yard gain. OSU safety Donte Whitner came up and made the big stop, again forcing the Gophers to settle for a field goal. Giannini made a 30-yarder, but the Gophers drove 67 yards and got just three points out of it.
* Second quarter, Fourth-and-7, OSU 42 -- The game was tied 17-17 and the Gophers called timeout with two seconds left. Cupito threw the Hail Mary for 6-5 receiver Ernie Wheelwright. But Youboty came over to knock the pass away and end the half. UM had moved 44 yards on that fruitless possession.
* Third quarter, Fourth-and-2, OSU 32 -- OSU had just taken a 24-17 lead, but the Gophers had moved 48 yards down to the 32. On fourth down there, UM tried a toss sweep with Maroney. But OSU end Mike Kudla collared Maroney and tossed him out of bounds for no gain. That play turned momentum in OSU's direction and, after the offense drove 68 yards for another score, the lead was 31-17.
* Fourth quarter, Third-and-1, UM 29 -- OSU came up big in another short yardage situation as free safety Nate Salley shot into the backfield and stood up Maroney, who coughed up the football. Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock pounced on the fumble at the UM 28. That set the stage for OSU's last touchdown that put the game away.
Those are five possessions – totaling 234 yards for the Gophers – that netted just three points. If you add in the 80-yard possession at the end – where the Buckeyes were playing extremely soft coverages – that means the Gophers got just 10 points out of 314 of their yards.
"Our kids played hard and you have to give them credit," Heacock said. "They came up with the turnover when we needed it and the Kudla play was huge. There were some big plays out there."
Stopping The Run
Minnesota piled up 335 of its yards in the first half. Maroney, who had 114 yards and one touchdown at the break, seemed like he was on his way to a 200-yard day.
But the OSU defense stiffened against the run, forcing Cupito to try and beat them through the air.
The Gophers managed just 51 yards rushing in the second half.
"I really think one of the biggest things we did was we tackled a little bit better," Heacock said. "We took better pursuit angles. That is really a good offense. Our corners did a great job and they were right there. We've just got to make those plays.
"Our front seven did a good job of playing the run. That allowed us to play Cover-2. In the first half, we thought we had to drop a guy in the box to stop the run. In the second half, we felt like we were controlling the run."
Safety Donte Whitner led the Buckeyes with 10 tackles, while Youboty and linebacker A.J. Hawk each tallied nine.
"Our secondary tackles well," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They take great pride in being a part of the run defense. If you take away that one long run – which you're not allowed to do – it's pretty good."
Maroney ripped off a 53-yard run in the first half. That was the longest run of the season surrendered by Ohio State.
"He was looking for cutbacks," Whitner said. "On that one long one he broke, he saw the hole and did a good job of cutting it back."
But Kudla's big fourth-down stop helped set the tone for a strong – or at least, stronger -- second half by the defense.
"That was huge," Kudla said. "We knew it was going to be a 60-minute battle. In that first half, we kind of went back and forth. They were a great team.
"It came down to execution. We just had to fit our gaps. They had a great scheme. We had to make some adjustments and I think in the second half we did that. We just shifted the way we were lining up. They were doing a good job of motioning their tight end. We came out and executed better."
Minnesota's gaudy offensive numbers did put a dent in some of OSU's defensive rankings.
In rushing defense, OSU went from first nationally at 62.7 yards per game to third at 77.6.
OSU's pass defense average went from 192.1 yards per game to 217.6.
The Buckeyes were third in total defense at 254.9 and are now 13th at 295.3.
OSU was eighth in scoring defense at 14.6. But after giving up 31 points, OSU is now 14th at 16.6 points per game.
On The Firing Line
Cupito showed no signs of rust. He had not played since UM's Oct. 8 upset of Michigan, sitting out the following week's loss to Wisconsin with sore shoulders. The only thing sore against Ohio State was his arm.
He matched his career high on pass attempts (35) and set new career highs for completions (26) and yardage (396). The yardage total was over 100 yards better than his previous personal best of 270, set against Toledo on Sept. 4, 2004.
"They've had that ability," Heacock said. "Now Cupito has been out and against Wisconsin they went more with the run. But they've been trying to balance it out a little bit. They've got a great tailback back there and when you send nine guys up there to stop him, you have to deal with some things on the back end."
Youboty, who has been golden for most of the starts he has made over OSU's past year and a half, was the whipping boy. He was in coverage as Cupito completed a 42-yard pass to Logan Payne, a 5-yard timing pass for a touchdown to Ellerson and a 44-yard pass to Ellerson setting up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Gary Russell in the third quarter.
When asked about Youboty's tough day, Heacock responded, "Great effort, great win. He's a great kid and he works hard. He's a great player. If he keeps playing hard and keeps working hard, great things will happen."
Whitner said the Buckeyes went back to some zone looks in the second half to help in coverage.
"We played a lot of man coverage in the first half," Whitner said. "We played some in the second half, but then we started mixing in some zone."
UM's Payne drew a personal foul late in the first half as he shoved Hawk's helmet off of his head while trying to stiff-arm the linebacker on a punt return.
Hawk was simply in position to make the tackle when Payne reached out and grabbed Hawk's helmet. The helmet flew off and the officials flagged Payne for a face mask. Tempers flared briefly as UM freshman Alex Daniels then came over and shoved Hawk off of Payne.
Hawk just laughed about the play after the game.
"It wasn't so much me," Hawk said. "It was him. If you watch film, you see my helmet comes off all the time. It's loose. He didn't try to rip it off. He was trying to stiff-arm me. It was an open field tackle and I was just trying to get him down."